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Software User Guide

A guide to ethical and legal issues related to software use for members of departments in research and teaching.



  1. Software benefits 
  2. Respect
  3. Software and Intellectual Property
  4. Questions about software usage
  5. Intersting alternatives
  6. One last remark


Software benefits 

Software enables us to work on a wide variety of tasks with the help of computers. Unfortunately, some people believe that it is possible to make copies of software at will and use them without first checking whether a special authorization is required in order to progress quickly and comfortably in solving problems. They do not seem to recognize the implications of their actions and ignore the restrictions imposed on them by copyright, patent and criminal law. 

Here some important principles:

  1. Unauthorized copying of software is prohibited: Copyright law protects the authors and distributors of software in a similar way to patent law protects inventors. 
  2. Unauthorised copying of software by individuals may affect the community of researchers and teachers as a whole. Because if unauthorized copying of software becomes common practice in a university, the institution as a whole can suffer because it is held accountable for the actions of individuals. This considerably weakens, for example, the department's negotiating position in its effors to further disseminate software and obtain more favourable conditions. 
  3. Unauthorized copying of software deprives its developers of a fair wage for their work; they then increase the price because they take piracy into account,  or reduce the quality of further support such as (e.g. the supply of rework); this generally hampers the development and distribution of new and better software products. 



Respect for the intellectual performance of others and the protection of foreign property have always been essential components of the self-image of colleges and universities. As members of such institutions, we place great value on the free exchange of ideas. Just as we cannot tolerate plagiarism, we should not tolerate plagiarism, we should not tolerate unauthorized copying of software (including programs, data, and accompanying documents). Therefore, we have established the following principles for the protection of intellectual property and the ethical and legal aspects of software use. 

This "Code" was issued by EDUCOM (a software high school initiative in the USA) and is specifically designed for adoption and attention by colleges and universities. The Code was adopted by the Working Group of the Heads of Scientific Data Centers (ALwR) and translated into German.


Software and Intellectual Property

Taking into account the intellectual achievements and creativity of others is vital for academic life. This principle applies to the work of all authors and publishers in all forms of publication and includes the observance of. 

  • the right to recognition of the benefit, 
  • the protection of personal property, 
  • the right to freely decide on the form, content and publication of a publication. 

Because electronic information is immaterial and easily reproducible, the recognition of the work and personal style of others must be particularly carefully considered here. Violations of personal property, violation of trade secrets and copyrights and piracy) can trigger sanctions against all members of the academic community. 


Questions about software usage

What do I need to know about "Software and Law"?

Software is basically protected by copyright, unless it is explicitly marked as a "public domain". The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the software. Therefore, it is forbidden to duplicate or distributed software (and its documentation) without the permission of the owner. However, if you have lawfully acquired a copy, you may usually make a backup copy (for your own use only) as a precaution in case the original is damaged at work. 

Can I borrow software I have purchased?

If the software was delivered with a legally binding license agreement, please read this agreement carefully before using the software. Some licenses are limited to one specific computer. The copyright permits the simultaneous use on two or more computers only if this is expressly provided for in the license agreement. However, you may be permitted to lend the software to a friend for a limited period of time, provided that you do not keep a copy of the software during this period and that you do not use the software yourself during this period.

If software is not copy-protected, can I copy it?

The absence of copyright protection does not entitle you to copy the software for redistribution or resale. Non-copyrighted software only allows you to make backups to protect your investment. Offering software that is not copy-protected is a special sign of trust that the developer or distributer places in you.

Can I copy software provided in campus facilities to use at home?

The software procured from colleges and universities is usually licensed. The licenses - and especially the product use rights - determine how and where the software can be used by members of the institution. This applies to software on hard disks in PCs as well as to software that is borrowed from a campus library or can be accessed via networks and from central computers. There are campus licenses that allow copying for certain purposes (such as personal use). If you are unsure about the personal use of a certain software, first contact a competent member of your institution's staff (e.g. in the computer centre). 

Is it not - legally speaking - a "fair use" of software if I use a copy exclusively for educational purposes?

No! It is forbidden for any member or student of a university, for example, to copy software and distribute if this has not been expressly permitted by the author or distributor.


Intersting Alternatives

Software can be expensive. If you can't afford the software you need, there are sometimes legally acceptable alternatives to unauthorized copying: 

Campus licenses and volume licenses

Many departments have made special agreements, which allow the purchase or use of software at particularly favourable conditions. Ask at the data center: There are so-called campus licenses or volume licenses (also in the form of reduced prices, e.g. upon presentation of a matriculation certificate). But this software is also subject to legal protection: You may not copy or pass it on without further ado. 


Shareware is also software that is subject to copyright, but the developer encourages you to copy and distribute it yourself. Permission to do so is expressly mentioned in the documentation or is displayed on the screen when the software is called. The developer of the shareware generally expects a small financial reward or registration fee if you like the software and want to continue using it. In the event of a notification, you will receive further documentation, changes or improvements. In this way you also support the further development of the software. 



Some authors determine that their software should be "public-domain". This means that it is not subject to any copyright regulations. It can be copied and distributed at will. Software without a copyright notice is often, but not necessarily, a "public domain". Therefore, for software that is not explicitly markes as a "public domain", you should always seek the advice of an expert (e.g. in a data center) before redistributing it.

Attention: Wth public domain software, special caution is unfortunately required in many cases (as also with some pirated copies of copy-protected software), because it can be infested with viruses. 


On last remark


The conditions for the use of software are far from uniform: legal protection and market practice have yet to be further developed or developed. You should therefore carefully checl each individual software product and its accompanying documentation. In general, you have no right:

  • receive and use unauthorized copies of software, or 
  • to make unauthorized copies of software for others

If you have any questions about the proper use or distribution of software that are not answered by this leaflet, seek advice from your data center, software developer/distributor, or attorney. 

This information is based on abrochure as a service of:


a non-commercial association of over 450 colleges and universities in the United States dedicated to the use and organization of information technology in higher education; and 


the computer software and services industry association. It was translated into German and published by:


the working group of the heads of scientific computer centres, in which almost all computer centres in research and teaching in the Federal Republic of Germany are represented

and adapted to the current situation by A. Beutgen, HRZ, University of Bonn. 

Although this brochure is subject to copyright, you are entitled - or even required - to make and distribute copies of it, in whole or in part, provided that the original source is acknowledged.


Stand: 05.05.2009, Impressum



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