Software Licenses

For most people, a licenses to use that nice piece of software you are installing simply means a page of unintelligible text that you have to tick a box or click a button called Agree before the installation continues. Just a necessary step in the installation wizard, or a legally binding contract into which you enter?

Many people are not fully aware of the fact that you usually do not buy commercial software to use as you please, but rather you pay a license to use the software as dictated by the manufacturer. Often this is called a EULA or End User License Agreement.

It seems that software licenses are becoming more and more restrictive. I implore you to actually READ all the software licenses you agree to - it is your responsibility to do so - and I'll bet most of you will be surprised (assuming you can understand the often seemingly over-complicated clauses).

If you use Microsoft software, and would like a refresher, visit here:

These seem to be for the Retail versions of the software. If your software was bundled with your computer, then you are probably using an OEM version - which is usually more restrictive.

There are a distinctly different set of licenses for software which is called Open or Free (as in Freedom). A Free software license grants you the freedom to modify and redistribute the software. As this would normally be prohibited by copyright law, the copyright holder must give recipients the explicit permission to do these things. Sometimes this is referred to as Copyleft.

This concept can be extended to other media which is normally bound by copyright law. Under such conditions you are explicitly granted the right to use content freely, and to redistribute as you see fit.

Interestingly, many large companies extend their licensing model to other media too. For example, Microsoft are licensing their Intellectual Property of the concept of a new widget in computer user interfaces. You may have heard about the 'Office 2007 Ribbon' which merges the traditional menus, toolbars and buttons into a new style which has been locked down by Microsoft. Note that no 'Office' competitive product is allowed to use the system:

"The license excludes products or components that perform primarily as software for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email, contacts and databases, and that are created or marketed as a replacement for any or all of them."