The Different Types of Software Licenses

Subscription software has become a part of every modern business. As such, it is important to have basic knowledge about the user’s duties and responsibilities that come with using these software products. Of course, that starts with knowing the basic types of software licenses.

By understanding what software licenses are and how they impact your business, you can make the right choices depending on your company’s needs and resources. More importantly, it ensures you can protect your business by knowing the services and support you deserve.

How Do Software Licenses Work?

It’s not uncommon for people to remain unaware of software licenses, usually shrugging it off as the lengthy terms and conditions you skip and immediately agree to complete the download or installation of a software.

Licenses act as the contract between the software developer, publisher, or supplier and the end-user. Take note that all software products are protected by copyright law.

Usually, software licenses detail its use and distribution, depending on the type of licensing that you own. Provisions are often outlined in an End-User License Agreement (EULA).

What Do I Need To Know About Software Licenses?

Software licensing is important not only for protecting the intellectual property rights of the developers but also those of the end-users, who are the customers in this scenario.

Here are three quick facts you must know about software licensing:

It is a crime to use unlicensed software.

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) highlights software piracy as a pressing problem for software developers and distributors. Usually, third-party entities modify the source code and remove security features, re-distributing them for free yet unauthorized use.

Using software without the proper license constitutes copyright infringement, leading to a costly legal battle for your company.

The levels of support and protection vary.

According to Business Software Alliance (BSA), using unlicensed software gives you a one-in-three chance of getting infected by malware.

It also applies to other types of licenses, including those in the public domain. Make sure only to obtain your software from official channels.

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Different Types of Software Licenses

One aspect to understand is the different types of software. Depending on the types of software licenses you have, you get to enjoy varying degrees of freedom and access to an app or platform. Essentially, there are five different types of software licenses:

Public Domain License

This license is the most permissive type available. In the public domain, anyone can use the software freely without paying for a registration or a subscription. Users can modify the source code to fit their unique needs.

Since anyone can freely change them, it is notably easier to add malicious pieces of software code that can harm your devices and processes.

Some examples of public domain software include:

  • SQLite: This is a C-Language database engine that can be embedded into company databases.
  • I2P: an anonymous private network layer for free peer-to-peer (P2P) communication.
  • SHA-3:  Secure Hash Algorithm 3 is a public domain encryption standard commonly used for securing your embedded systems.

    GNU Public License (GPL)

A common misconception is that the GNU Public License is the same as a public domain license. Unlike those in the public domain, programs released under the GPL have a few restrictions that limit the freedom of end-users regarding the use and distribution of licensed works.

Below are some programs released under GPL:

  • Arachnophilia: This is a Java-based source code editor previously released under an LGPL arrangement. It allows the export and conversion of RTF documents into HTML.
  • VLC Media Player: the free and open-source media player is released under GPL, while its compression methods and video and audio codecs are released under LGPL.
  • LibreCAD: a 2D computer-aided drafting (CAD) software.


GPL and LGPL software licenses explained

What sets GPL apart from LGPL is its coverage. GPL usually concerns programs, while LGPL covers software libraries. GPL is one of many copyleft licenses, also known as reciprocal. Any changes to a GPL-licensed program must be under the same license.

GPL and LGPL software licenses explained

Lesser General Public License (LGPL)

The GNU Lesser General Public License is a specific licensing method for open-source software. However, it contains particular provisions regarding using free software elements in other software that can either be free or proprietary.

This type of license typically applies to software published by the Free Software Foundation. One key feature of this arrangement is that any modification to the LGPL component must be published under the same licensing terms.

It is commonly associated with libraries or shared resources used in building other apps, hence being known as GNU Libraries or Library GPL. Some examples include:

  • Mnemosyne: a family of spaced repetition software used to help improve memorization rates among users.
  • Cairo: an open-source graphics library for vector-based API used by software developers.
  • FreeCAD: This is a general-purpose drafting software used as a free alternative to AutoCAD or SketchUp.

    Permissive Licenses

This license type is also known as a “BSD-style license” (from the Berkeley Software Distribution operating system) or an “Apache-style license.” These permissive licenses contain minimal provisions regarding modification and redistribution of the concerned software.

Aside from the Apache and the BSD licenses, another common type of permissive license is the MIT License—named after its point of origin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some projects published under permissive licenses are:

  • jQuery: a JavaScript library that facilitates HTML DOM tree manipulation, CSS animation, and Ajax web development techniques.
  • Android Runtime (ART): the application runtime environment the Android OS uses for mobile devices.
  • Google Web Toolkit (GWT): an open-source suite of tools for web developers looking to create JavaScript apps.

    Proprietary License

Under a proprietary license agreement, the developer retains control over the source code. It is the most restrictive, often applicable for software that may not be modified or redistributed freely. Some of them even restrict the number of users allowed.

Additionally, there are different types of proprietary licenses, depending on the length of validity. Subscription licenses last for a predetermined period and need to be renewed. Meanwhile, perpetual licenses only require a one-time payment and can be used indefinitely.

Most of the everyday software people use that requires a purchase or a subscription usually falls under proprietary software licenses. Some examples include:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud: all programs under this suite—Photoshop, Lightroom, InDesign, Illustrator—are covered by a proprietary license, with details depending on the package.
  • Microsoft Office: a family of client and server applications that includes Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, as well as database management with Access and desktop publishing with Publisher.

Final Word

Running businesses in this day and age requires you to stay on top of many things. While business processes are made easier through software products, it has also necessitated the need for regulations—ensuring compliance and safety for your organization.

Make sure all your apps and platforms are properly documented. Attentus Technologies is a trusted IT service provider that makes support services simple, not scary. Our software license management services will ensure that every software you use is tracked, properly documented, and properly licensed.

Contact us today to learn more about our managed IT services.