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Protecting software with a license

| 1 April 2015
Protecting software with a license

As software is protected by copyright, the author of a computer program must give third parties permission before they can install or distribute it. This even applies if the author does not charge for the program. Such a permission is called a license. Licensing a computer program can be done in a variety of ways, and there are few restrictions on what you can put in such a license.

Software is protected by copyright if its development involved creative activity. The required level of creativity is very low. When writing software, a programmer has to make certain choices: texts for dialog boxes and menus, whether to use a series of if-statements or a switch-statement, and so on. These choices indicate the work was the result of creative activity.

The second main requirement is that the program is developed independently. Independence does not mean that nothing similar may exist. It is very well possible to independently create a program that has similarities with an existing program. For example, two programmers implementing the same algorithm may end up with very similar code. Both their implementations are protected by copyright and neither infringes on the copyright of the other.

When software is protected by copyright, the author of a computer program must give third parties permission before they can install or distribute it. This even applies if the author does not charge for the program. Such a permission is called a license. Licensing a computer program can be done in a variety of ways, and there are few restrictions on what you can put in such a license.

Typical license clauses are

  • Grant of license: tell people what they can do with your software.
  • License restrictions: explicitly forbid certain activities, such as reverse engineering or offering the software to third parties.
  • Updates and upgrades: do you offer any? When and how can people receive these?
  • Warranties: what happens in case a bug manifests itself?
  • Payment terms: how do you get compensation for use of your software?
  • Limitation of liability: avoid claims for defects or bad performance of your software.
  • Choice of law and venue: with the internet, software sales may easily be international, which means you need to define which law applies and where lawsuits need to be brought.