Your Software: is it Legit ?

by : David Berghouse

It's estimated that upwards of 30% of software installed is illegitimate - that means that the licence fee has not been paid to the owner. When you buy a piece of software most of the purchase price is essentially a fee to the owner allowing you to use the software on a non-exclusive basis. Non-exclusive means that you're not the sole licensee - anyone willing to pay the licence fee can use the software.

It has been common for small businesses to erroneously presume that if they buy a piece of software retail they are entitled to install it on all the computers in their office. This is not the case. Software bought in this way constitutes what is known as a 'single user licence', meaning that you are entitled to install it on one computer. Different software owners allow for minor variations to this condition - e.g. some also allow the software to be installed on, say, a Notebook as well as the office Desktop - on the presumption that you won't be using the software on both computers at once. Others allow the software to be uninstalled from one computer and reinstalled on another. You need to check the Licence conditions regarding these options and they are often printed in the Manual or are always contained in a file usually named licence.txt on the CD.

To install a particular programme on, say, all the computers in your office you need what is called a Site Licence or sometimes a multi-user Licence. These are offered at a discount to the price for a Single-User Licence - similar to the way most businesses offer quantity discounts. As an example a Single-User Licence may be $200 and a Site Licence for 5 computers in the one business name may be $500 - a saving of $500.

Many businesses have been caught with illegitimate software on their computers. There is an organisation representing the interests of some of the larger software companies called the Business Software Alliance ( and they often get tip-offs from disgruntled employees about the use of unlicenced software. Any owner of a piece of software being used illegitimately can sue for substantial sums - enough to put most small firms into bankruptcy. And don't think just erasing or uninstalling software from your computer will eliminate all trace of that software on that computer. On a Windows computer there will still be the tell-tale information in the Registry - including the registration code for the copy of that software.

So, get smart and regularise your situation.

First, conduct a software audit in your business. This is a bit like a stock-take: you list all software (including the operating system) installed on each computer. This list should include the software name, version number and serial(registration) number (find these under Help | About). Then compare that with your purchase records.

And, if they don't match, you now know what to do ...
Check the web sites for all your software for details of their site licences and place your order.