2

Some examples of expired software:

  1. Macromedia Flash 8 : Macromedia company bought by Adobe
  2. Electric Rain Swift 3D : Electric Rain company went down / disappeared

Is it legal to use and/or share expired software like this, that is still copyrighted ?

If it is illegal, can people still be sued, even if the production company was bought or dissolved ? If yes, on what grounds ? Because...

In example 1,

  1. the software being used is not built by Adobe, & Macromedia company no longer exist.
  2. the format being used (Flash/SWF) is no longer supported by Adobe, so there should be no monetary loss.

In example 2,

  1. the Electric Rain company no longer exist, so there should be no monetary loss.
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  • Out of interest, what do you think Adobe were buying if it wasnt ownership of the software that Macromedia was making?
    – user28517
    Oct 26 '20 at 11:23
  • This is not the same situation as in the linked Q&A alkthough it is soimewhast siumilar. In the linked Q the companyt is defunct and the copyright holder is unknown. Here the copany or its successor is known, but no longert supports the software. I am voting to reopen. Oct 26 '20 at 15:20
  • @DavidSiegel I can't see what it means for software to be "expired." Particularly if the owner is known. I guess an answer of the form, "Legal if, strangely, something in the license invalidates the copyright if the company no longer supports it?" If you (or anyone) wants to post an answer reply to me and I'll reopen.
    – feetwet
    Oct 28 '20 at 1:08
  • @feetwet "expired" was the OP's word, not mine. I took it to mean "no longer available for sale" or perhaps "no longer supported" I would like to provide an answer. Oct 28 '20 at 1:33
  • 1
    @Sneftel software is often said to be at "end of life" if it is no longer available for sale, and if the maker no loner supports it, and perhaps advises that it not be used, possibly recommending some later version or different product. The software may be i some technical sense obsolete. For example, software designed for Windows 3.1 and never updates would be at end of life at this point. It could only be run by jumping through some hoops. Software that was sold on a subscription basis would be EOL if all subs had ended. Aug 16 at 14:25
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+25

When a company is bought by another company, then all their intellectual property is usually transferred to the buyer. That means when Adobe bought Macromedia, then all the copyrights to all Macromedia products presumably went to Adobe. So Adobe can take legal actions when you violate their copyright on Macromedia Adobe Flash 8. I said "usually" and "presumably", because there might always be some contract clause in the purchase agreement between Macromedia and Adobe which says otherwise. And that agreement might not be public knowledge.

When a company "disappears", then things can get even more complicated.

When a company goes bankrupt, then their assets get liquidated. That means everything they own - material or immaterial - gets sold to the highest bidder. Who that bidder is is not always public information. So the copyrights might land somewhere where you wouldn't expect it. In fact there is a whole industry of "copyright trolls" who buy IP from defunct companies just so they can sue anyone using that IP.

When a company is dissolved voluntarily, then any of its assets either get sold off to the highest bidder just like during a bankruptcy, or become the personal property of the company owner(s). Who might be private people or a parent company.

Sometimes a company might "nominally" go out of business by sacking all employees and ceasing all business activity, but might still exist on paper. That means whoever owns the company could at any time decide to go back into business just to start a lawsuit.

In some cases it might be hard to tell what actually happened to the IP rights to a specific piece of software. The information might be in some contract deeply buried in some file cabinet. Or perhaps there is no documentation at all, so finding out who owns what can become an immensely difficult lawsuit.

Bottom line: Who owns the copyright on what is not public information. Just because you can't find out who currently owns the copyright to some intellectual property does not mean nobody does. And when you violate their copyrights, that person might suddenly appear with a lawyer and make all kinds of demands, including suing you for statutory damages (which does not require them to prove that you actually caused financial harm to them).

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  • I agree with the basis of this answer but being in tech I have seen many emulators and OS clones that let people jump back in time to windows 98 or a version of office or whatever. I have been a part of audits by Microsoft and Adobe (50k+ users) and we had some red flags on old versions, possibly unlicensed. Neither company cared and when ask they said they can't really enforce paying for software that they don't support at all - in so many words. I get the reusing of ideas and code... but using old software... everyone on the net does and no one cares.
    – blankip
    Aug 16 at 18:01
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    @blankip No one may care, but the question here is whether one can be successfully sued, not if they will be.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 18 at 4:46
  • @Greendrake - a person can be sued for almost anything. I think the using of old software (as stated) as an individual is not in the realm of being sued at all... so really they can't be. Now if a business uses software or uses IP from the products for their own that is totally different. But no an individual cannot be sued because it has never happened.
    – blankip
    Aug 18 at 18:04
  • @blankip Everything happens for the first time at some point. If things were not happening merely because they have never happened then nothing would ever happen at all.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 18 at 23:51
  • I see... statutory damages, copyright trolls, patent trolls... always destroying innovation :(
    – Neel
    Aug 27 at 10:09

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