Software licenses. Types and legal aspect.

Let’s get to the bottom of the basic terms and concepts first. The term “license” is used in Russian legislation in two meanings:

permission of the competent state body to carry out a certain type of activity (from among the types of activities subject to mandatory licensing);

permission to the owner of exclusive rights to the object of intellectual property (artistic work, computer program, invention, trademark) to use this object in a certain way.

We are only interested in the second meaning. To paraphrase it in our context, we get the following: a license is a contract (agreement) between the owner of a computer program and the user of a copy of it.

Historically, all software licenses have been divided into two classes: free software licenses and proprietary software licenses. Proprietary is proprietary software (such as Microsoft products).

Types of Licenses

The license agreement may grant exclusive or non-exclusive rights to the software.

In case of transfer of non-exclusive rights, the right holder grants the user the right to use the Software on an equal footing with himself or other persons also authorized by the right holder. In this case, the right holder is not deprived of the opportunity to use the software itself and provide the right to use the software to other persons.

At transfer of exclusive rights to the Software the right holder transfers to the User exclusive rights to the Software; in this case the right holder has no right to carry out those powers which have been transferred to the User under the contract on transfer of exclusive rights, and also to transfer these powers to other persons.

The software may be distributed on the condition of open source (OpenWare), or without such a condition.

When distributing the software on an open source basis, the right holder, giving the user the right to use the software, also transfers the source code of the program. In this case, the user may be given the right to modify the source code for the purpose of their processing and improvement.

Subsequent use of software products resulting from such processing varies according to the type of license. There are currently two groups of generic open source software licenses: the GNU GPL and FreeBSD.

The main difference between them is the “inheritability” of the properties of open source: under the terms of the GNU GPL, all software products derived from the redesign or modernization of the software distributed under such terms can also only be distributed under the terms of the GNU GPL.

This, on the one hand, contributes to progress in software development, and on the other hand, violates the proprietary interests of some developers who have invested heavily in software upgrades.

The Free BSD license provides great freedom in using the software being transferred. Under the terms of this license, software products derived from the redesign of the code provided may be distributed on any terms, including on a royalty-free basis.

The FreeBSD and GNU GPL licenses are widely used, but they are not the only license available for the transfer of open source software. The copyright holder may, if necessary, develop his or her own terms of granting rights to such software, which restrict the user’s rights to a greater or lesser extent.

Software distribution licenses that do not contain source code openness conditions are more diverse. Each right holder can develop its own terms of granting rights to the software. Virtually all such licenses prohibit any modification of the program code, unless such modification is expressly permitted by law (e.g., adaptation of the program).

A common division of software types depending on the license conditions is their division by the criterion of retribution. According to this criterion, the software is divided into free, conditional-free and commercial software. In some cases, software distributed under special conditions is also identified.

Free software (FreeWare) should not be confused with “open” software (OpenWare): neither free distribution means open source nor open source distribution entails free distribution.

When software is provided free of charge by the copyright holder, special terms of use of the software are usually stipulated. A common condition is a ban on making any changes to the program code, except for those expressly permitted by law. The usual condition for a “free” license is a clause releasing the right holder from any guarantees and obligations related to the functioning of the software.

Conditional free distribution of the software implies that the user is provided with the opportunity to get acquainted with the program, to test its capabilities in solving the user’s problems.

This either limits the free use of the program or provides a functionally limited version of the software. Upon acquaintance with the program the user has the right to either refuse its further use or pay for the software product and purchase the rights to it in full.

Commercial distribution of software implies that the user must pay for the software before he or she can obtain rights to it. Typically, licensing agreements that provide for advance or subsequent payment for the software being transferred contain more warranties and obligations on the part of the copyright holder than free software licenses.

In some cases, rights holders who distribute their software on a commercial basis grant rights free of charge, or pro bono. Typically, software agreements in such cases contain a set of additional conditions that restrict (or, to a lesser extent, extend) the rights of users, as well as limits the use of software products.

Free software classification

Free is a free program or script. You can use and distribute this software for free, but you can’t change the program or script.

The Free GPL is free and free software. Usually, with such a license, you have the right to run, study, distribute, and improve a program or script. Sources are usually available on the author’s website. You can download them, change the software to suit you, and use them quietly. There will be no violations in this case. You can distribute both the source and modified software by you or someone else.

Adware is a free program that fully performs the functions assigned to it, but contains additional components. A component may be used to advertise inside a program, or maybe ask you to fill in a form, etc. When installing such programs, the user is usually warned that additional components will be installed along with the program.

Logistics of software supplies

The software manufacturer, as the owner of exclusive copyrights for the software product, produces licensed copies of the software: prints licenses, generates keys, produces box versions, media, etc. As a rule, the manufacturer also provides technical support for the software.

The distributor accepts the order from the reseller and forms an order for the production of registered licenses for the software manufacturer. The distributor also usually maintains a stock of boxed, pre-installed versions of software and media to reduce delivery time.

Reseller, working directly with the customer, forms the specification of the order to the distributor, after manufacturing and completing the order by the distributor, the reseller delivers the software to the customer. In order to sell software, the reseller, as a rule, must be pre-certified by the manufacturer and have appropriate specialists.