Copyright Vs. EULA

by Tom Streissguth
Software users must agree to an EULA before downloading a new program

Software users must agree to an EULA before downloading a new program

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End-user license agreements or EULAs protect the creators of computer software. While copyright law also protects the creators of software from infringement or pirating of their work, there are important differences between a copyright and an EULA, which is a legally binding contract between the software maker and the user. Before agreeing to a EULA and downloading new software, you should be aware of how the agreement works and how it legally protects the manufacturer.

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EULA Format

When you buy software, you are purchasing the right to use that software as you wish, within the limits of the EULA. Companies that sell digital games, accounting or design software, word processing programs and the like include a printed version of the EULA with the discs, or present the EULA in a pop-up window on your screen, allowing you to read and accept the EULA by clicking on an “Agree” button. A key code then allows you to open the software proper and download it onto your computer. If you decline the EULA, you are not allowed to download the program.

Copyright Basics

Copyright laws protect an original created work, such as a software program, from illegal infringement by anyone who attempts to copy and resell the work as their own. Copyright law protects writers, artists, composers and programmers; it also extends to the code that makes up a software program. Copyrights can be owned by an individual or a company. It violates copyright law to pirate the work as your own. An EULA is an extension of copyright protection, which grants only a single person – the purchaser – the right to install and use the software. With or without an EULA, software can be easily copied and distributed without the knowledge or permission of the creator; thus software companies are diligent in suing anyone they find reselling their products or information derived from their products.

Infringement of EULA Contract

An EULA is a legal contract and can be enforced in court, just as a registered copyright can. The first case reviewing this principle was ProCD v. Zeidenberg, decided in 1996. A software user went online to sell database information obtained from a program that he bought, and for which he agreed to an EULA. The software company sued him, and he was found to have violated the EULA contract and was liable for damages.

Resale of Software

Although federal law allows you to sell a copy of a book that you purchased, ProCD v. Zeidenberg establishes that you may not sell any information you obtain from a piece of software. The “First Sale” doctrine in federal law -- which allows you to sell the book -- is trumped by the EULA license, which keeps the software company as the owner of the work, and the end user as only the user – without legal rights of ownership or the right to resell the software in any form. That is why it is not legal to resell used software, unless you have declined the EULA and have not downloaded the program.