Lets assume there is a piece of software I would love to use while programming at work. My company will not buy it (or it will take months before it goes through bureaucratic wall).

Can I purchase it for myself, and then use at workplace, or would that violate law?


I think in my case the best answer would be to make sure it is legal with both company policy and software EULA (in case of not clear - ask company directly).

In my case the software (which was a GIT client) ended up being perfectly fine to be used on company computers as long as it is me using it :)

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    SJuan76 is right - it might or might not be unlawful, but that's not really the point. Possibly more a "Workplace" than "Law" SE? Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 11:59
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    Usually companies have a policy about installing software. Even if it's 100% legal, it probably violates the IT policy and if you do that they are within their right to sack you.
    – Brandin
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 14:45
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    Even assuming that the license conditions of the software allow it and that your IT policies at your workplace allow it, you should really think twice about it, because it sets a dangerous precedent. You now established that it is acceptable for your employer to aks employees to pay for their sofware tools themselves. The next person might get told: "Internetofmine bought Visual Studio and Photoshop privately, so if you don't like Notepad and MSPaint, then you are free to also buy your own software.". It's your employers duty to provide you with the tools you need to do your job, not yours."
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 14:58
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    Suppose you are doing something mission-critical for the company, and you "get the wrong answer" because of a bug in the software you chose and installed yourself. Who gets to pick up the liability for whatever happened? There's no sense in somebody suing you personally for $10m damages, so they will go after the company instead. That's why a sensible company will start from a knee-jerk "no" position over such a request - it's simply not worth the risk.
    – alephzero
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 19:59
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    Also, where are you? Jurisdiction can make a difference. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 16:25

4 Answers 4


it would violate law?

It would be very dependent of what your jurisdiction is and what the software does. I would expect most software that would be lawful to install at your home would be lawful to install at your company, but there may be exceptions.

To put an hyperbolic example, if you work at the CIA and you install some remote access software that allows you to access your workstation from a non-secure PC through non-secure methods, I am pretty sure that would be illegal, even if you had the best of intentions.

A recent scenario taken from real life involves some members an organization who are required to use official e-mail servers for FOIA purposes setting up their own private mail servers.

Of course, YMMV.

can I purchase it for myself, and then use at workplace

Even if the software is legal it does not mean that it is ok to use it at the workplace. Most business have rules about what software may be installed in the PCs, who may install it and how to manage it.

Your software could introduce security vulnerabilities that your IT team may need to be aware of, or incompatibilities with other software. It may introduce legal liabilities (you install a "home edition" licence in a corporate environment where that licence is invalid).

Your company may discipline you if you breaking those guidelines and install software without authorization, even if there is no harm for them for this action. On top of that, if your actions cause some damage to the company, it can sue you to get you to pay for those damages.

Before taking any action you should inquiry about your company's IT policy and, if your company does not have one or if the policy is not clear about allowing you to install the software, ask the people in charge (preferably in writting).

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    A LOT of software states that it is free for personal use but not for commercial use Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 13:35
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    @BrianLeishman That is true, but the OP is talking about purchasing software, not using free software. A lot less software that costs money has a different license for commercial use (but yes, such license differentiation does exist of course).
    – JBentley
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:03
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    @KRyan I edited it, thank you for warning me.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 15:20
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    Best answer. Also want to add that most commercial software licenses would have to be purchased in the name of the company using it, meaning if you left it would still be registered to the company - not to you. You have wasted your money on another builders hammer, so to speak
    – Horkrine
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 16:49
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    @BrianLeishman Much of the software that states that is flat out lying to you. (If pushed, they'll probably argue that by "commercial use" they mean distribution, not ordinary use.) However, if the software requires you to agree not to use it commercially in order to install it, then that is probably legally binding on the specific person who actually agreed to it. Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 19:28

Adding to @SJuan76's answer:

Company policy aside, most if not all software will have a licence that will include its terms of use. These will often differ between personal use and commercial use as mentioned by @brian-leishman. You should find the licencing terms for the software in question and check whether they allow you to use it for commercial purposes. It would also be prudent to speak to someone in legal at your company so that they can confirm whether or not you can use it from both a legal and company policy standpoint.

An example of different licencing can be found with IDEA's IntelliJ IDE (Ultimate edition). There is a commercial licence, and a personal licence. The commercial licence is for when your organisation wants to buy licences. The personal licence can be used for organisational use, but not if the company has paid for it or compensated you for the cost of purchasing it yourself. There is also a community edition that is free for any use, but has fewer features. This demonstrates the importance reviewing the licence and terms of use.

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    Regarding IntelliJ, the community edition is actually open source under the Apache license, so using it for commercial purposes is actually just fine. The comparison page even admits this if you hover over the "?" icon on the "Community" side: jetbrains.com/idea/?fromMenu Of course, they are in the business of making money, so of course they want to encourage you to buy the 'Ultimate' editions.
    – Brandin
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 14:48
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    Yeah, I'm super impressed with their licencing. As soon as my student licence runs out I'm going to buy the whole shebang with the grad discount. I definitely think it's worth shelling out
    – J Lewis
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 14:52
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    To add to this: The licence might require that a large corporation must buy an expensive USD 10,000+ multiuser licence where a small one-man company can buy a cheap USD 100 licence. So the answer might be, yes you can use it if you pay for the multiuser licence.
    – Bent
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 16:41

If you know for sure that your company will not allow the use of the software, then you cannot use it because an employee is oblige to follow the order of the employer. You can ask your in-charge about the permissibility of using the software, it he permits, go ahead.

  • I'm not actually obliged to follow orders. The other side of this is that my employer is not actually obliged to employ me any more. (I'm in the US, so this might not be the case elsewhere.) I would not want to be in a job where I was legally obliged to follow orders (except for the military, which has procedures about this), for fear of running afoul of the law while performing my job. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 16:27
  • A contract creates an obligation for both parties. Your failure to fulfill an obligation doesn't make it magically cease to exist, and being fired is the employer's option taken to end the contract, not ignore their own obligations under it either. To claim otherwise is simply not correct at all.
    – user4657
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 4:48
  • @Nij A lot of things in my employee handbook say that I can be subject to disciplinary procedures, sometimes up to and including termination. Insubordination is normally recognized as a reason to fire for cause, but it normally doesn't include any further legal penalties. Obviously, I can do things at work that will open me up to civil or criminal liability, but insubordination isn't one of them. Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 17:55
  • I'm not sure how the provision of guidance that states refusing to complete particular obligations can be met with the termination of employment refutes the point that following orders is a contractual obligation...
    – user4657
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 19:37

In the US, there would be two laws to be concerned with, copyright law (which would depend upon the license of the software) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (which basically makes it a felony to piss off someone that owns a computer that you use, interact with, or are near).

If the terms of your license allow it, talk to your supervisor and see about getting permission to install it on your computer at work. If you don’t get permission, don’t do it.

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