I work at a very small software company. All the software that requires a license to function is licensed, but those that are free for personal use are not licensed as well as those that say "please buy a license" but still allow you to use the software.

I'm fairly new at the company and everyone is hired as a "contractor" but are given the tools / equipment to use by the boss.

I don't want to cause too many problems and would like to keep working there but would like him to purchase licenses for all unlicensed software.

What should be done, if anything?

  • Of the programs that display the message, which ones do you need to use regularly? An alternative would be to uninstall/deactivate the ones you don't use, and to request licenses for the ones you do. Treat the license request like any other equipment request. – Brandin May 11 '16 at 6:49

those that say "please buy a license" but still allow you to use the software.

This is not a major problem. It would be courteous to support the developers, and bugs would get priority for fixing if licensed were purchased, but if unlicensed use is explicitly allowed, it's allowed.

free for personal use are not licensed

If you are sure this is the case (rather than there being a bulk license in place or some other legitimate arrangement), this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Ask whether this is really what's going on. If so, you may want to look for an equivalent tool that does not have a license problem.

If you were an employee, you could cover yourself by getting explicit instruction to use the tool this way making it your manager's responsibility on behalf of the company. As a contractor, you may not be protected.

Frankly, "everyone is a contractor" combined with this would make me inclined to look for another job... unless you are getting paid contractor rates, in which case the simplest fix may be to buy your own license since you're being paid enough that you can afford to do so.

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    "This is not a major problem. It would be courteous to support the developers" What I mean was for software along the lines of WinRar or EditPlus who say you MUST buy a license but don't lock the software so you can still use it even though you should buy a license. – user48683 May 11 '16 at 6:23
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    @SupremeGrandRuler WinRAR for example does say in their agreement that you are allowed to use it during the trial period. But I've seen many people and administrators "forget" to buy a long term license. It could just need a reminder to whoever handles IT/software licenses in the organization. "Hey, I noticed this software I'm using has an expired license." – Brandin May 11 '16 at 8:23
  • @keshlam "This is not a major problem. It would be courteous to support the developers" - if you're running something like Qt Framework, you can use it free under GPL, or you can pay for a commercial licence - the software works regardless, but if you release a non-GPL product you should be paying for it. Just because software runs without a licence doesn't mean it doesn't need a licence for your use of it. – HorusKol May 11 '16 at 23:58
  • @HorusKol: not saying you should. My point was that some products can be used commercially as either freeware or paid license, the difference being his much support you get. People forget that part of rms's final GNU Manifesto which kicked off the open here movement was the idea that "software should be free, support should cost." – keshlam May 12 '16 at 1:09

The problem with using unlicensed software is that at some point the seller of the software may find out, and the company may find itself in big trouble. Obviously no employee would tell the seller about use of software without license (or would they?), but employees may become ex-employees at some time, with no reason to be loyal to the company, and depending on circumstances with a grudge, and then it is quite likely that a seller will find out.

Since using software without license may happen by mistake, the right thing to do is to ask the person responsible whether there is a valid license. If they say yes, well, you are not a private detective in the employ of the software seller, so that should be fine. If they say no, we don't need it, for some reasonable reason, the same. If they say "no, we don't buy licenses, we'll never be caught", tell them about the dangers (making clear that you will not be the one telling on them, whether it's true or not), and if they still insist, ask here again :-)


Best option is ignore it, and don't look so closely in the future.

Yes you can kick up a stink about it, but what good will that do you?

Quite often the businesses that do this are small and if they were to have to purchase the licences they'd have to take that out of someones pay. So if you like getting paid, and the job is otherwise OK, don't make an issue out of something that is not your problem, nothing positive can come of it for you personally.

  • It's possible that your "keep quiet" solution is the right one, but the way you've framed it comes across as ignoring any potential ethical issues the OP is thinking about. "Pretend you never saw it" is also not sound advice. – Brandin May 11 '16 at 7:05
  • It is sound enough in many situations, it's not your problem until you make it your problem. This isn't a battle I would fight, it has no plus side. – Kilisi May 11 '16 at 7:09
  • if he weren't a contractor, perhaps your answer would be ok, but as a contractor, the risk is now on him, and it is his problem – thursdaysgeek May 11 '16 at 15:36
  • Contractor has a problem then he can leave if he wants, what does that do for him apart from lose revenue? Being a contractor makes it even worse for him if he wants to make trouble. Firstly he can be ditched, secondly his rep could take a huge hit if when people find out that he's in the habit of complaining about his boss. – Kilisi May 11 '16 at 16:23