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There is plenty of software that you can obtain from a variety of sources such as by downloading from the internet or from the CD on the front cover of a magazine that you have purchased. You might think that all of this software is completely free and that you can do what you like with it. No matter how nice it would be if all of this software actually was free, this is rarely the case.

If you check out the documentation that comes along with this software you will usually find that the software is labeled as Shareware, or is a Trial or Demo version. If so then to use the software legally on an ongoing basis requires an additional payment to the software owner.

In each of these cases, the software that you have has been provided so that you can evaluate the product and decide whether it is the right one for you before you buy it. In the case of a demo version, some key function of the software such as save has been disabled in the version that you have and although you can try out the functionality of the software to see what it does you can’t actually do anything with the results.

A trial version is not quite so restrictive. Usually, with a trial version, you get full functionality but only for a limited number of uses or for a limited amount of time, at the end of that used the software will either disable itself completely or will convert to a demo version. The assumption in either of these cases is that you get to see what the program does and if you like it you then pay for the full version. In some cases converting your demo or trial version into the full version just requires you entering the code supplied when you paid for the product into the program that you already have.

Shareware is exactly the same as trial or demo software in that you are given permission to try the software for a limited period before buying it. The main difference between shareware and a trial or demo version is that the software may continue to function after the trial period expires. This doesn’t mean that you are legally entitled to continue using the software, it just means that the software owner is relying on your honesty to pay for the software. Continuing to use shareware after the trial period and without paying for it is just as illegal as taking a copy of purchased software off of your friend’s computer and installing it on your own.

So when is the software that you obtain from the Internet or on magazine cover CDs actually free?

Well, sometimes the magazines do a special deal with the software owners to put a free copy of an old version of their software on their CD along with a special offer to upgrade to the full version. This is usually advertised very clearly on the magazine cover and on the CD as well so it should be clear when this is the case. One thing that I have noticed recently regarding this type of software is that most of it requires that you register it via the internet in order to be able to continue using it beyond a short trial period. This can make it difficult to install such “free” software on a computer without an internet connection.

Other software that is free for you to use on your own computer should be clearly identified as Freeware, Public Domain, or software subject to the GPL (GNU public licence). Any software so marked is available for you to use on your own computer and most such software may also be copied and given to your friends as well (but check for any restrictions particularly if you obtained the software from a CD). In the case of public domain software you can do whatever you like with the software including selling it (if you can find anyone silly enough to buy something they can obtain free). GPL software may also be sold and even modified to perform additional functions. The only conditions on doing anything with software subject to the GPL is that the conditions of the GPL be met which includes the requirements that the source code be supplied along with the executable version and that any copies and product modified versions are also distributed subject to the GPL. Just because software is freeware doesn’t necessarily give you the right to do what you like with it, the owner may have given you the right to a free copy that you can run on your computer but they may have retained all of the other rights associated with the program for themselves.

So just because you downloaded some software from the internet or from a magazine CD cover doesn’t mean that the software is free, it all depends on the license conditions associated with the software.

All software not in the public domain is subject to copyright. This copyright gives the software owner certain rights over their software such as the right to make copies of the software, the right to change the software, and the right to sell the software. When you obtain a copy of any software by whatever means, the software owner still retains these rights. What rights you get with respect to the software should be spelled out for you in the software license.