I was talking with someone today and this discussion came up.

Suppose you purchase some software and X user licenses for it. You then want to install another instance of the software, however the company tells you that you need to buy another X licenses to use the 2nd installation. Is it ethical to duplicate the licenses since the same X users are going to be using them? (the security on the program we were talking about is not very good)

EDIT Licenses are per-concurrent-user. In this situation users would (generally) not be logged into both installations at once. Regardless, we would keep the number of users logged in between the two installations limited to the number of licenses we purchased.

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    "Ethical" is a really big can of worms in this context. "Legal" can at least be answered. – David Thornley Oct 13 '10 at 20:32
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    We try to be both legal and ethical – Rachel Oct 13 '10 at 20:59

Is the license per-developer or per-machine? That's really the determining factor.

i.e. The Resharper and Sublime Text licenses I bought are per-developer. I am allowed to install it on multiple machines as long as I'm the only one using it.

If the license is a concurrent user license, you are legally bound to stay within that limit. If you have a 5 user license and 4 people are using it, then one of those people could use a second install.. If the 5th user shows up and launches it, you would be in violation of your license.

That said, can they detect it? can they do anything about it?.. Perhaps not, but you asked about ethics... it would be unethical to violate your license.

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    Spot on, this is I believe what it really comes down to. Per-machine vs. Per-user. – Chris Oct 13 '10 at 19:07
  • I updated the original question. Licenses are per-concurrent-user – Rachel Oct 13 '10 at 19:13
  • @Rachel Legally, you're bound to not go over the concurrent user limit... editing my answer to add.. – Fosco Oct 13 '10 at 19:15
  • We wouldn't be exceeding it. We were just wondering if it is unreasonable to duplicate licenses so we could keep the total logins to X between the two installations instead of needing to purchase X*2 licenses to use both copies of the software. – Rachel Oct 13 '10 at 19:18
  • @Rachel then you're fine :) – Fosco Oct 13 '10 at 19:46

This is not an ethics question, but a license terms question. Each product can have its own license terms. Some allow multiple installations as long as they're used by the same user; some don't. If you do what your product's license prohibits, then you're breaking the terms of the license.

  • The license is unclear and the company does not provide a way to share licenses between installations. We want to keep within ethical bounds and so were wondering if it would be ethical to duplicate the licenses to use between the two installations providing our total concurrent-users in both installations doesn't exceed the number of licenses we paid for. – Rachel Oct 13 '10 at 19:25
  • If your license is per-concurrent-user and the vendor doesn't strictly enforce the connection count (by some kind of license server), you can simply estimate the maximum number of concurrent users. – azheglov Oct 13 '10 at 19:55

This may not be your case, but many programs, Delphi being one of them, have good-faith single user licensing where you can install it on multiple machines.

It was explained to me by an Embarcadero rep that you can install it on as many machines as you want, but you can only code on one of those machines at any given time.

This licensing makes sense to me and probably is best suited for developers - it wouldn't work very well for networked software.

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    Hmm... that makes me wonder what coding on more than one machine at once would be like. :P – Mason Wheeler Oct 13 '10 at 21:14
  • one common case for this is different VM's for each project. I've occasionally been working two projects at once due to co-workers asking for help – Ken Henderson Oct 14 '10 at 2:35

If it's a per-user license, you can use it on many machines so long as the same person is using it. If it's a per-machine license, then you need a license per installation.

It seems pretty cut-and-dry to me. If it's a per-machine license and you want to install the product on multiple machines for the same people to use it, it's a license breach and therefore not ethical.


I use a commercial source control system and the need arose to have multiple installations but naturally we didn't want to buy (and separately manage) a ton of licenses between servers. Contacting the vendor, it turns out that they respectfully handle this fact and will give those who ask a "free" set of licenses for the second server as long as all of the users are properly licensed on the first.

In other words, why are you asking this question here instead of contacting the application vendor?

  • We already have. They said they did not currently provide a way to share licenses between two installations and wanted us to either purchase another X licenses to use the 2nd installation, or to contact them everytime we want to redistribute the licenses between the two copies of the software. Problem is, we change how many users are needed to be logged into each copy frequently (sometimes even daily) and the turnaround time in getting the licenses switched over can be a while. – Rachel Oct 14 '10 at 12:14
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    Maybe they'd "trust" you to not violate the spirit of the license, and instead of transferring them back and forth give you enough licenses for both? – dash-tom-bang Oct 14 '10 at 17:14

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