Our program has a piracy problem, some people buy a personal license and install it on all the computers in a company. We want to check that only a single instance of a serial id is used at the same time (or at most, two or three instances, say on a user's laptop and desktop).

We're thinking about having the program call home with a non traceable identifier and the license so long as the program is running (every 15 minutes or some medium length interval like this) and when we see that too many instances are running with the same serial id (let's say the average user has 3 computers max), the next time one of the instances pings us we'll send him back a response to shut down the program and display the message.

We are aware of the fact that the system can be bypassed, we are OK with that, just don't want legitimate users to use the same serial multiple times.

Are there any ethical issues with having the program call about home twice an hour? Would this have a negative impact on how people perceive our software?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question that asks for a legal opinion which can only be provided by professionals in the legal field. – user40980 Mar 31 '15 at 12:52
  • I can ask a lawyer for the legality of the matter, I care much more for the ethics and is it ok as a user, I will edit out the word legal out of the question. – user31315 Mar 31 '15 at 12:54
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    @MichaelT Not anymore it isn't. – Thomas Owens Mar 31 '15 at 12:56
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    What are the business requirements? – user40980 Mar 31 '15 at 13:23
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    Will the down voters please explain themselves? The question has bee fixed to not ask for legal advice, is regarding business practices in software and as far as I know, doesn't infringe on any of the SE rules. So why was it downvoted? – user31315 Mar 31 '15 at 16:20

There is no ethical problem with doing this, as long as customers are aware of it before they make the decision to purchase the product.

However; if someone purchased the product before it required internet access, and then the product changes without their consent (e.g. using some sort of "auto-update") then I think it is an ethical problem (a form of "bait and switch" where consumers are tricked into buying something they may not have bought otherwise). This includes any expectation of future upgrades (e.g. if the user bought the product knowing they're entitled to future upgrades but are now unable to take advantage of the future upgrades without being forced into "internet access required").

  • +1 for a good answer, but I'd argue that the OP's implication that personal licenses are purchased for a single computer means that the customer is already aware that they are violating the license, in which case there's no bait-and-switch involved in enforcing existing terms. – Ross Patterson Jul 27 '15 at 13:53

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