People often use the term misuse when talking about this in an effort to be polite or to not piss people off. I am using it because, and I will talk about it later in detail, there is a certain amount of vague legal content in user license agreements that can make it difficult to use the license correctly. Also I think it is rare that people maliciously abuse user licenses. I think most of it is complacency, but I have seen my share of eye rolling from project managers when I tell them they cannot use software the way they are.
I am also going to approach the subject from a cultural resource management perspective. License misuse happens across the board, but obviously I see it more from this perspective. There are several types of user licenses that we experience in GIS, so I will talk about both and how CRM companies might fail and succeed at managing them.
The first and probably most common license misuse is from software itself. Virtually all software has an End User License Agreement (EULA). This is that annoying block of text that most people check or click ‘Yes, I have read and understand the agreement.’ For most people it is just one more irritating step before they can start using Google Earth to find out which of their neighbors have pools or log into an online game to shoot zombies. This agreement spells out everything you cannot do with the software. It usually also has the dozens of disclaimers where they explain to you that they have no hand in the enjoyment of the software. This is also where people get tripped up because some of them can be incredibly long and no one really wants to read them. It is important for commercial users of software to understand the license and what user rights accompany the purchase of that license.
There are different kinds of user license available and understanding those basics goes a long way. For private use, especially for free software, the user generally just agrees that it is free software and that the user cannot use it for commercial use. I would say that the most visible software that CRMers use that falls into that private use category is Google Earth (which is a whole other issue I would like to address some day). The free version is intended for personal use only and should not be used for commercial gain. They are a little vague on what constitutes commercial gain, but generally there clear rules on copying the information. So that screen shot of Google Earth in your report may not be acceptable personal use. And before anybody says anything, NO, putting a citation is not always enough to steer clear of the personal use violations.
Commercial license use comes in all forms. I cannot detail them all, but there are a few examples that can get you going. There is single use and concurrent use. Single use is one person on one machine. These are pretty typical for most software. Concurrent use is single person at a time on a number of machines. So you could have person A working on station A, then check the license to person B at station B. This is particularly helpful if you do not have full time employees. While concurrent licenses are more expensive they are cheaper than if you bought two single use licenses. This also allows smaller CRM firms to take advantage of the fact that they have employees on atypical schedules. One crew can come in and finish some work then another crew later in the day can use the same license. There are also other licenses that are becoming common for devices. You pay per user and can download the software to any number of devices or workstations. So person A has a license and can work on their tablet in the morning and then move straight over to their station in the office. The advantage is that users can move anywhere and not worry about having the right software. The disadvantage though is that you have to sign in each time. This is another great way to get out of the brick and mortar office system that people work in and still maintain all of the needed resources.
There is another type of license that we see in GIS and is becoming more common. Data licenses are agreements that vendors make with consumers to provide up to date data. One of the more common forms that it comes in is county assessor parcel information. Some counties have departments that manage the parcel data while others contract it out. These contractors then make money by providing the data to you, the user. The purchase usually comes in one of two types, one time purchase and contract. These are pretty self-explanatory. The contract ones are pretty nice if you have ongoing work because you get updated data on a schedule. There can be a downside to contracts though because often when the contract is up you no longer have permission to use the data. So any projects you may have completed are fine, but you cannot include the data on projects outside the term limits. This came up at my work recently. We did not use the data outside the term limits, but we received a notice that required us to acknowledge that we were no longer using it and have destroyed the data. The notice went straight to me so we were able to take care of it right of way, but if a project manager had seen it they may not have known what it was and why it was important.
There are other restrictions that come with data that, while not specifically a license issue, can potentially hurt your company. Not all agencies are diligent in filling out their metadata, but most provide some use limitations. These limitations can include the restriction of the data in commercial use. The limitation may allow you to reference the data, but not allow you to copy or modify the data into a report. They can also limit the time frame that you are allowed to use the data. Some datasets have expiration dates that should be considered because your project may or may not need the most up to date information. Even publicly available or public domain datasets have limitations. Maybe you have to cite the dataset or have to put in a disclaimer that the data is for reference only.
Basemap licenses are the last license I would like to talk about. These licenses stride between datasets and software. Generally speaking you get access to the basemap through your GIS software license. There are still limitations and you definitely have to cite the sources. I usually put them on every map in small font that is out of the way, but others like to consolidate all of that into one spot. There are other basemaps available though and sometimes you purchase them like other datasets. Again, these usually come with meta data that allows you to stay in compliance.
Larger companies often employ specialists to take care of these licenses. They have an IT department or a GIS department. These people often take steps to monitor the licenses and take action when appropriate. Smaller companies have trouble with this, because individuals are often too busy trying to bring money into the company. I think that if you take small efforts you can still manage the data easily. You can use a calendar to keep things straight. When you activate a new license, just add the expiration to your calendar. It will remind you when the time comes. Meta data often includes tags so one thing I like to do is include the expiration as a tag and then I can do a routine search for data that is soon expiring. Or just keep a huge list through OneNote or Word on a cloud server. Then you have access to it at all times.
I have mentioned citation a few times and I think that, when in doubt, it is always a good idea. Think of it like the text portion of your report. If you are citing work of another company you should certainly cite the work of the county that you received your parcel data from. I think this is generally lacking in CRM. Some are better at it than others, but I would like to see more formal submissions of dataset use including those of the company itself. It does not have to take up much room, but a list of all entities that contributed data is something that should be tacked onto the back of the literary citations. Then you can also indicate what data you made and that allows other who might look at your report to appropriately cite your work. Sounds pretty win-win.
Finally, I want to mention vendor abuse. It happens a lot and several large companies have been brought out into the media for this activity. I do not even need to provide a list, just Google ‘microsoft/apple/google eula abuse’ and you will have plenty to read. Most of what they get in trouble for is being so incredibly vague that you cannot possible adhere to the rules. They make it impossible to even understand. Or they make the terms so vague they can run lawsuits on a case by case basis. This is also pretty deplorable and is certainly not the right way to keep your intellectual property.
It is important that you monitor the licenses for your software or data. It keeps you ‘out of the weeds.’ It is becoming more and more common place that vendors are tracking how their licenses are being used and the last thing a CRM company needs is a cease and desist order. Even if you are using it correctly, the legal action itself can cripple a company. It may take more time than you would like, but I think it is far better to be prepared. There is also the ethical issue. Are you gaining a monetary advantage through illegal activity? What about your competitors? At the end of the day, I would rather say I did it the right way.
I guess this was not as rant filled as I thought it would be. I hope it is a little useful for people who do not work with licenses very often. It may not seem like it is important now, but it can sure be a downer when you are trying to get a report out and do not have access to the one software you need.
tl;dr? Don't steal software or data.
Here are a couple additional resources for you to review if you would like to continue learning about License Misuse.GIS Industry and License Misuse: Should You Care?
I posted this last time, but student license are a whole ball game on their own.
Options for Students Looking for Access to GIS Software