Copyright refers to the legally protected right to publish and distribute any literary, musical, artistic or software material. This means that only the developer and authorised sellers have the right to copy and distribute computer software, video materials, music or text.
Because there is no control over the Internet, there are hundreds of sites where software, music and videos can be downloaded. Access to permanent connections makes downloading of large files physically possible. Many of these sites are located in countries that do not protect copyright.
The fact that it is possible to do something does not make it legally and ethically right. Authors and developers are entitled to a return on their creative efforts. Downloading pirated material is both ethically and legally wrong. By reducing revenue, piracy can hamper the development of software. Software development is expensive and part of the royalties are needed for future development.
Software piracy is a form of theft. It is both a criminal and a civil offence. Developers are entitled to claim damages in cases of piracy. Increasingly they are making use of all legal avenues to reduce piracy and obtain compensation where it has occurred. They are entitled to claim damages against not only sites, organisations and individuals who make pirated software available, but also those who make use of it.
Downloading from the Internet is not the only form of software piracy. Making copies of software, other than for personal use, as well as installing software on more computers than specified in the licence agreement are both forms of piracy.
When you purchase software, you are actually purchasing the right to install the software on a specified number of machines. Software usually comes out in two forms: standalone and network. When you purchase standalone software, you are purchasing the right to install it on a single machine. Generally there are further restrictions that are specified in the licence agreement. Licence agreements are covered in the next section.
When you purchase a network version of the software, you purchase the right to install the software on computers attached to a particular network. This may give you the right to install it on all the computers on the network or a certain maximum number.
It is important to realise that you do not purchase the actual program. The program remains the intellectual property of the developer. The concept of intellectual property is used as the developer owns something abstract, something which is the result of considerable intellectual effort. This also means that you do not have the right to alter the program in any way other than the configuration allowed in the installation.
However, you may store the program on CD, DVD, zip disk, diskette, hard drive or tape, the program still remains the intellectual property of the developer. This does not mean that you may lend the stored program out to others, though. This would be a breach of copyright. The stored version is for that purpose only as a backup and for the licensed user only.
The section on licence agreements in the next section specifies some of the copyright issues in more detail.
As mentioned in the previous section, when you purchase software, you only purchase the right to use the software subject to certain conditions. These conditions are specified in the licence agreement. When you install the software onto a computer, there is always a stage where you have to make a selection that you have read and accept the terms and conditions of the licence agreement. When you do this, you are agreeing to the developer's rights under copyright law.
The terms of the licence agreement include the following:
- Clarification of the licence as meaning right to use the software not ownership of the intellectual property.
- The number of machines on which the software may be installed.
- Restrictions on copying the distribution CD.
- Restriction on the resale of the software.
- Prohibitions on altering the code and reverse engineering. Reverse engineering involves a process of uncovering the logic and algorithms used to develop the program.
Shareware is software, generally downloaded from the Internet, which can be freely used and distributed. However, it does require that if users would like to continue using it, they pay the developer a fee. This is nearly always done by means of a credit card transfer across the Internet. When payment is received, users get a serial number which they insert into the software.
To attempt to enforce payment, developers usually employ a number of methods:
- Nag notices. These are notices that appear on a regular basis reminding the user that the software has not yet been registered.
- Time limitations. The software can be used for a certain period of time. At the end of this period it ceases to work.
- Function limitations. The shareware version may exclude certain key features.
These limitations would be removed when a valid serial number is entered.
Freeware is software which can be freely copied and distributed. Usually there are certain restrictions such as it may not be resold or its source should be acknowledged.
Open Source software
An interesting evolution in software development is the Open Source Movement. This movement has the objective of creating software that can be distributed freely and used at no charge. Developers all over the world are encouraged to become part of the movement. Many corporations are playing an active role in the development of open source software. Two examples are Linux and OpenOffice.org. The development of Linux is being actively supported by corporations such as IBM and Sun Microsystems. Sun Microsystems are central to the development of OpenOffice.org.
Open source software is still subject to a licence agreement. However, the licence agreement is quite different in tone and purpose to that attached to commercial software. The following is an extract from the licence agreement of KOffice, another Open Source office application suite.
Preamble The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public Licenses are intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software-to make sure the software is free for all its users.
This license, the Library General Public License, applies to some specially designated Free Software Foundation software, and to any other libraries whose authors decide to use it. You can use it for your libraries, too.
When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our General Public Licenses are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish), that you receive source code or can get it if you want it, that you can change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you know you can do these things.
To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of the library, or if you modify it.
For example, if you distribute copies of the library, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that we gave you. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. If you link a program with the library, you must provide complete object files to the recipients so that they can relink them with the library, after making changes to the library and recompiling it. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.