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A software license is a legal instrument (usually by way of contract law, with or without printed material) governing the use or redistribution of software. Under United States copyright law, all software is copyright protected, in both source code and object code forms, unless that software was developed by the United States Government, in which case it cannot be copyrighted.Authors of copyrighted software can donate their software to the public domain, in which case it is also not covered by copyright and, as a result, cannot be licensed.
A typical software license grants the licensee, typically an end-user, permission to use one or more copies of software in ways where such a use would otherwise potentially constitute copyright infringement of the software owner's exclusive rights under copyright.
|Free and open
|Permissive license (can be used in closed source s/w)
|Copyleft (protective license)
|Grants all rights
|Grants use rights, including right to relicense (allows proprietization, license compatibility)
|Grants use rights, forbids proprietization
|Grants rights for noncommercial use only. May be combined with copyleft.
|Traditional use of copyright; no rights need be granted
|No information made public
|MIT, Apache, MPL, BSD
|Proprietary software, no public license
|private, internal software
|Other creative works
|Copyright, no public license
Most distributed software can be categorized according to its license type (see table).
Two common categories for software under copyright law, and therefore with licenses which grant the licensee specific rights, are proprietary software and free and open-source software (FOSS). The distinct conceptual difference between the two is the granting of rights to modify and re-use a software product obtained by a customer: FOSS software licenses both rights to the customer and therefore bundles the modifiable source code with the software ("open-source"), while proprietary software typically does not license these rights and therefore keeps the source code hidden ("closed source").
In addition to granting rights and imposing restrictions on the use of copyrighted software, software licenses typically contain provisions which allocate liability and responsibility between the parties entering into the. In enterprise and commercial software transactions, these terms often include limitations of liability, warranties and warranty disclaimers, and indemnity if the software infringes intellectual property rights of anyone.
Unlicensed software outside the scope of copyright protection is either public domain software (PD) or software which is non-distributed, non-licensed and handled as an internal business trade secret.Contrary to popular belief, distributed unlicensed source code (not in the public domain) is fully copyright protected, and therefore legally unusable in other projects (as no redistribution rights at all are granted by a license) until it passes into the public domain after the copyright term has expired. Examples of this are unauthorized software leaks or software projects which are placed on public software repositories like GitHub without a specified license. As voluntarily handing software into the public domain (before reaching the copyright term) is problematic in some jurisdictions (for instance the law of Germany), there are also licenses granting PD-like rights, for instance the CC0 or WTFPL.
|Permissive FOSS license (e.g. BSD license)
|Copyleft FOSS license (e.g. GPL)
|Freeware / Shareware / Freemium
|Right to perform
|Right to display
|Right to copy
|Lawsuits are filed by the owner against copyright infringement the most
|Right to modify
|Right to distribute
|Yes, under same license
|Yes, under same license
|Right to sublicense
|Apache web server, ToyBox
|Linux kernel, GIMP, OBS
|Windows, the majority of commercial video games and their DRMs, Spotify, xSplit, TIDAL
Cloud computing programs and services,
forensic applications, and other line-of-business work.
Many proprietary or open source software houses sell the software copy with a license to use it. There is no transferring of ownership of the good to the user, who does not have the warranty of a for-life availability of the software, nor are they entitled to sell, rent, give it to someone, copy or redistribute it on the Web. License terms and conditions may specify further legal clauses that users cannot negotiate individually or by way of a consumer organization, and can uniquely accept or refuse, returning the product back to the vendor.This right can be effectively applied where the jurisdiction provides a mandatory time for the good decline right after the purchase (as in the European Union law), or a mandatory public advertisement of the license terms, so as to be made readable by users before their purchasing.
In the United States, Section 117 of the Copyright Act gives the owner of a particular copy of software the explicit right to use the software with a computer, even if use of the software with a computer requires the making of incidental copies or adaptations (acts which could otherwise potentially constitute copyright infringement). Therefore, the owner of a copy of computer software is legally entitled to use that copy of software. Hence, if the end-user of software is the owner of the respective copy, then the end-user may legally use the software without a license from the software publisher.
