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Use and Copying of Computer Software


All persons accessing computer or network resources through any network or University facility.


Specific information on the use and copying of computer software acquired by purchase or gift, and guidance on the legitimate property rights of those who hold the copyrights.

Policy Statement:

It is University policy that no member of the Northwestern community engage in any activity that violates federal, state, or local laws with respect to intellectual property rights; the terms of software license agreements; or other University policies pertaining to computer software, for any computer software owned by or licensed to the University and computer systems or hardware owned or operated by the University, Northwestern faculty, staff, and students.

Background Issues:

Computer, System, or Network Use

  1. Must abide by all terms of the software license agreement.
  2. Must be aware that ALL computer software is protected by copyright unless it is explicitly labeled as PUBLIC DOMAIN.
  3. Must not copy software for any purpose outside those allowed in that particular software's license agreement.
  4. Must not make software available for others to use or copy in violation of that software's license agreement.
  5. Must not accept unlicensed software from any third party.
  6. Must not install, nor direct others to install, illegal copies of computer software or unlicensed software onto any University-owned or operated computer system. It is recommended that individual business units conduct and maintain periodic reviews of its computer systems for software installations to help ensure compliance with licensing agreements, copyright
    regulations, and University policy.

Violations of this policy will be referred to the appropriate University disciplinary channels and may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment and/or dismissal from the University, in addition to remedies sought by the copyright holder.

Computer, System, or Network Administration

Personal computers have become more and more important to accomplishing the work of the University, including work related to learning, teaching, research and scholarship, artistic creativity, and University operations. The productive use of personal computers depends not only on the equipment, but also on the software that makes this equipment useful and productive. Computer software is a major form of intellectual property, both from the standpoint of the intellectual creativity required to produce it and the practical and commercial value of good products. Buying or using software subjects both the individual and the University to legal obligations, as well as to legal risks if the software is used improperly.

The cost of software represents an additional cost of using computers productively. Software differs from other forms of intellectual property in that, with the aid of computer equipment, it is very easy, fast, and inexpensive to copy. The copying of software has become a serious problem for the software industry and for the users of software. It is especially a problem for large information-intensive organizations that make extensive use of commercial software in a decentralized environment.

Under the law, computer software (programs and computer-based information) is copyrighted intellectual property unless explicitly declared to be in the PUBLIC DOMAIN. Unlike books, journals, and other visual materials, software cannot be used without copying it. During installation, software is usually copied from the original disk or the network to a computer hard disk. When used, the software is copied from a hard disk to the memory of a computer. The software industry has adopted a variety of measures to protect its products from unauthorized copying. These usually involve licensing use of the software rather than selling it outright. The license that comes with software is a license permitting the purchaser to copy the software in specified ways in order to use it. Such licenses usually permit making a backup disk, copying onto a hard disk, and copying into memory of computer. They also usually restrict simultaneous use by more than one person or use on more than one computer. Some special licenses permit use of the software on multiple machines over a network; however, this permission is always given explicitly and is almost never implied in a single-user license. Generally not permitted is a right to receive and use unauthorized copies of the software, or make copies of the software for others.

Therefore, copying software either for distribution to others or by using a single-user version of software on multiple computers over a network is illegal and in violation of copyright laws.

Additional Information:

These sources are specific enough to provide some useful guidance in making decisions. However, they do not and cannot try to provide an answer for every situation. If you have questions concerning your rights under a given software license agreement, or if you wish to structure a software license agreement to preserve specific rights, please contact the Office of General Counsel.

The University's Information Technology organizations have been directing more and more of their services to the support of distributed applications of computing, including software that is widely used and useful on microcomputers and other distributed computer systems. The University has a software site-licensing program in place. These services change with the software market, the needs of the community, and the resources available to the central computing organizations. If you have further concerns or questions about the use of software, feel free to contact the NUIT Support Center or your departmental UNITS representative.

Important Dates

Last Review Date:

  • December 2016
  • December 2013
Original Issue Date:
  • March 1997
Revision Dates:
  • December 2016, August 2008, July 2003