If someone has an illegally downloaded copy of a software that is used to produce something (for example, Photoshop for producing (/editing) pictures or FL Studio for music), is it illegal to produce something with it?

If you know someone who has an illegal copy of Photoshop (I'll use Photoshop as an example since pretty much everyone knows it), and you create something with it, have you done something illegal, or something that could be considered illegal? Does it matter if you didn't know that it was an illegal copy?

In this case, by production I mean producing something just for yourself, or sharing it with other people but without gaining any money from it. "Production" also includes editing, in the sense that if you edit a picture with Photoshop, you've produced something with Photoshop.

I'm from Finland but I doubt that there's anyone here who could shed some light on this from the viewpoint of the laws of Finland, so all answers, no matter what country's laws they are based on, are welcome.

  • What jurisdiction? At the very least, please add a country tag.
    – Mawg
    Feb 6, 2021 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


It is illegal to make copies of copyrighted materials without license.

In the case of software, obviously it will be illegal to make copies by copying and installing the software without a license, but we are not talking about that.

If I have a legitimate license of say Photoshop, and I start the application, parts or all of the code will be loaded into the RAM of my computer, which is a copy. According to copyright law, it is legal for me to make that copy. You are allowed to copy legitimately owned software into RAM to execute it. If your copy of Photoshop is illegal, and you start the application, the copy that is made into RAM is again copyright infringement.

Having read the software license for the software that you get when you buy a Mac, it seems that if you steal my computer and just start the operating system, you are committing copyright infringement, and it seems that if you buy such a stolen computer and just start the operating system, you are committing copyright infringement as well, because the license that I received when I purchased the computer covers anyone using it with my permission, and covers anyone who legally buys the computer from me, but doesn't cover a thief.

Now does this affect the work that you did? No, you have the full copyright on your work. Copyright law doesn't require that your tools are all used legitimately.

  • 2
    Have there been actual court rulings that loading a program into memory constitutes making a "copy" for the purposes of copyright law? It makes intuitive sense in a way, but the interaction between law and technology is not always intuitive. Apr 10, 2016 at 19:20
  • There have been cases where company A licensed software to company B, company B had some problems and hired C to solve the problem, C loaded the software into RAM and got sued by A based on the claim that he was making a copy without a license. And a court decided that yes, C did indeed make a copy, but if you license software you always have the right to make that specific copy and C's running the software on B's behalf made a legal copy. But absolutely a copy.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 11, 2016 at 8:36
  • 1
    @NateEldredge The "essential step" defense comes from 17 USC §117(a), "...it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided: (1) that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner..."
    – apsillers
    Apr 11, 2016 at 12:55
  • "Having read the software license for the software that you get when you buy a Mac, it seems that if you steal my computer and just start the operating system, you are committing copyright infringement," Nonsense. It's not copyright infringement because the copy of the work was lawfully made and you are merely using the work. It's not violating the license because you didn't agree to the license and you can't violate an agreement you didn't agree to. It's other things, but it's not copyright infringement or a license violation. Nov 15, 2017 at 0:12
  • This does not answer the question, except for the last sentence which offers no expansion on the topic despite the length of the entire answer. There's also a very speculative part about "copying code into RAM" that I have never, ever heard of before even though I am quite familiar with software licensing and copyright relating to digital content. Nov 15, 2017 at 17:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .