Intellectual Property - Licensing - Cyberlicenses  



Study Guide


    • Trial(Demo) Version software - commercial software which is licensed on a trial basis for a certain number of days. Typically many features from the retail software are missing in the demo. 
    • Shareware - "try before you buy" software. There is typically unrestricted usage for a certain number of days (typically 30) after which payment to the author is required to continue using the software. Typically has all the same features available before and after registration. 
    • Freeware - Software which can be freely copied, used, and distributed without cost. However, it may not be resold or relabelled. 
    • Public Domain - Software with no copyright restrictions at all. It may be copied, used, distributed, even resold, relabelled, and incorporated into other programs without cost or consent of the author. 


    Why do I never hear about cyberlicense abuse?

    Specific cases of cyberlicense abuse are very hard to come by. Since many shareware and freeware programs are written by individuals rather than corporations, it would be near impossible for one person to track down and police violations of the license agreement. Prior to the growth of the internet, keeping track of your software was more feasible. Now, your program can be on the other side of the globe within minutes of posting it on the Internet. 

    Even corporations who write shareware are doing little to stop the abuse of cyberlicenses. Many times shareware makes for only a small fraction of a company's income. It's simply not worth the effort to pursue lawsuits when people are found abusing cyberlicenses. 

    Of course, this mentality only serves to propagate the idea that shareware means "free software". The number of unreported cases of cyberlicense abuse far outnumbers the reported cases. It's simply impossible to keep track of everything that goes on with your software. 

    What's being done about the problem?

    By far, the most common safety measure is being taken by the programmers themselves. Many have resorted to distributing severely limited versions of their shareware and not allowing anyone to even demo the full version without paying the registration fees. This is lovingly referred to as "crippleware" by some people. 

    Even more common than crippling is creating "nagware". Nagware is not limited in any way from the full version software. However, it will repeatedly nag you in some form or another until you register. Some programs nag from the moment you download. Some only nag after your trial period is up. Some pop up a dialog and you can just press "Register Later" and it will go away. Others take control of your computer and won't let you do any work for a certain specified period of time. 

    Some programmers have gone so far as to booby trap their internet shareware programs. For example, someone may write an internet chat program which will send the programmer information about you and your computer if you haven't registered his software after a specified time. This is a very controversial topic. 

    There are many ways of "nagging" the consumer to pay the registration fees. Of course, this is to be expected. Shareware programmers typically get no compensation for their work except through registration. Who wouldn't want to get paid? Even if you have to twist a few arms to get it. 

    Unfortunately, these "nag" tactics tend to work. This means that more and more programmers add "nag" features to their programs. There are, of course, ethical considerations here. How much is "too much" nagging? Will this eventually lead to the shareware business dying because nobody wants to download nagware anymore? Do the benefits to the programmers outweigh the inconveniences to the consumer. 


    People who abuse the system, any system, always make it harder for the people who are going about life and doing things the way they were intended to be done. The world of cyberlicensing is no exception. As long as there people who abuse their licenses, they will continue to hurt the honest consumer. Unfortunately, this trend does not appear to be changing anytime soon. 

Explicit vs. Default

    One of the main differences you will see in various online license agreements is the way in which they are accessed. Some websites require you to explicitly agree to their terms and conditions before using their services, or downloading their products. Others provide a link to the terms/agreement at the bottom of the page, and state that by using the page, you are agreeing to the terms.

    Which is better?
    Is the first approach enforceable?
    Is the second?
    Is this similar to the opt-in vs. opt-out issue, where end users must take action to find out what they are agreeing to?


    In order to enforce some agreements online, some companies will record information about the transaction, such as IP address, hostname, etc.

    How much weight should evidence like this be given when considering disputes about online agreements/licenses?

    Once the transaction is completed, should the information be retained?
    Should the consumer be told that the information will be recorded prior to entering the license agreement?

Index of Topics