As many proprietary "licenses" only enumerate the rights that the user already has under 17 U.S.C. § 117,[ citation needed ] and yet claim to take rights away from the user, these contracts may lack consideration. Proprietary software licenses often claim to give software publishers more control over the way their software is used by keeping ownership of each copy of software with the software publisher. By doing so, Section 117 does not apply to the end-user and the software publisher may then compel the end-user to accept all of the terms of the license agreement, many of which may be more restrictive than copyright law alone. The form of the relationship determines if it is a lease or a purchase, for example UMG v. Augusto or Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc.
The ownership of digital goods, like software applications and video games, is challenged by "licensed, not sold" EULAs of digital distributors like Steam.In the European Union, the European Court of Justice held that a copyright holder cannot oppose the resale of a digitally sold software, in accordance with the rule of copyright exhaustion on first sale as ownership is transferred, and questions therefore the "licensed, not sold" EULA. The Swiss-based company UsedSoft innovated the resale of business software and fought for this right in court. In Europe, EU Directive 2009/24/EC expressly permits trading used computer programs.
The hallmark of proprietary software licenses is that the software publisher grants the use of one or more copies of software under the end-user license agreement (EULA), but ownership of those copies remains with the software publisher (hence use of the term "proprietary"). This feature of proprietary software licenses means that certain rights regarding the software are reserved by the software publisher. Therefore, it is typical of EULAs to include terms which define the uses of the software, such as the number of installations allowed or the terms of distribution.
The most significant effect of this form of licensing is that, if ownership of the software remains with the software publisher, then the end-user must accept the software license. In other words, without acceptance of the license, the end-user may not use the software at all. One example of such a proprietary software license is the license for Microsoft Windows. As is usually the case with proprietary software licenses, this license contains an extensive list of activities which are restricted, such as: reverse engineering, simultaneous use of the software by multiple users, and publication of benchmarks or performance tests.
There are numerous types of licensing models, varying from simple perpetual licenses and floating licenses (also known as concurrent licenses) to more advanced models such as the metered license. The most common licensing models are per single user (named user, client, node) or per user in the appropriate volume discount level, while some manufacturers accumulate existing licenses. These open volume licensing programs are typically called open license program (OLP), transactional license program (TLP), volume license program (VLP) etc. and are contrary to the contractual license program (CLP), where the customer commits to purchase a certain number of licenses over a fixed period (mostly two years). Licensing per concurrent/floating user also occurs, where all users in a network have access to the program, but only a specific number at the same time. Another license model is licensing per dongle, which allows the owner of the dongle to use the program on any computer. Licensing per server, CPU or points, regardless the number of users, is common practice, as well as site or company licenses. Sometimes one can choose between perpetual (permanent) and annual license. For perpetual licenses, one year of maintenance is often required, but maintenance (subscription) renewals are discounted. For annual licenses, there is no renewal; a new license must be purchased after expiration. Licensing can be host/client (or guest), mailbox, IP address, domain etc., depending on how the program is used. Additional users are inter alia licensed per extension pack (e.g. up to 99 users), which includes the base pack (e.g. 5 users). Some programs are modular, so one will have to buy a base product before they can use other modules.
Software licensing often also includes maintenance. This, usually with a term of one year, is either included or optional, but must often be bought with the software. The maintenance agreement (contract) typically contains a clause that allows the licensee to receive minor updates (V.1.1 => 1.2), and sometimes major updates (V.1.2 => 2.0). This option is usually called update insurance or upgrade assurance. For a major update, the customer has to buy an upgrade, if it is not included in the maintenance agreement. For a maintenance renewal, some manufacturers charge a reinstatement (reinstallment) fee retroactively per month, in the event that the current maintenance has expired.
Maintenance sometimes includes technical support. When it does, the level of technical support, which are commonly named gold, silver and bronze, can vary depending on the communication method (i.e. e-mail versus telephone support), availability (e.g. 5x8, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day) and reaction time (e.g. three hours). Support is also licensed per incident as an incident pack (e.g. five support incidents per year).
Many manufacturers offer special conditions for schools and government agencies (EDU/GOV license). Migration from another product (crossgrade), even from a different manufacturer (competitive upgrade) is offered.
