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If one downloads a wallpaper on an office computer for the sole purpose of putting it on one's own desktop and watching it all day (as long as there aren't any windows blocking the view at least...), is this personal use (because only that one person uses it for their own entertainment) or commercial use (because the computer is located in an office)?

Or more directly, if a website offering wallpapers as free download with the restriction of "personal, non-commercial use" in their TOS, can those wallpapers be used at work? It's a pure development computer btw, not going to be presented to customers.

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"Personal use" and "non-commercial use" are not statutorily or (I would presume) contractually defined terms. One (preferred) approach is to ask the property-owner whether a product can be used in a particular situation. Another is to try to interpret their statement the way common sense (vaguely defined) tells you that it should be defined. One interpretation – completely wrong – would be that you can use the product in any way you want, as long as you don't charge customers for using the product. But nobody charges customers for incidentally viewing computer wallpaper. Computer wallpaper is for the benefit of the individual using the computer. So whether or not a company has a public showroom with walk-in customers who might incidentally view the wallpaper, such a use would clearly be in the context of a commercial enterprise, thus a commercial use. And that is what is prohibited.

The meaning of the combination "personal, non-commercial use" does get a little murky when applied to an imaginably non-commercial setting such as a non-profit organization, a government office, or a library. Such uses are (generally) not commercial, but they are also not personal. The ordinary language interpretation of adjectives strung together like that is that an "and" is implies -- the use has to be both personal and non-commercial. That would mean that using the product in a government office (etc.) is also not permitted.

  • So if I understood you correctly, you are basically saying that wallpapers declared as "for personal, non-commercial use" (most free wallpapers on the web) may theoretically not be used on office computers at all, no matter how that computer is used as long as it belongs to an office? Do you have any references you can cite on this statement? – Byte Commander Nov 21 '16 at 13:18

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