The differences between purchasing software and purchasing a license to use software is misunderstood by most people. This is complicated more when purchasing computers with software pre-installed on them and is complicated further by blatant lies listed in many auctions on eBay.
The first thing people need to understand is when you go to the store and locate a software title you need, you are not buying the software itself. You are only purchasing the right to use the software. So when you go pay $650 for Microsoft Office or $2500 for Adobe Creative Suite CS4 Master’s Collection, you still DO NOT OWN the software. The payment you made was for the right to use the software only!
Once you understand the first part, you are now far beyond the comprehension of most people. This is the hardest thing for people to understand. I guess it is because people think when you go to the store, you buy things. They are partly right, but they aren’t buying the software, only paying for the right to use the software.
The next thing people need to understand is the differences in software licenses and who can use them.
- Academic licenses are for students and teachers of accredited schools. These licenses are usually way less expensive than full retail versions. Software companies do this to hook students on using specific software, from a specific manufacturer, at an early age. The idea is that if you learn how to use it, you will continue to use it when you are out of school. This is simply a marketing tool for software manufacturers to solicit future business.
- Family Pack licenses is the legal use of a software title on multiple PCs under the same roof. An example of this is Apple’s OSX Leopard Family Pack. It is legal to install on up to five Apple computers which reside under one roof and/or at the same postal address. It is illegal to sell an Apple computer with this type of software license, to another person, who does not live with you, unless you transfer ownership of the entire Family Pack to that person to be installed and used on machines at the buyer’s address.
- OEM Licenses are for specific machines, regardless of who owns them. These software licenses are only legal when used on or with the specific piece of hardware the license was sold with. For instance, if you purchase a new PC and that new PC has Microsoft Windows XP Pro pre-installed on it from the PC’s manufacturer, you do not own the software, only the machine. If you sell that PC, the legal license to use Microsoft Windows XP Pro goes with that specific machine. It is not legal for OEM software which came with one PC, to be installed onto another PC. (Make sure you read The OEM Software Scam!)
- Retail Licenses are for use by the person or business which purchases the license. These licenses are specific in how many computers the software is licensed for use on. Retail Licenses may be a single user license for use by one person, on one pc, or it could be for use by one person on a desktop and a laptop.
- Other licenses exist for businesses and corporations where the business pays and extremely large premium to the software manufacturer to legally use the software on many computers. (For the purpose of this post, I will not go into this section any further. Just understand that the licenses apply only to businesses or large corporations and that the people using the machines with the software installed on them, do not have the legal right to use it somewhere else for personal use.)
If you have read this post to this point, you should now see where I’m headed with my topic about eBay.
I am a long-time, casual user of eBay and the sheer volume of auctions including ILLEGAL software transfers or sales from one person to the other, is concerning. This was brought to the front of my attention in the last several weeks. I have been trying to locate and buy a used Apple G5 computer. When reading through the product description I found hundreds of auctions listing software which will come installed on the machine, but in which the seller is not providing the disks to the software (nor a transfer of license). A simple message to the seller asking about the software cds and licenses, gets me to the point of this post. The eBay sellers are keeping the software cds and retaining their right to use the software on another system. Yet, they represent the machine to the buyer like it is worth so much more, because of all the software the seller has installed on it.
THIS SALES PRACTICE IS HIGHLY ILLEGAL!
This practice breaks the license agreement in multiple ways. It breaks the contractual agreement the original owner made with the software manufacturer, when installing the software for the first time. If you buy the machine and use the software, you are again violating the user agreement, because you are using software which is licensed to someone else for use. (You did not purchase the right to use that software from the software manufacturer and the seller did not explicitly forfeit the right to the software license.)
If the seller does not assign you ownership of the software licenses and disks when you buy a computer, you do not have any legal right to use the software. In fact, if you use the software, you are part of the software piracy problem.
The sellers get mad when you point this out, because eBay frowns on the act of selling computers with illegally obtained or pirated software on them. However, there are so many of these types of auctions, eBay can’t begin to monitor them all. So, eBay passes the blame to the seller and buyers.
How can you ensure you are getting legal software?
- Make sure you read Common Sense Ways to Protect Yourself on eBay!
- Buy from sellers with positive feedback. Make sure you read feedback to find out if there were related issues.
- Ask questions of the seller about the software or computer you are watching/bidding on. (Are the “original” installation/recovery disks included? Do the disks have the original labeling printed by the manufacturer, or are they a copy? Are you forfeiting your right to use the software which is being sold to you? Which license type is the software? and so on.) If these questions asked of the seller don’t reflect positive answers, you are simply paying for a computer system with illegal software on it.
- Use a payment method which protects you from fraud. PayPal really is your friend in these situations!
- Verify any software keys provided to you with the software manufacturer and make sure you register the software under your name. Save all conversations and information pertaining to the sales transaction, in case you are ever asked for proof of legal license for the software you are using.
If you are unsure about this whole issue, contact the manufacturer of the software you have questions about. They love to help people get legal software licenses. Many manufacturers have discounts on the purchase of a legal software license to use in place of the illegal one.
Another point of reference would be the manufacturer of the hardware. They can answer questions about what software came with the machine and what is needed to legally recover the software for use.