Guidance for Home Computer Users | FAST

Guidance for Home Computer Users

Statistics released by the Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2013 70% of adults in Great Britain used a computer every day. This high level of use can lead some to think that everyone knows all they need to know about the legal use of computer software but this is often not the case. 

People who initially use a computer at work are often not aware of the licencing restrictions and obligations associated with the software they use and can, when buying a computer for home use, inadvertently find themselves on the wrong side of the licence.

The following FAQs may answer your question but if you need further clarification please go to the Anti-Piracy section contact us at 

What is copyright?

A creator owns the rights in music, art or literature. This includes software.  As soon as a software design is recorded and expressed, including in electronic medium, copyright exists in that expression of the work and only the author of that work has the right to say what should happen to it i.e. authorise copies of it.  The owner’s rights are protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which states in s16 that:

  • The owner of the copyright in a work has, in accordance with the following provisions of this chapter, the exclusive right to do the following acts in the United Kingdom:
    • a) to copy the work
    • b) to issue copies of the work to the public
    • c) to perform, show or play the work in public
    • d) to broadcast the work or include it in a cable programme service
    • e) to make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation.
  • Copyright in a work is infringed by a person who without the licence of the copyright owner does, or authorises another to do, any of the acts restricted by the copyright.

So basically, what this means is that if you didn’t create it, you need permission to copy subject to law. 

When I buy software, is it mine?

When you buy software, whether pre-installed or from a download or on disk, you are only purchasing the right to use it in accordance with the licence terms. 

With any software you buy a licence for, this rule does not change. You do not own the copy.

What is the licence for?

The licence explains what you can and can’t do with the software that you want to use.

What about freeware?

Even if software is given away free, it will still be subject to licence terms that will restrict its use.  For example it may say that the software licence cannot be assigned or ‘sold’ or copied for commercial gain.  If it is not clear, contact the rights owner.

And Open Source?

Open-source software authors make the source code available to encourage distribution of it.  However, there will be licence conditions to adhere to. Contact the original author if you are unsure.

What should I do if the software publisher is no longer in business?

The rights in the software program may have been sold to another publisher.  Initially do an online search on the program name to see if it is shown under another publisher.  

What is OEM Software?

OEM means Original Equipment Manufacturer and this software is pre-installed on a computer by the manufacturer of the computer itself before the point of sale.

  • Once loaded the hardware and software to all intents and purposes become one unit. They cannot be separated.  The software licence will state that the transfer of ownership of the software is only permitted as part of a sale or transfer of the computer.
  • OEM software cannot be sold on its own.
  • Purchasing component parts of a computer does not entitle the purchaser to buy OEM software unless specified in the licence.

If you have any doubts about the meaning of the terms and conditions of use, contact the copyright owner.

What should I look out for when buying a computer? How do I avoid buying infringing software?

  • Always buy from a reputable dealer – look for publishers ‘authorised dealer’ certificates on display.
  • Do not be tempted by unrealistically cheap prices – if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. Check online feedback. 
  • If you have never bought a computer before, get advice beforehand from someone who has experience.
  • Decide what you need before you go to the shop.
  • Make sure that there is a licence for each software product that you purchase.
  • Ask for the hardware and software to be itemised separately on your receipt.
  • Always keep your proof of purchase.
  • If you have problems with any retailer, contact your local Trading Standards Office for advice or call FAST on 01628 640060.

Can I buy Second-hand software?

  • The licence terms of many software publishers do not permit resale of copies of their software.
  • If you are offered second-hand software either on disk or pre-installed check any rules that apply and only proceed with care.
  • If you are offered disks, make sure that they are the original ones, not copies.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a badge of origin which distinguishes one product from another.  It is sometimes called a brand, and can be words or a logo or both. Trademarks can be  registered at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and it is a criminal offence to make copies of the software disc together with the trademark and offer for sale. This is the sale of counterfeit. Further details may be obtained from the IPO.

What should I do if I think that someone is selling copied or counterfeit software?

Contact FAST either through the online report form on this website or by calling us on 01628 640060.

Alternatively, contact the software publisher.

What is the Computer Misuse Act 1990?

The Computer Misuse Act was brought in to deal with the increasing incidence of computer hacking i.e. accessing a computer without the permission of the computer owner.  

The Act also covers instances where people hack into computers with a view to committing crime, or where software and/or computers are damaged by the distribution or installation of viruses.

There are 3 main sections:

  • Section 1 says that a person is guilty of an offence if:
    • They cause a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer;
    • The access they intend to secure is unauthorised;’ and
    • They know at the time that they cause the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

For the offence to be committed they must know that what they are doing is unauthorised.

  • Section 2 is aimed at people who hack into a computer system with an ulterior motive. This could be for blackmail, theft, obtaining property by deception which all have a maximum sentence of 5 years plus.  
    • If the attempt to commit the serious crime is successful then they would probably be prosecuted for that.
    • If the attempt at the more serious crime is not successful then the perpetrator would be charged with a S2 crime.
  • Section 3 is directed at those who aim to damage computer systems or programs by introducing viruses, trojans etc. and they are guilty of an offence if:
    • They do any act which causes an unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer; and
    • At the time the act is committed had the requisite intent and the requisite knowledge.

All these matters are usually investigated by law enforcement such a specialist high-tech police unit. FAST will be able to be a point of contact, however law enforcement is not resourced to investigate each and every allegation. 

In summary - Five Golden Rules

  • Do not copy software outside the licence terms.
  • Do not take it as read that you may share illicit copies of software with friends or colleagues.
  • At work, do not make additional unlicensed copies beyond the licence allocation including when computers are connected on a network.
  • Do not make copies of your employer’s software to distribute.
  • Do not accept ‘free’ copies software from colleagues or friends unless you are sure the copies are lawful.


The foregoing information is only for general interest and should not be taken as legal advice or a complete statement of the law. If you have a legal query we recommend that you contact a member of the FAST’s Legal Advisory Group (FLAG) by e mailing FAST at