There are several organizations in the FOSS domain who give out guidelines and definitions regarding software licenses. Free Software Foundation maintains non-exhaustive lists of software licenses following their The Free Software Definition and licenses which the FSF considers non-free for various reasons.The FSF distinguishes additionally between free software licenses that are compatible or incompatible with the FSF license of choice, the copyleft GNU General Public License. The Open Source Initiative defines a list of certified open-source licenses following their The Open Source Definition. Also the Debian project has a list of licenses which follow their Debian Free Software Guidelines.
Free and open-source licenses are commonly classified into two categories: Those with the aim to have minimal requirements about how the software can be redistributed (permissive licenses), and the protective share-alike (copyleft Licenses).
An example of a copyleft free software license is the often used GNU General Public License (GPL), also the first copyleft license. This license is aimed at giving and protecting all users unlimited freedom to use, study, and privately modify the software, and if the user adheres to the terms and conditions of the GPL, freedom to redistribute the software or any modifications to it. For instance, any modifications made and redistributed by the end-user must include the source code for these, and the license of any derivative work must not put any additional restrictions beyond what the GPL allows.
Examples of permissive free software licenses are the BSD license and the MIT license, which give unlimited permission to use, study, and privately modify the software, and includes only minimal requirements on redistribution. This gives a user the permission to take the code and use it as part of closed-source software or software released under a proprietary software license.
It was under debate some time if public domain software and public domain-like licenses can be considered as a kind of FOSS license. Around 2004 lawyer Lawrence Rosen argued in the essay "Why the public domain isn't a license" software could not truly be waived into public domain and cannot therefore be interpreted as very permissive FOSS license,a position which faced opposition by Daniel J. Bernstein and others. In 2012 the dispute was finally resolved when Rosen accepted the CC0 as an open source license, while admitting that contrary to his previous claims, copyright can be waived away, backed by Ninth circuit decisions.
Free software, libre software, or libreware is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price; all users are legally free to do what they want with their copies of a free software regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed "free" if they give end-users ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.
The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedoms to run, study, modify, and share copies of software. Software which meets these requirements, The Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software, is termed free software.
Open-source licenses facilitate free and open-source software (FOSS) development. Intellectual property (IP) laws restrict the modification and sharing of creative works. Free and open-source software licenses use existing legal structures for an inverse purpose. They grant freedoms to promote sharing or collaboration. They grant the recipient the rights to use the software, examine the source code, modify it, and distribute the modifications. These licenses target computer software. Open-source licenses can also cover hardware, infrastructure, drinks, books, and music.
A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work". A CC license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that the author has created. CC provides an author flexibility and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.
Software copyright is the application of copyright in law to machine-readable software. While many of the legal principles and policy debates concerning software copyright have close parallels in other domains of copyright law, there are a number of distinctive issues that arise with software. This article primarily focuses on topics particular to software.
Beerware is a tongue-in-cheek term for software released under a very relaxed license. It provides the end user with the right to use a particular program.
Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a term used to refer to groups of software consisting of both free software and open-source software, where anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is publicly available so that people are encouraged to improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright or licensing and the source code is hidden from the users.
Free/open-source software – the source availability model used by free and open-source software (FOSS) – and closed source are two approaches to the distribution of software.
Multi-licensing is the practice of distributing software under two or more different sets of terms and conditions. This may mean multiple different software licenses or sets of licenses. Prefixes may be used to indicate the number of licenses used, e.g. dual-licensed for software licensed under two different licenses.
A permissive software license, sometimes also called BSD-like or BSD-style license, is a free-software license which instead of copyleft protections, carries only minimal restrictions on how the software can be used, modified, and redistributed, usually including a warranty disclaimer. Examples include the GNU All-permissive License, MIT License, BSD licenses, Apple Public Source License and Apache license. As of 2016, the most popular free-software license is the permissive MIT license.
This comparison only covers software licenses which have a linked Wikipedia article for details and which are approved by at least one of the following expert groups: the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, the Debian Project and the Fedora Project. For a list of licenses not specifically intended for software, see List of free-content licences.
Public-domain software is software that has been placed in the public domain, in other words, software for which there is absolutely no ownership such as copyright, trademark, or patent. Software in the public domain can be modified, distributed, or sold even without any attribution by anyone; this is unlike the common case of software under exclusive copyright, where licenses grant limited usage rights.
