On this page you learn:

- What software is

- Anyone can install software illegally

- Software media is cheap

- Just because it works doesn't mean it is legal

What is software?
Software is what runs on a machine.

Software enables a computer to perform specific tasks and the term includes:
  • Application software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop, MS Office, OpenOffice)
  • System software (e.g. Microsoft Windows Operating System, Linux, Mac OSX)

In general software is run either when it is installed locally, or as a service from a remote location (a user logs into a system on a server).

Legally, to have the right to access and use a particular piece of software whether locally or remotely, a valid software licence is required.

For some software you have to pay for the licence (proprietary software) and for some you don't (open source).

You should always assume that a valid licence is required, but never assume that a valid licence is in place just because software works or you can gain access.

It is VERY IMPORTANT that you appreciate the difference between software and the software licence.

You can install software without a valid licence, but it is probably illegal

Some software publishers implicitly link their software to a licence which means that the software cannot be installed or accessed without a valid licence being in place.

If this was always the case, then maintaining software compliance would not be an issue. 

Unfortunately, from a compliance perspective, the majority of software is not produced in this way.
Microsoft pioneered the distribution of software on CD's that could be copied and loaded and reloaded many times over.  From a technical point of view it is great, it means the software can be deployed with ease.

But of course every time software is loaded onto a machine or a user is given access whether they use it or not, a licence is required.

A software media disk for £15 to £25
Getting hold of software media is incredibly easy and cheap. 

If your organisation signs up to a volume agreement with a software publisher, they will usually send you copies of all their software products at least once a year so that you have access to all the latest versions.

Even if you don't have a volume agreement you can purchase software media disks from resellers for approximately £20, quite legitimately.

The disk comes with the software on it, you can install it onto a machine, if you want to you can install it onto a million machines.

In this case there is nothing to physically stop you installing and using the software.

But legally, you will owe the publisher for a million licences for whichever edition and version of the product has been installed.

Internet software download sites
This is precisely what 'dodgy' software internet sites are doing that are now being set up in abundance all over the planet.

They get a copy of the software from somewhere and allow you to download it to then install and use.  The 'licence key' you are provided with is in fact just an activation key (see Licence/Activation keys) and has no legal relevance whatsoever.

The same can be said of any non legitimate software vendor that sends you a box of software with 'licence' documentation within.  The licence has no value whatsoever.

We cover this and more in further detail in Risk of counterfeit software?

Never forget that - Just because software works does not mean that it is legally licensed.

Now we answer the question What is a software licence?