1

So say myself or a company sells a printer, and as part of that printer package you have an add-on to purchase software with it. The customer purchases the machine and software and accepts terms you have laid out on the site, but that doesn't outline use, rights, or licensing of the software purchased as an add-on with the machine.

There is no EULA to accept when running or using the software, and no terms outlined on the website, within the software, or anywhere for the purchaser or end user. So no agreement, no EULA, no restrictions or anything outline for use of the program purchased.

Do they own the software? Can they legally alter the code of the program they purchased? Can they legally redistribute it or transfer ownership? Can they legally modify the code of the program for others who have also purchased the same package? Can they take that software and install it on a secondary machine?

6
  • "Can they legally modify the code of the program..." - does the distribution include source code? And if so, does the source code state a license of some sort in it (e.g. an open source license)? Without source code, it's normally extremely difficult to modify software, though technically it's possible.
    – Brandin
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:44
  • It has all of my source code, and no it doesn't state any license.
    – Nah Ledge
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:48
  • See also: What can I assume if a publicly published project has no license?. In your case, you didn't publish it publicly, but the basic rule still applies. No license = no permission to copy/redistribute.
    – Brandin
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:50
  • Though from a practical point of view, I'd consider placing at least some kind of simple license or simple statement in your source code in the future. As a programmer, if I find source code on my machine, then at some point it's simply going to be too tempting to try to make changes and compile a private version for myself (technically that's making a copy or a derivative work, so strictly not allowed without permission).
    – Brandin
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:54
  • My only concern is they bought the software with the printer, so technically I sold it to them. The link you posted is someone finding code online and wanting to use it.
    – Nah Ledge
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:58

1 Answer 1

3

Recall the basic principle of copyright law, as detailed in 17 USC 106:

The copyright holder has the exclusive right to make copies; prepare derivative works; or distribute copies by sale, rental, lease, or lending. Other people can legally do these things only if they are given permission by the copyright holder, typically via a license. (Remember, the literal meaning of the word license is permission.) Often, the copyright holder will require a prospective licensee to accept various terms and conditions before the license will be granted.

If there is "no EULA", or if there is one but the purchaser has not agreed to its terms, then the purchaser has not been granted any such license, hence does not have permission to do any of the things listed above. If they do so anyway, it is illegal copyright infringement and they will be liable for damages.

To use a firewall analogy, copyright law is "default deny".

So let's take your questions one by one:

  • Do they own the software?

US law has no concept of literally owning software. The closest thing is owning the copyright, which the purchaser certainly does not. It still belongs to the vendor that wrote the software (or whoever they may have later transferred it to).

  • Can they legally alter the code of the program they purchased?

No, that would be preparing a derivative work. The copyright holder has not granted them a license to do that. (There are some exceptions for purposes such as reverse engineering and interoperability, see 17 USC 1201(f)).

  • Can they legally redistribute it

No; again, that is the exclusive right of the copyright holder, and the purchaser has not received their permission.

  • or transfer ownership?

Maybe, if the first sale doctrine applies. Its application to software is complicated. The user has a better case for being able to sell the software if it exists as some tangible object which is transferred (physical media, pre-installed on hardware, etc).

  • Can they legally modify the code of the program for others who have also purchased the same package?

No, that would be preparing a derivative work.

  • Can they take that software and install it on a secondary machine?

No, that would be making a copy.

14
  • They are saying because I sold them the software with the machine and didn't include any terms or licensing agreement, they are able to modify or redistribute it.
    – Nah Ledge
    Sep 27, 2022 at 5:53
  • Also, what is the reverse engineering? They mentioned that as well.
    – Nah Ledge
    Sep 27, 2022 at 5:53
  • 1
    "They are saying because I sold them the software with the machine and didn't include any terms or licensing agreement, they are able to modify or redistribute it." They are wrong, to the best of my knowledge. Again, 'default deny'. If you had included a licensing agreement, they would have whatever rights the agreement granted them. If you did not include any, then they have no rights at all, other than rights such as fair use that everyone always has. Sep 27, 2022 at 5:55
  • There is a terms and conditions they accept before purchase, but that doesn't have any licensing in it.
    – Nah Ledge
    Sep 27, 2022 at 6:08
  • @NahLedge: Do note that this site does not give legal advice on specific situations. I am describing how copyright law works in general, according to my understanding. If you want to know how it applies in your particular case then you hire a lawyer and consult them. Sep 27, 2022 at 6:09

You must log in to answer this question.

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