Anyone who creates something, be it art, writing or products is entitled to have full control over how their creation is used. The same goes for software and its developers. If you develop a cutting edge program tomorrow, wouldn’t you like to know that its users are legally bound to use it the way you intended?
You can do this by creating a software license agreement which the users must agree to before installing the software. You’ll find these during the installation process on practically all software today.
By creating a software license agreement between you and the software user, you are guaranteeing yourself security. Your program can’t be stolen, modified or used in a way which it wasn’t intended if you say so. And in the event that your rules for using the program aren’t upheld, you have a legally binding contract to back you up in legal proceedings.
Creating a software license agreement isn’t at all difficult. In fact, it can be broken down into four different stages.
The license under which your software is distributed are the terms under which the software can be redistributed, modified or otherwise re-used. State in no uncertain terms which way you want the software to be used. Perhaps you would like to leave it as open source and allow anyone to redistribute it or modify it. On the opposite end of the scale, you could choose to reserve all rights to the software and disallow anyone from reusing the software “without full written permission from the developer”.
This is the most important part of the the software license agreement, as it covers a lot of bases at one, not to mention it protects your company’s name. The last thing you want are bogus versions being released without a thing you can do about it.
What happens if your customer isn’t too pleased with the software or it damages some of their equipment? Or indeed, it just won’t work. You can decide whether or not to offer a warranty and even set an expiration date for it.
Other variables such as “˜Acts of God’ should be taken into account. What if their computer breaks while your CD is in it? You can’t be held responsible for that. Or if the software won’t perform due to limitations in their own system specs.
This section carries on from the previous. You should state here to what extent you, the developer, will be held responsible for damages caused because of your software. State clearly what voids the warranty. Also, you should remember that third party applications and external perishables could interfere with your program and you cannot be held responsible for damages caused or lack of performance due to this.
To put it simply, the liability section should contain information relating to the extent you’re willing to put your hand up and take the blame for the failings of your software. You could, if you should so wish, elect to not take any responsibility and state that the user “installs and uses the program at their own risk”.
Finally, you should state in clear terms which local or international laws apply to the licensing agreement of your software. By simply Googling “˜Licensing Laws’ and your area, you can find these. You’ve got to back up the rules above by showing users that offenders will be prosecuted.
International copyright law and licensing laws are also available and can be found in almost any agreement. These basically sum up the licensing agreements (whichever you choose) and list international laws, acts and jurisdictions under which they can be enforced. These are all written the same so you can take them from another agreement and change the company name to your own.
The best tip I can give you for creating a Licensing Agreement is to use unambiguous language. Stating the rules under which the software is used in clear, simple language closes the many loopholes which could be found by using loose language. Words can be interpreted differently. Overall though, there’s not much to worry about. Licensing agreements are pretty standardized and ironclad.
Before writing your own licensing agreement, it’s worthwhile reading one or two others from different pieces of software. This gives you an example of the four steps implemented above.
Let us know your experiences in writing your own licensing agreements in the comments below.
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