If Only...I had used a Software Licence

Most computer users are aware of the existence of “end user” licenses for computer software, even if they are not familiar with the meaning behind the small print. Every time you sign up to a new program for use on a computer, you will be asked if you agree to the terms of use, and these are set out in the form of an end user licence.

Licences of computer software are not just relevant to the programs used by us all as part of our daily computer use. We were recently asked to advise the creator of some computer software on a problem that had arisen over the ownership of software that had been provided to his customer. Our client had never agreed the basis on which he was providing his work and was now facing a challenge over rights in the work.

The case highlighted how important it is for the writers of software to make sure that the users of their work enter into software licences that set out the rights and responsibilities of the parties.

The writer of source code in computer software is entitled to protect the work under the law of copyright. Copyright is an automatic right, that does not need to be protected by any form of registration, but it is necessary for the author to be able to prove ownership.

By using a software licence, the software “author” tells a user of the software that the copyright in the software belongs to the licensor and sets out the basis on which the software can be used by the end user. Importantly, if the end user breaches the licence (for example, by providing an unauthorised copy of the software to someone else) the licence can be terminated. After explaining to him what a software licence can do, our client said: “If only I had used a software licence, these problems would never have arisen”.

If you would like advice on preparing an end user licence for computer software, please contact us on 01245 453817 or email david.wisbey@birkettlong.co.uk

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.