I am curious to know if it is illegal for someone to use software applications on a found laptop computer.

For example, let's say that you go to a bus stop and there is a laptop computer sitting on a park bench near this bus stop. You sit down on the park bench, open up the laptop's lid, and discover that it is not password protected and it is displaying the Windows Desktop.

At this point, would it be illegal for you to open up a software application and use it, such as an Internet browser, gaming software, business application, etc.?

You have no plans to take the laptop with you, you just want to use a software application(s) on the laptop until the bus arrives, at which you are going to shut off the laptop and return it to the park bench before you get on the bus.

3 Answers 3


Would it be legal to jump into an unlocked car and start it?

No. Same situation, different object.


This would be a violation of 18 USC 1030, which criminalizes knowingly accessing a computer without authorization. The provisions of this law are fairly open-ended. It depends on what exactly you do with the computer, for example it is a crime if you "obtain information" from the computer (read a file). There are state analogs to the federal law – the state analogs tend to have stricter prohibitions against unauthorized access.


It depends. At this point, you are not the owner. In many countries, you can call some authority, they spend some time looking for the owner, and if no owner is found then it's yours, and you are the rightful owner.

I've read the T&Cs of Apple, and it seems only the legitimate owner or anyone authorised by them has the right to use any Apple software on that computer. So Apple could sue you for copyright infringement (although if you were known, the legitimate owner would first sue you for theft. Although it can be argued that you are automatically authorised to try to find the owner of a lost computer).

In the situation you describe, there is no authorisation for your access at all.

Also, depending on where you are, if there is lost property then you have two choices: You either ignore it completely (that includes using any software on it) or you take it and attempt to find the owner (and keep it if the owner cannot be found), and nothing in between.

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