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What are the Legal Requirements for Freeware?

Dana Hinders
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Everyone loves to get something for free, but it’s important to realize that freeware does have certain legal requirements. When discussing copyright laws in relation to software, you must first understand the various software classifications. A program can be freeware, shareware, commercial software, or public domain.

Freeware is freely distributed to interested users for an unlimited time. Shareware is temporarily given to the user free of charge, but he/she must pay for the product in order to continuing using it after the designated trial period. Commercial software is generally purchased from a computer store, software publisher, or some other type of retailer. A program becomes public domain software if the copyright holder has expressly relinquished his/her rights to the product.

Freeware is available for download on a variety of websites. Some of the most popular programs are computer games, fonts, and screensavers, but you can also find freeware that is intended to help you organize your schedule, back up or restore important files, edit digital images, or add extra functionality to your word processing program.

Before you can download freeware, you’ll generally be asked if you agree to the program’s terms of use. If you give your approval and proceed to download the software, you are legally obligated to follow the software license agreement. Typically, the license agreement will specify that it is for personal use, individual use, non-commercial use, academic use, non-profit use, commercial use, or a combination of uses.

Once you’ve downloaded your freeware, you can make copies of the program to use for your own archival purposes. You can also make copies for friends, family, classmates, or business associates as long as you don’t profit from the distribution.

One of the most common reasons that programmers distribute their creations as freeware is to encourage the development of new ideas. Therefore, when you download a freeware program, you are allowed to make new programs based on the original code as long as you don’t try to make a profit from your activities. For example, you can distribute your derivative works as freeware through your personal blog or website. However, you are not legally allowed to take a freeware program that you have modified and then sell it to others as commercial software.

Unlike commercially-distributed software, the license for a freeware program allows decompiling and reverse engineering of the program without the explicit written permission of the copyright holder. This makes freeware a useful educational tool for computer science students interested in learning how to make their own programs.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders , Writer
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the EasyTechJunkie team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.

Discussion Comments

By anon159947 — On Mar 14, 2011

I'm interested in creating a instructional guide on a collection of freeware tools. If the guide comes with a CD that includes the freeware software discussed, would that be illegal?

It will be like a magazine providing a CD with freeware software, and offering a guide on how to use it.

By anon86152 — On May 24, 2010

when you download a freeware program, you are allowed to make new programs based on the original code as long as you don’t try to make a profit from your activities.

For example, you can distribute your derivative works as freeware through your personal blog or website. However, you are not legally allowed to take a freeware program that you have modified and then sell it to others as commercial software.

By lineholt — On Jun 01, 2007

Need help with this question

if i have obtained a freeware programme through an internet website does the author retain copyright?

Also can i make alterations and call it mine?

Dana Hinders

Dana Hinders

Writer

With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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