Software Licensing and Software Piracy: Part 1

Your favourite piece of software was created by someone, or many someones, who used their time and hard won expertise to build something useful or enjoyable, or both. With the exception of Free Software or Open Source Software, that someone is entitled to, expects and deserves to be rewarded for their efforts.

If a price is attached to the software and you use the software without paying the price that is asked, then that is Software Piracy. Many would argue that it amounts to nothing less than theft.

If I sell physical products, lets say Widgets, then if I have 10 and you take 10 without paying for them, then I now have 0, you have 10 and hopefully a guilty conscience as well. That is theft. If however you use my software without paying for it then I am not directly affected by it. I still have it. Would you have bought it if you couldn’t have obtained a pirate copy ? Maybe. Maybe Not. In my opinion that is why Software Piracy differs from traditional theft. What you have actually done is taken away my chance of receiving income from you for that software sometime in the future. It just isn’t clear cut either way, with laws, policies and attitudes being firmly rooted in the ‘pre digital media’ 20th century.

Having established that there is a cost to producing software and that the developer does deserve to be rewarded for their time and efforts, it stands to reason that we have to have a mechanism in place that makes this possible. That mechanism is generally known as Software Licensing.

I’ve been developing software for financial reward for nearly as long as I’ve been using computers, getting on for thirty years, and I have never wavered in my belief that whatever form of licensing you use, you should never punish the genuine, fee paying customer for the actions of the Software Pirate.

Seriously, I have bought software in the past that had licensing schemes so restricting or complex or time consuming (or just plain ridiculous), that I have saved time and effort by downloading a cracked copy of the software and using that instead, all the time cursing the software developers for making me waste my time and effort. In effect punishing me for my honesty.  As a Software Developer or Software Publisher that’s not an experience you want for your customers.

Whatever Software Licensing mechanism is used, there will always be some who do not like it and resent it being used. If as a developer you have done your best to minimise the impact on the genuine customer, whilst making some effort to thwart the Software Pirate, then you have done all you can and any customer who is going kick up a fuss about your licensing mechanism is unlikely to be a customer you actually want. Most customers would actually like you to stay in business and realise that to do that, it is necessary to be paid for the work you do, and / or the products you sell. Sacking your customer can sometimes be a good thing. But that’s a subject for another blog post 🙂

So what is a fair software license, for both the supplier and the customer ?  What is it fair to expect your customer to do to license their copy of your product, and so help protect your product, your sales, your livelihood and the future investment and development in a product that is important to both you ?

Part 2 Soon …

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