Licensing of Computer Software
Members of the Department are reminded that there are serious legal penalties for contravening the licensing conditions of software packages (eg see FAST’s website). It is therefore important that everyone ensures that any software they are using is being used legally and that all licences are properly recorded in the Department’s database.
Some software requires a licence to be purchased for every user, and assigned to an individual machine usually with a key number or even a physical device. Other software may have a network licence, and machines are configured to talk to a licence server to confirm they are allowed to run the software. You should be aware that most of our network licences are only for staff and students, and that some licences may have further restrictions (eg teaching only).
If you are in any doubt about the legality of any software you are running, please contact the person who purchased the software for advice (or the IT Helpdesk for software the ICS purchase) – the old maxim that ignorance of the law is no defence applies!
University and Department-wide Licences
The University, or in some cases the Department, often makes agreements in order to provide a piece of software widely to large numbers of people in the University. These sort of agreements are often granted on special licence terms, which may require:
- a specified level of confidentiality and/or the code is not reverse-engineered
- the code is not modified or, if it is, then the software company owns the modifications
- the use of the software is limited to named individuals, a maximum number of users, a maximum number of concurrent users, staff and registered students only, etc.
- the software may be used for research and teaching, but not for commercial use
- any publication of results from work that used the software must acknowledge its use
- any results must be shared with the software company.
Software use for Research
It is the Principal Investigator’s (PI’s) responsibility to ensure compliance with software licences. There are clearly lots of pitfalls, so it is always worth asking the person who purchased the software (or the IT Helpdesk for software the IT Services Division purchase) to check the understanding of licensing terms before proceeding.
The situation is almost always simplified if the PI ensures:
- he/she briefs users on key licence terms and monitors their use of the software
- only Department staff or registered students are allowed to use the software (i.e. collaborators, sponsors, and visitors do not use the software)
- the software is not used in consulting work
- specific end-use designs are not delivered to sponsors (e.g. the software is used to produce the design of a chip for research purposes, but it is not used to produce the final design for production and sale).
Software use by collaborators and sponsors
Sometimes the PI will want to let a collaborator, sponsor or visitor use software on a collaborative project. The recommended way forward is to ask the collaborator, sponsor or visitor to get his/her home institution or employer to buy a licence, because this eliminates nearly all difficulties. If, however, software must be provided under our licence, then it is necessary to:
- undertake a close check of the licence terms
- set a strict limit on the use of the software to the research collaboration only (e.g. no commercial work by the visitor for his/her employer)
- control the use of the software and the release of outputs from the software (e.g. sign off required for release by the PI)
- establish a simple method of monitoring use (e.g. a shared folder where results of using the software can be seen by the PI).
Occasionally a sponsor is willing to negotiate directly with the software supplier for explicit permission for licenses to be used by people not normally covered. We are aware of two types of case where we have done this in the past:
- Where the department is running a workshop/conference involving external people who would not be licensed normally
- Where the collaborator is usually someone who was employed here and has recently left but is completing a piece of work.
We understand that both Abaqus and Matlab have been used for such cases with the agreement of the supplier (the case being made to them usually being a combination of “these people have access to the software at their own institution anyway” and/or “this is good publicity for you on the benefits of this software”).
Sometimes a PI will want to translate research into commercial use including end-use designs. In which case, it is necessary to buy a commercial licence for the University – it is reasonable to ask the sponsor to buy such a licence. If a visitor from the sponsor intends to undertake this work, then it makes sense to ask the sponsor to buy its visitor a commercial licence to avoid complications.
There are occasions when member of IT staff, on investigating an unrelated issue, has discovered while doing so that the software on it is unlicensed. This is not something which can ignored by IT staff nor by the Department: it is illegal. It is thus something which the IT staff member must report and the owner of the computer should not be allowing to happen.
For any licensed software, the burden of proof if we were to be investigated would lie with us, both collectively and individually. We must be able to demonstrate (usually by production of a licence) that the software is licensed.
Requirements on Everyone Responsible for a Computer
If you are responsible for a computer running software which requires a licence, you must be able to prove that it is licensed. If you cannot, and are not covered by a site licence, then the only solution is to buy a new licence. You must also ensure that all your licences are properly recorded in the Department’s database.
Problems tracing licences frequently arise when a computer is handed on from one person to another. It is the recipient, ie the current user, who is responsible for ensuring that the software is properly licensed, and recorded in the database in their name.
The Department’s IT Staff can provide advice on the cheapest suppliers of licences for most common software, and on which packages are provided for all staff/students. Your local IT Support staff can also advise on appropriate free alternatives to common licensed software, such as the Linux operating system and the OpenOffice suite.
The Department has auditing software which can be used to determine what software is installed on a PC. Please contact the Helpdesk if you require such an audit. This list can (and should!) then be checked against the list of licences held.