There are a lot of complicated things in this world, and those things can get even more complicated when they are combined. For example, both software and copyright law are complicated. But how difficult is it to understand the copyright laws that surround software?
For many people who aren’t familiar with these things, it can be hard to understand why everyone must buy their own copy of software or why you can’t put a single piece of software on every single computer you come across. If you paid for it, can’t you put it wherever you want to?
As confusing as it may be, most of the time the answer to that question would be, “no.” And you definitely aren’t allowed to give it out to others unless you have permission to do so.
So which kind of software can be distributed by anyone to others at no cost? There are some types of software that fall into this category. Today, we’ll go into some of the details of those software types to help you get a better idea of what is and is not allowed.
- 1 What Is Public Domain Software?
- 2 What About Open Source Software?
- 3 Copyright Is a Serious Matter
What Is Public Domain Software?
Which kind of software can be distributed by anyone to others at no cost? The main type of software that falls into this category. While you may have never heard of this type of software before, a number of situations where software can be used for free and distribute are commonly found.
Public domain software is software that has been put into the public domain. The phrase public domain means that the software is not in any way controlled by copyright, trademarks, or patents. Instead, it is free to use, edit, and modify.
Can Public Domain Software Be Distributed for Free?
Software that is in the public domain or that has been created from a public domain base file can be distributed for free without any type of repercussions. There is no copyright holder, so there is nothing which can hold you back from distributing the software.
Is It Legal to Sell Public Domain Software?
It is legal to sell software that is in the public domain without any type of authorization. While this isn’t very common because anyone can get access to the software at any time, it is possible to sell this type of software.
How Does Software End Up in the Public Domain?
Software in the public domain doesn’t just end up there by chance. Instead, it is put there very specifically by the authors or creators.
When software is written and created, the copyright is automatically given to the author of that program. As such, there is no such thing as a program without an author or copyright unless the author chooses to release the copyright.
To do this, an author must specifically release the rights through a waiver statement that is put on public record to show that the software is free to be used by anyone as it is now part of the public domain.
When Was Public Domain Software First Around?
Since the early days of software in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been what we would now call open source software. This type of software can be used, usually with some attribution if released publicly, but can also be edited for private use. For many years, this type of software was simply known as PD software, short for Public Domain.
In fact, most software remained in an open source format until the 70s and 80s when the computer industry began to grow at an exponential rate and competition within the industry was at an all-time high.
What Types of Programs Are Public Domain?
Among the programs that have made it into the public domain, there is a decent variety of things, from video games to accounting programs. What is there in the domain has been completely dependent on how the authors feel about the privacy and copyright of their work. For that reason, there is a limited amount of options.
What About Open Source Software?
There is not very much public domain software out there, but there are a lot of variations of that phrase.
Instead, open source software is pretty common in today’s world. Open source software is software that is free to be edited, used, changed, modified, and distributed by anyone for any reason with the original author’s name attached to the work.
You might be wondering how that is different from public domain work. In its essence, the difference lies in the fact that the copyright still lies with the original software author in open source software, and this means they still have some type of control over the future of the software.
Can Open Source Software Be Sold?
Generally, yes, open source software can be sold as is, modified and sold, or used as a platform to then create software to sell. While the specific terms of a piece of open source software may differ depending on who is the copyright holder, there are a lot of examples of open source code that is used to create a product that can be sold.
For example, there is some word processing open source software that has been used to create paid versions of these software options for those who want to invest in purchasing office-focused software.
Copyright Is a Serious Matter
Now that you know more about software, you should no longer be wondering which kind of software can be distributed by anyone to others at no cost. But we understand if the questions still pop up in your head from time to time. After all, everything about copyright laws can be quite confusing!
The key thing to remember when using any software to make a profit is that you either need to be sure the software has no copyright on it, or you need to get the permission of the copyright holder to distribute it. There is no way around that law unless you yourself are the copyright holder, so make sure you pay close attention if you go into business.