Software Ethics


SOFTWARE enables us to accomplish many different tasks with computers. Unfortunately, for various reasons, some people justify making and using unauthorized copies of software. They may not understand the implications of their actions or the restrictions of the Canadian Copyright Act, as amended by Bill C-60 which received Royal Assent on 8 June 1988.


  1. UNAUTHORIZED copying of software is illegal. Copyright law protects software authors and publishers, just as patent law protects inventors. Those who make and use illegal copies of software are subject to the civil and criminal penalties imposed by Canadian law.
  2. UNAUTHORIZED copying of software by individuals can harm the entire University community. If unauthorized copying proliferates on a campus, the institution may incur a legal liability. Also, the institution may find it more difficult to negotiate agreements that would make software more widely and less expensively available to members of the University community.
  3. UNAUTHORIZED copying of software can deprive developers of a fair return for their work, increase prices, reduce the level of future support and enhancement, and inhibit the development of new software products.


Respect for intellectual labour and creativity is vital to academic discourse and enterprise. This principle applies to works of all authors and publishers in all media. It encompasses respect for the right to acknowledgement and the right to control over the form, manner, and terms of publication and distribution.

Because electronic information is volatile and easily reproduced, respect for the work and personal expression of others is especially critical in computer environments. We do not condone the unauthorized copying of software, including programs, applications, data bases, text bases, and code. Violations of authorial integrity, including plagiarism, invasion of privacy, unauthorized access and trade secret and copyright violations, may be grounds for legal action against a member of the University community and the University itself.

Questions you may have about using software:

a.What do I need to know about software and the copyright law?

Software is protected by copyright law, whether or not the copyright is explicitly stated in the software or in its documentation. Software produced in other countries is also protected by Canadian copyright law because of Canada's participation in the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. Thus, it is illegal to make duplicate copies of a single software product unless you have been authorized to do so by the author or publisher of the software product. You do not have the right to give or receive duplicates of software without that authorization.

b.If software is not copy-protected, do I have the right to copy it?

Lack of copy-protection does NOT constitute permission to copy the software in order to share or sell it. "Unprotected" software is offered as a convenience to you as the user, to enable you to protect your investment by making a back-up copy. By selling unprotected software to you, the developer or publisher has demonstrated significant trust in your integrity.

c.May I make a copy of software I have purchased so that I may use it on either my office computer or my home computer?

The Copyright Act permits you to make a copy of software you purchased for only two reasons. You may make a copy in order to adapt it to your particular computer. You may also make a copy for back-up purposes. This permission is given on condition that the copies are for personal use only and that these copies are destroyed when you cease to be the owner of the purchased software.

d.May I share software I have purchased with roommates, relatives or colleagues?

When you purchased your software, you probably bought only the permission, or "license", to use it, not to share it. If your software came with a license agreement, read it carefully before you use the software. Most licenses do not permit you to run your software on two or more computers simultaneously, or to make copies for your friends, your family or your office mates. It is not illegal, however, to loan your original software temporarily to a friend when you are not using it yourself, as long as neither of you makes a duplicate copy, and provided that there is no contrary provision in the license agreement.

e.May I copy software that is publicly available on my campus, so that I can more conveniently use it in my own room?

Unless you are specifically allowed to do so by your campus authorities, you may not copy software that is publicly available on campus. This includes software installed on hard disks in public micro clusters, software distributed on disks by a campus lending library, software available on a campus mainframe or network, and software on disks distributed under an institutional site license.

f.Isn't it `fair dealing' to copy software if the purpose in sharing is purely educational?

No, it is illegal for a faculty member or student to copy software to share among members of a class, for instance, without permission of the author or publisher.

g.When software is installed on a hard disk, may the diskette version continue to remain in use?

No, unless explicitly authorized to do so by the author or publisher of the product. Under the Copyright Act, only the owner of the software may use the original diskette version and the electronic copy on the hard disk.

h.If I put a program on a computer participating in a network, may others on the network use it as well?

Most software licences do not allow this unless you have a version specifically for use on networks. It is best to check the license agreement. If there is no explicit prohibition by the author or publisher of the product, then under the Copyright Act, persons using your computer through the network may do so as long as they are able to use your program without first having to make or "download" an electronic copy of the Program.

i.When I upgrade my software to a new version, may I sell the old version?

Usually, reduced-cost upgrades are provided on condition that you destroy the old copy or at least save it for yourself. Full-price replacements bear no such caveats and resale is a way of recovering part of the costs.

j.May I sell software that I no longer need or use?

You may certainly give away or sell software that you no longer use, provided that there is no contrary provision in the license agreement and provided that you do not keep a copy for yourself. If the license on your software permits or if no license was received at the time of your original purchase of the software, you may sell the software. In both cases, you are transferring the permission, or "license", to use the software.

k.May I copy demo programs and sample diskettes?

No, unless explicitly encouraged or allowed by the publisher.


Software can be expensive. You may think that you cannot afford to purchase certain programs that you need to do your work. But there are legal alternatives to unauthorized copying.

Site licensed and Bulk-purchased Software

This University has negotiated some agreements that make some software available either to use or to purchase at special prices. Software available through institutional site licenses or bulk purchases is subject to copyright and license restrictions and you may not make or distribute copies without authorization.


Shareware is copyrighted software that the developer encourages you to copy and distribute to others. This permission is explicitly stated in the documentation or displayed on the computer screen. The developer of shareware generally asks for a small donation or registration fee if you like the software and plan to us it. By registering, you may receive further documentation, updates and enhancements. You are also supporting future software development.

Public Domain Software

Sometimes authors dedicate their software to the public domain, which means that the software is not subject to any copyright restrictions. It can be copied and shared freely. Public domain software carries an explicit statement from the author indicating that no protection under copyright is being claimed. Software without copyright notice is not necessarily in the public domain.


You certainly wish to use software in a legal and ethical manner, but sometimes you may be confused about how to do so. The use of each piece of software you encounter may be subject to different restrictions. The key to proper use is to check carefully each piece of software and the accompanying documentation yourself. In general, remember that you do not have the right to:
  1. receive and use unauthorized copies of software, or
  2. make unauthorized copies of software for others, or
  3. leave a copy of commercial software on public machines.
When you have questions about the proper use and distribution of a software product that have not been answered by this brochure, seek help from the software developer, or from one of the following offices: University of Toronto 1989. This statement may be duplicated and distributed without restriction. No permission is required and no fee is to be charged therefore.

This material was adapted from a brochure developed by EDUCOM and ADAPSO as part of the EDUCOM Software Initiative. The University of Western Ontario is a member of EDUCOM, a consortium of 475 colleges and universities that promotes cooperation in computing, communications and information technology. ADAPSO is an association of computer software and services industries.

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Cindy Munro <>
$Revision: 1.2 $ $Date: 1999/01/26 14:28:02 $UTC $Author: cindy $