Software Copyright Guidelines | Webster University

Software Copyright Guidelines

The Law on Software Copyright

When you buy software, you do not own the software, only the right to use it. If you purchase one copy, it is only legal for you to install and use one copy on one machine. Multiple installations from the same disk(s) are illegal unless you have purchased a multiple-user license.

Illegal use of software puts the university at risk for fines, lawsuits, loss of access to educational software pricing, and represents unethical conduct that harms the entire academic community.

"Fair Use" Laws Do Not Apply to Software

Universities are subject to the same software copyright laws as corporations and individuals. Just as it is wrong to buy one textbook and copy the entire text for many students or faculty, it is wrong for a school to duplicate software without authority from the publisher. This means that:

  • Departments may not use one set of disks to install software on several computers unless a multiple-user license is purchased. This includes placing software or installers on a networked server for many users to share.
  • Faculty and staff may not install University-owned software on their home computers unless an individual copy is purchased by the University for that purpose. (In other words, they may not use the same disks to install software on their office and home computers.) This includes desktop and laptop computers obtained through the faculty/staff purchase program.
  • Students and faculty cannot "borrow" or "rent" software for any purpose, including educational use. A licensed copy must be purchased for each individual. Nearly every software manufacturer offers heavily discounted pricing on software for educators and students, in order to discourage software piracy in schools. Multiple licenses and "lab packs" are also heavily discounted for use by an entire class.

What Software Is Copyrighted?

All software is copyrighted, even personal works by individuals, and no software may be duplicated or distributed without the permission of the author. Obviously, this includes major applications like Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, but it also includes utilities like Norton Anti-Virus, fonts, clip art, and the operating system of your computer. You cannot install, upgrade, copy or distribute these items without owning a proper license to do so.

Work produced by students and faculty is equally protected by copyright law, and may not be copied or distributed without the permission of the author.

Shareware is user-supported software that is distributed by the author, but it is not free. Authors generally request that you evaluate the software for a short time, then either pay for the software or delete it. By honoring the author's license agreement, you support the development of invaluable tools and the availability of low-cost software. Freeware is software that has been committed to the public domain by the author, and can be copied and distributed without charge.

Software Copyright at Webster University

To determine if Webster University owns licenses of a particular software program that can be installed on your office computer, call the IT Service Desk.

The Consequences of Software Piracy

Unauthorized duplication or distribution of software is a federal crime. It can carry a penalty of fines up to $250,000 or jail terms up to five years. Universities and corporations that have been caught pirating software have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in addition to the cost of legalizing all their software and holding anti-piracy training for their employees. Universities may also lose their right to buy software at educational discounts, thereby curtailing the software resources they can offer students and faculty.

Webster University has been audited once by Quark, the maker of QuarkXPress, a popular desktop publishing package. Microsoft Corporation also audits its licensees at random. If licensees cannot immediately produce original installation disks for all copies of the software in use, they must face severe penalties and fines to avoid a lawsuit.

Why Legalize?

When you purchase and register your software with the publisher, you receive user guides and tutorials, quick reference cards, and the opportunity to purchase discounted upgrades. Also, the copyright law promotes broad public availability of new, creative, and innovative products. Without this protection, software publishers could not afford to develop the valuable programs that have become so important in education, business, and our daily lives.

You also protect the University from legal liability for copyright violations, and preserve our access to educational discounts on software that allow us to provide the most software resources to students and faculty.

Most importantly, software piracy harms the entire academic community. Respect for intellectual labor and creativity is vital to academic discourse and enterprise. Just as the University does not tolerate plagiarism, it does not condone the unauthorized copying of software.

Source: Software Publishers Association,