Student Software Editions are Cheaper, but Beware Commercial Use Restrictions

By Tara Seals, Software Licensing Contributor

Software licensing is complex and comes with oodles of fine print. But did you know that not adhering to that fine print exactly can earn you a lawsuit for copyright infringement?Take for instance a simple cost-cutting measure taken by many small businesses and SOHOs: using the pre-installed version of Microsoft Office that comes with many new PCs.  These are bundles aimed at consumers, so the Office that’s included is almost always Microsoft Office Home & Student Edition. It provides the needed functionality if you’re a mom and pop type of business or are self-employed; and is, of course, cheaper than buying the separate Microsoft Office Home & Business.But beware.“This distinction is significant, because the license agreement prohibits the Student or Academic version from being used in a commercial setting,” explained Keli Johnson Swan, an attorney at Scott & Scott LLP, in an article.And that means that, under the Copyright Act, Microsoft as the software publisher can pursue copyright infringement claims against the business for failing to adhere to specific terms of the license agreements.“Unfortunately, some businesses find out too late that this is a costly mistake that not only involves a penalty, but also requires the business to purchase the appropriate version in addition to the penalty,” Johnson Swan added.And don’t think that a business can simply fly under the radar because it’s small. She noted that Microsoft (and its authorized copyright enforcement entity, the BSA/Software Alliance) tends to initiate software audits to ferret out and pursue copyright infringement claims.“If a company is found to have improperly licensed software, Microsoft or the BSA will demand a penalty for the allegedly unauthorized use of the software, often up to three times the MSRP value of the product at issue,” she said.And of course, Microsoft is not the only software publisher that offers academic or student versions of products that are less expensive. Autodesk for instance is offers student versions of its design software—all of which also contain commercial use restrictions.Ultimately, it is the consumer’s responsibility to ensure the proper license is purchased for the software installed, regardless of whether a software vendor, or even a representative of the software publisher itself, originally sold the products to the consumer,” Johnson Swan warned.