Software "ownership"?

Subject: Software "ownership"?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Ken Poshedly <PoshedlyK -at- polysius -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2006 09:34:36 -0400

Ken Poshedly wonders: <<When I purchase a software package from a retailer or legitimately online, I already know that am entitled to all the bells and whistles and updates that go with it. I register the package so the software company knows who I am and that I have their product.>>

It's worth noting that the actual answer to your question depends on the license agreement you "signed" (by clicking the "Accept" button) when you installed the software. You did read that, didn't you? <g> fwiw, I never bother reading the license terms either, and don't know anyone who does. I'm sure such people exist, though.

When I used to read such things, most agreements "licensed" you to use the software, but did their best to imply that you don't actually own the software. Whether this would stand up in court is anyone's guess. In the strict legal sense, of course it would: you read and agreed to the contract. But I suspect such a contract would prove to be unenforcable in court, because there is a huge tradition of jurisprudence that protects the rights of purchasers of a product (e.g., the right to transfer the lease to your car), and a good lawyer with a sympathetic judge could overturn the contract.

Moreover, in a practical sense, no company in their right mind would enforce the terms of their contract: they'd lose so many future sales to competitors with more of a clue that it would be suicide.

<<But what happens if I sell or give a software package to someone else? If I sell my legit FrameMaker 5.5 package to John Doe, what is he entitled to? A knock on the door from the Software Police? I assume he is not entitled to register the package, nor can he get free tech support from the manufacturer. But that's no big deal.>>

Again, it theoretically depends on the agreement you signed. But in practice, all of the big names I've worked with have been more than happy to transfer licenses. (When I sell computers with software I no longer need, I simply type up and sign a letter specifying that I've transferred all my rights to the software as well as the original CDs to X, and that I haven't retained any copies for myself.) Think of it this way: if they allow the transfer, they have a good chance that the new owner will become an ongoing source of income to the company, and a good chance that I'll buy another copy. There's no downside.

As for the software police, they're several orders of magnitude more clueful than (say) the Recording Industry Association of America. They recognize that going after small-time pirates isn't worth their time or money or the bad publicity it would create; this is why you'll see dozens of classified ads on university bulletin boards (online or otherwise) offering bootleg copies. The software police are more interested in cracking down on the high-volume pirates. Speaking as an author myself, I have considerable sympathy for this. Programmers are humans too, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, and deserve to make a decent living from their intellectual property.
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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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Software "ownership": From: Poshedly, Ken

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