License compatibility is a legal framework that allows for pieces of software with different software licenses to be distributed together. The need for such a framework arises because the different licenses can contain contradictory requirements, rendering it impossible to legally combine source code from separately-licensed software in order to create and publish a new program. Proprietary licenses are generally program-specific and incompatible; authors must negotiate to combine code. Copyleft licenses are commonly deliberately incompatible with proprietary licenses, in order to prevent copyleft software from being re-licensed under a proprietary license, turning it into proprietary software. Many copyleft licenses explicitly allow relicensing under some other copyleft licenses. Permissive licenses are compatible with everything, including proprietary licenses; there is thus no guarantee that all derived works will remain under a permissive license.
A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software. These actions are usually prohibited by copyright law, but the rights-holder of a piece of software can remove these restrictions by accompanying the software with a software license which grants the recipient these rights. Software using such a license is free software as conferred by the copyright holder. Free-software licenses are applied to software in source code and also binary object-code form, as the copyright law recognizes both forms.
BSD licenses are a family of permissive free software licenses, imposing minimal restrictions on the use and distribution of covered software. This is in contrast to copyleft licenses, which have share-alike requirements. The original BSD license was used for its namesake, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), a Unix-like operating system. The original version has since been revised, and its descendants are referred to as modified BSD licenses.
Copyleft is the legal technique of granting certain freedoms over copies of copyrighted works with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works. In this sense, freedoms refers to the use of the work for any purpose, and the ability to modify, copy, share, and redistribute the work, with or without a fee. Licenses which implement copyleft can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents.
Proprietary software is software that, according to the free and open-source software community, grants its creator, publisher, or other rightsholder or rightsholder partner a legal monopoly by modern copyright and intellectual property law to exclude the recipient from freely sharing the software or modifying it, and—in some cases, as is the case with some patent-encumbered and EULA-bound software—from making use of the software on their own, thereby restricting their freedoms.
The GNU General Public License is a series of widely used free software licenses or copyleft that guarantee end users the four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The license was the first copyleft for general use and was originally written by Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), for the GNU Project. The license grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the Free Software Definition. These GPL series are all copyleft licenses, which means that any derivative work must be distributed under the same or equivalent license terms. It is more restrictive than the Lesser General Public License and even further distinct from the more widely used permissive software licenses BSD, MIT, and Apache.
Software categories are groups of software. They allow software to be understood in terms of those categories, instead of the particularities of each package. Different classification schemes consider different aspects of software.
Open source license litigation involves lawsuits surrounding open-source licensed software. Many of the legal rights of open source software licensors enforceable against users violating licensing agreements are untested by the U.S. legal system. Free and open source software (FOSS) is distributed under a variety of free-software licenses, which are unique among other software licenses. Legal action against open source licenses involves questions about their validity and enforceability.
I asked gamer lawyer Jas Purewal about this a short while back, not specifically about Valve, and he explained that the matter is still unresolved. "In fact," he says, "it's never been completely resolved for software generally[...]"
A European court has ruled that it's permissible to resell software licenses even if the package has been downloaded directly from the Internet. It sided with a German firm in its legal battle with US giant Oracle.
Could this be the victory we need for a "gamer's bill of rights" ? DRM is an oft-cited acronym, and resonates negatively in the gaming community. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favor of reselling downloaded games. Simply put, legally purchased and downloaded games will be treated like physical copies of the game, and consumers can then sell their 'used' game.
(Legal protection of computer programs — Marketing of used licenses for computer programs downloaded from the internet — Directive 2009/24/EC — Articles 4(2) and 5(1) — Exhaustion of the distribution right — Concept of lawful acquirer)
The case you referenced in your email, Hampton v. Paramount Pictures, 279 F.2d 100 (9th Cir. Cal. 1960), stands for the proposition that, at least in the Ninth Circuit, a person can indeed abandon his copyrights (counter to what I wrote in my article) -- but it takes the equivalent of a manifest license to do so. :-)[...] For the record, I have already voted +1 to approve the CC0 public domain dedication and fallback license as OSD compliant. I admit that I have argued for years against the "public domain" as an open source license, but in retrospect, considering the minimal risk to developers and users relying on such software and the evident popularity of that "license", I changed my mind. One can't stand in the way of a fire hose of free public domain software, even if it doesn't come with a better FOSS license that I trust more.