What are the Legal Requirements for Shareware?

R. Kayne

Shareware is a type of software readily available on the Internet that has a free trial period, usually between 14-30 days. After downloading shareware, the user can install the program and utilize it for the trial period to see if it meets his or her needs. If the user wants to continue to use the shareware legally, payment must be rendered before the trial period expires. If the user does not want to pay for the shareware, it must be uninstalled by the end of the trial period.

Using shareware past the trial date without paying for it is a breach of contract.
Using shareware past the trial date without paying for it is a breach of contract.

Legal requirements vary between programs and are often program-specific. Details are contained in the Electronic Users License Agreement (EULA) bundled with the product. A user must agree to the EULA before installing shareware. The EULA is a binding contract that normally contains language forbidding the user to do things such as modify the code of the program, redistribute it, sell it, and so on.

Often a software program will be offered as freeware to individuals for personal use, and shareware to businesses for commercial use. In this case businesses must pay for multiple licenses to use the program after the trial date, while an individual installing the program at home can use it freely. The EULA will spell out the legal requirements for both parties.

The vast majority of shareware is fully functional during the trial period. However, some shareware, such as crippleware, must be purchased before it becomes fully functional. In this case the user obtains a serial number, usually via email at the time of payment, to unlock the crippled features. Less often, shareware versions lack code for the missing functionality, and a new download is necessary to get a fully functioning product.

Whenever installing shareware read the EULA for legal requirements. If you do not agree with the EULA and indicate this with a click in the appropriate box, the software will not install.

Using shareware past the trial date without paying for it is a breech of contract. In some cases shareware will have a built-in mechanism to prevent this by refusing to open after the trial period expires. Other programs feature “nag screens” to ask for payment; and some shareware relies solely on honesty and voluntary cooperation.

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