The most important thing to know is that fair use does not apply to software. The terms of the software license accompanying the software will always dictate the usage terms.

  • Unless it's been placed in the public domain deliberately by its creator, all software should be assumed to be protected by copyright law.
  • “Software,” for copyright purposes, includes not only applications such as Microsoft Word, but also computer utilities, fonts, clip art collections, screen savers, operating systems, etc.
  • Violations carry substantial penalties, both financial (fines up to $250,000) and criminal (jail terms up to five years).
  • Even shareware and freeware typically have some strings attached to their use. Be sure to read any download agreement, license text or “Read Me” file that comes with it.

Usually Permitted:

  • Unrestricted use of public domain software.
  • Use of licensed commercial software within the terms of the accompanying software license.
  • Making one copy of software for backup use if original is damaged or lost.
  • Lending of software by non-profit libraries for non-profit purposes (however, there is an obligation to monitor that it is not being illegally copied for retention by the lender).
  • Using/copying/free distribution of open source software.


  • Making multiple copies of licensed software or installing software on multiple computers, even for educational purposes.
  • Having more simultaneous users than the software license allows.
  • Using shareware after the evaluation period has ended without purchase.
  • Unmonitored lending of software by library.
  • Installing licensed software on a network without purchasing a network license.