Software Ethics

Using Software: A Guide to the Ethical and Legal Use of Software for Members of Weber State University

Software enables us to accomplish many different tasks with computers. Unfortunately, in order to get their work done quickly and conveniently, some people justify making and using unauthorized copies of software. They may not understand the implications of their actions or the restrictions of the U.S. copyright law.

Here are some relevant facts:

  1. Unauthorized copying of software is illegal. Copyright law protects software authors and publishers, just as patent law protects inventors.
  2. Unauthorized copying of software by individuals can harm the entire academic community. If unauthorized copying proliferates on a campus, the institution may incur a legal liability. Also, the institution may find it more difficult to negotiate agreements that would make software more widely and less expensively available to members of the academic community.
  3. Unauthorized copying of software can deprive developers of a fair return for their work, increase prices, reduce the level of future support and enhancement, and inhibit the development of new software products.

Software and Intellectual Rights

Respect for intellectual labor and creativity is vital to academic discourse and enterprise. This principle applies to works of all authors and publishers in all media. It encompasses respect for the right to acknowledgment, right to privacy, and right to determine the form, manner, and terms of publication and distribution.

Because electronic information is volatile and easily reproduced, respect for the work and personal expression of others is especially critical in computer environments. WSU does not condone the unauthorized copying of software, including programs, applications, databases text bases, and code.  Violations of authorial integrity, including plagiarism, invasion of privacy, unauthorized access, and trade secret and copyright violations, may be grounds for sanctions or legal actions against members of the WSU community.

Questions You May Have About Using Software

A. What do I need to know about software and the U.S. Copyright Act?
Unless it has been placed in the public domain, software is protected by copyright law. The owner of a copyright holds exclusive right to the reproduction and distribution of his or her work. Therefore, it is illegal to duplicate or distribute software or its documentation without the permission of the copyright owner. If you have purchased your copy, however, you may make a back-up for your own use in case the original is destroyed or fails to work.
B. What is WSU's work at home policy.
WSU has several software packages that when you purchase a license you are allowed to install the software on your campus workstation and either your home machine or laptop. 
C. Can I loan software I have purchased myself?
If your software came with a clearly visible license agreement, or if you signed a registration card, read the license carefully before you use the software. Some licenses may restrict use to a specific computer. Copyright law does not permit you to run your software on two or more computers simultaneously unless the license agreement specifically allows it. It may, however, be legal to loan your software to a friend temporarily as long as you do not keep a copy.
D. If software is not copy-protected, do I have the right to copy it?
Lack of copy-protection does not constitute permission to copy software in order to share or sell it. "Non-copy-protected" software enables you to protect your investment by making a back-up copy. In offering non-copy-protected software to you, the developer or publisher has demonstrated significant trust in your integrity.
E. May I copy software that is available through facilities on my campus, so that I can use it more conveniently in my own home?
Software acquired by WSU is  licensed. The licenses restrict how and where the software may be legally used by members of the University. This applies to software installed on hard disks in microcomputer clusters, software distributed on disks by a campus lending library, and software available on a campus mainframe or network. Some institutional licenses permit copying for certain purposes. Consult your campus authorities if you are unsure about the use of a particular software product.
F. Isn't it legally "fair use" to copy software if the purpose in sharing it is purely educational?
No.  It is illegal for a faculty member or student to copy software for distribution among the members of a class, without permission of the author or publisher.

G. When software is installed on a hard disk, may the diskette version continue to remain in use?

No, unless explicitly authorized to do so by the author or publisher of the product. Under the Copyright Act, only the owner of the software may use the original diskette version and the electronic copy on the hard disk.

H. If I put a program on a computer participating in a network, may others on the network use it as well?

Most software licenses do not allow this unless you have a version specifically for use on networks. It is best to check the license agreement. If there is no explicit prohibition by the author or publisher of the product, then under the Copyright Act, persons using your computer through the network may do so as long as they are able to use your program without first having to make or "download" an electronic copy of the Program.

I. When I upgrade my software to a new version, may I sell the old version?

Usually, reduced-cost upgrades are provided on condition that you destroy the old copy or at least save it for yourself. Full-price replacements bear no such caveats and resale is a way of recovering part of the costs.

I. May I sell software that I no longer need or use?

You may certainly give away or sell software that you no longer use, provided that there is no contrary provision in the license agreement and provided that you do not keep a copy for yourself. If the license on your software permits or if no license was received at the time of your original purchase of the software, you may sell the software. In both cases, you are transferring the permission, or "license", to use the software.

K. May I copy demo programs and sample diskettes?

No, unless explicitly encouraged or allowed by the publisher.

Alternatives to Explore

Software can be expensive. You may think that you cannot afford to purchase certain programs that you need. But there are legal alternatives to unauthorized copying.

Site Licensed and Bulk-Purchased Software

WSU has negotiated with Software House International for Faculty and Staff to purchase software at a reduced price.  Software available through institutional site licenses or bulk purchases is subject to copyright and license restrictions, and you may not make or distribute copies without authorization.


Shareware, or "user-supported" software, is copyrighted software that the developer encourages you to copy and distribute to others. This permission is explicitly stated in the documentation or displayed on the computer screen. The developer of shareware generally asks for a small donation or registration fee if you like the software and plan to use it. By registering, you may receive further documentation, updates and enhancements. You are also supporting future software development.

Public Domain Software

Sometimes authors dedicate their software to the public domain, which means that the software is not subject to any copyright restrictions. It can be copied and shared freely.

Software without copyright notice is often, but not necessarily, in the public domain. Before you copy or distribute software that is not explicitly in the public domain, check with your campus computing office.

A Final Note

Restrictions on the use of software are far from uniform. You should check carefully each piece of software and the accompanying documentation yourself. In general, you do not have the right to:
  1. Receive and use unauthorized copies of software, or
  2. Make unauthorized copies of software for others.
If you have questions not answered by this site about the proper use and distribution of a software product, seek help form WSU Computing Support at extension 7777. from the software developer, or publisher.

Source:  Using Software: A Guide to the Ethical and Legal Use of Software for Members of the Academic Community issued by EDUCOM and ADAPSO

Note: Copyright 1987 EDUCOM AND ADAPSO, with permission in brochure to use in whole or in part, providing the source is acknowledged.