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5.1.6 The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act



Revision points:
Candidates should be able to:
  • describe what is meant by software copyright;

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act

Copyright is a legal concept, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to control its distribution for a certain time period. 

Copying computer software is therefore a breach of copyright and a criminal offence. The Act covers stealing software, using illegally copied software and manuals, and running purchased software on more machines than the license allows.

The legal penalties for breaking the copyright law include unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.

All the software that you use should be fully licensed. When you purchase software you usually are licensed to use it on just one computer. It is illegal to make copies of the software to use on other computers, even if they are your own.

Software licences can be:

  • Single user - licensed for installation on one computer
  • Multi-user - the license allows you to install the software on a named number of computers
  • Site-licence - the licence lets you install the software onto an unlimited number of computers, as long as they are on one distinct site such as a school

Software protection:

Software companies try to prevent illegal copying of their disks using the following methods:

  • Copy protection - the disk (or CD-Rom) may be formatted in a special way so it cannot easily be copied.
  • Restricting the number of installations - each installation is recorded on an installation disk and only a certain number are allowed.
  • A registration key - a unique series of letters and numbers that is asked for when running the program. The software will not run if the registration key is not typed in correctly and online multiplayer games will not to run if another user is online who has used the same key.
  • A phone or Internet activation code - this requires the user to call a number or go online to register the product. They then receive a unique computer-specific serial number.
  • Encryption - data can be scrambled up and cannot be read without the correct software.
  • A Dongle - a piece of hardware that must be plugged into the computer to run the software. Each one contains a unique electronic serial number and as they are expensive to produce they are mostly used to protect high-end software packages.
  • Details of the user are built into the software  - when the software is run it displays the original users name. This does not prevent the copying but it makes is obvious that the copy is illegal.
  • A Keyfile - a small file with a unique code that is placed in the same directory as the program. If the code is not valid then the software will not run.


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