Your small business may not operate on a national or global level, but as a software user on any level, you are subject to licensing agreement laws. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted software is more common than you think. Not thinking about it will also lead to legal trouble, like the $3 million penalty the City of Denver recently paid to Oracle. Examples of misuse include sharing, downloading, selling, or installing multiple copies of licensed software. Other examples are installing a piece of software more times than the license permits and sharing software license codes, activation keys, or user IDs and passwords for web-based software applications. It is equally as important to protect your business’s intellectual property as it is to protect it from threatening audits or penalties. A small business attorney will help keep you compliant and protected. This post will discuss:
- Different types of software licenses,
- Impact and consequences of unlicensed software, and
- Precautions concerning software and license choices every small business should take.
1. Staying Legal With Software Licenses
According to Wikipedia, a software license is a legal contract that governs the use or redistribution of software. All software is copyright protected, and a license grants the licensee/end-user specific permission to use one or more copies of the software. One exception is public domain software, where the software has been put into the public domain for anyone to use. Another exception to typical proprietary software is open source. Open source software is under copyright, but this type of license grants users the right to modify, reuse, and share the product while protecting the copyright holders from legal liability. One of the most popular of these licenses is a GNU General Public License, which takes measures to ensure that your software stays open source even if modified or redistributed. Other open source licenses include GNU Lesser General Public License, Apache License, MIT License, and BSD License. There are varying levels of complexity and restrictions among the different open source licenses each with their own benefits. A small business lawyer will help you determine what type of software and licenses are right for your business.
2. Impact And Consequences Of Failure To Comply With Software Licensing Laws
Software licensing or compliance audits are conducted to improve software distribution and to avoid or determine copyright infringement. Not only can an infringement result in your software being disabled, but it can lead to civil as well as criminal penalties. Unlicensed software also exposes businesses and consumers to security threats, like malware, ransomware, spyware, and viruses. A CBS Denver news story reveals that, as a result of the city’s violation of licensing agreements with Oracle, Denver taxpayers will pay millions of dollars more in 2017. The article states that Oracle threatened a $10 million penalty but settled for $3 million. Chief Information Officer for Denver Technology Services Scott Cardenas did not say how the city became out of compliance, only that the city has entered a new five-year contract with Oracle that is a “true-up” or balancing of its licensing with Oracle. A Forbes article indicates that companies, like Oracle, are giving more audit and breach notices, leaving businesses prone to losing their software programs and much more. It is easier than ever to fall out of compliance with the changing nature of software products and evolution of IT infrastructure. Your small business attorney will ensure your business stays compliant in order to avoid costly fines or loss of your current database.
3. Precautions When Considering Your Software And License Choices
Small businesses can learn valuable lessons from big entities and their mistakes or misfortunes with software licensing compliance. There are numerous precautions you should take to keep your small business out of big trouble. It is essential to find the right software and license fit for your company. Once you have done this, follow a checklist as it applies to your business.
- Keep an organized record of purchase orders, contracts, paid invoices, retail and other receipts for purchase, and original license certificates;
- Audit software installed on any desktop, portable, virtual computer, server, or personal computer/device used for company purposes;
- Compare and match software product names, version numbers, and types of licenses;
- Establish a company policy regarding software usage; and
- Monitor ongoing usage.
A small business attorney will ensure you have taken the necessary precautions and represent you in the event of a software licensing violation.
If you need help with software compliance or your small business contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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