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Know the License Terms: LASD versus NetManage

Apparently the LA Sherrif’s department has run afoul of Wall Data’s shrink-wrap license for Rumba.  The dispute hinges on the distinction between copyright and licensing, and the fact that the LASD had imaged the Wall Data software onto every drive.  Granted, the LASD had a strict system for policing usage, and only the licensed number of CPUs could use the software.  However, after NetManage acquired Wall Data, they required that the LASD pay for every image, rather than every CPU where the image was being used.

The LASD tried to argue they had rights under copyright law.  NetManage successfully argued that the license agreement was what mattered. 

Everything I’ve learned in the software business tells me that NetManage was correct.  The rights you have in a software license are the rights that you have been granted by the owner.  If the contract doesn’t give you specific rights that you feel are necessary, then you should negotiate for those rights with the owner. The LASD didn’t have a license granting those rights. Wall Data employees had allegedly assured the LASD that they could bend the license in the way that they were, however.   When confronted with their license violation, the LASD chose to remove the offending copies, and bring themselves into compliance. 

Why NetManage chose to pursue this issue in court baffles me.  They would have been smarter, in my opinion, to have negotiated a settlement. Less costly, speedier resolution, less ill-will created.

The larger lesson is that you need to read the license.  There is a difference between a concurrent license, a per user license, and a per CPU license.

Ed Foster has the full details in these three posts: 1, 2, 3.

More interesting, even, than the licensing details is the next step in the evolution of licensing.  In his 1999 classic Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, author Lawrence Lessig predicted that copyright and licensing would be replaced by the rules in code itself.  In other words,  it will become less and less important what the license says.  Evidence today that supports Lessig’s contention includes:

  • installers that understand, on the basis of license keys, which components need to be installed, and which not. 
  • software activation systems which check in with a central server once software is installed.
  • systems like Microsoft Genuine Advantage which require a check-in before additional updates can be installed. 

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