License to Read

I really hated kicking off the 2008 school year with such an exciting topic based on reading a software license. 

(Yes, I am being sarcastic, and please do remember I am from the south, so colorful sarcasm is a part of my culture).  After so many exiting titles and articles of mine such as Video at MySpace or Yours and Making Video History, I was thinking – great, I get to welcome everyone back to school by giving them tips on what to look for in a software license.

But I have found that when those in charge have to answer for their applied use – or in this case, misuse, even my ears perk up.

Ten years ago we would not have had to have this conversation or write such an article.  But with terms such as open source, freeware and royalty free catching our eyes as our brain tells our finger to click “I Agree,” we need to be careful in this digital age.  When you plan on publishing your video to the web or public video sharing network for the world to see it becomes even more critical.  And to those responsible for monitoring and maintaining software licenses, there are so many licenses and so little time.  Just as sure as you do not read something properly, here comes trouble.

As one who licenses audio and software, dotting my “I’s” and crossing my “T’s” can be an exhausting job of reading, research and analysis especially in the music world, and for those of you who have an attorney who handles and reviews such licenses at your board of education, they can give you the best overall advice.  (I’m also aware that that many districts do not have the benefit of such an attorney at all).  But even after reviewing things with our attorney, I’m still on my own to make critical decisions of licensing use with lasting impact, so here are a few survival tips that I have learned in my daily review of software license agreements.

1)  Cut to the chase

When looking at a software license, learn to glance at only the introductory and standard statements – not that you shouldn’t read through these, but for your own applications, cut to the chase by reading the headings.  Most software licenses are bulleted or numbered with headings, and “terms of use” and headings which contain the words “if” and “payment” should be read in detail to know how it applies to your situation.

Other typical keywords which sometimes appear in the bullets are:

· Definitions

· Grant of Rights

· Restrictions

· Condition of Licensed Material

· Miscellaneous terms

· Electronic Storage

Furthermore, many software licenses such as Apple’s iTunes (www.apple.com/legal/terms/site.html) and even our Soundzabound software license (www.soundzabound.com/licensing) has a “Terms of Use” area on the web site, which state the permitted usage without all the legalese.

I see more software companies with this type of user friendly clarification these days, and I think it is highly important that they do so.  If they do not, there may be something to hide, and a great amount of comfort can be placed on a reputable company who clearly states their terms on their web site.

2)  Don’t let buzz words trick you. (See attached chart)

The word free always gets our attention, such as in “free ware” and “royalty free.”  I’ve spent time in the entertainment, corporate and education worlds, and the saying rings true in all, “sometimes you get what you pay for” or “nothing is ever truly free”. 

In the case of freeware, which is software that is available at no cost or an optional fee, it sometimes must be registered for single use only, and is typically only allowed for personal use and often has spyware.  For those of you who have encountered spyware on your PC, you know the price you paid to have it cleaned up was not worth it in the end.

As for royalty free (which means you do not have to pay royalty fees for copyrighted works), whether it be music, photos images or graphics, people may glance and think there is no cost.  You do have to pay either a one-time fee and/or web renewal fees.

Music is a very complex maze, and it is always important to closely look at a royalty free music license.  Many royalty free music companies license their music for the general consumer market, and do not allow for reuse, student portfolios, resell of end products nor the use on a public network such broadcasting and podcasting.  However, at a glance, one may assume they can do each of these.

The manufacturers and producers are usually very specific in their terms of use, so be sure and apply the methods outlined in item #1 above.  If you think they will not notice, contact you, and perhaps even sue or charge you – think again.  I’ve encountered many instances where users try to squeak by and get caught.  Taking a risk is not worth it, and with digital rights management and web visibility, the ability for a licensor to catch a violation is easy.

3)  Friends and fresh eyes

Have others in your organization take a glance to see if you might have missed something, especially those who are also responsible for software licensing compliance.  If you are solely responsible in your organization, have a friend or acquaintance read it and give you their perception, feedback and concerns.

4)  Use your network

In your organization, you have peers, or perhaps people above and below you who care about the final outcome or liability.  Have them look over the license and give their feedback.

It is true that in this age of immediacy, we all just want to produce our broadcast, publish our video and get on with our lives an the other 50 tasks to do in a day, but failure to comply with licensing agreements can have legal, financial and ethical repercussions that become worth the time to avoid.  I hope these few survival tips have helped.  Now go and broadcast and publish with confidence, that is, after you have done a little reading.


BrittBarry S. Britt is the Executive Producer and Education Coordinator of Soundzabound Royalty Free Music in Atlanta, GA, and a regular contributor to School Video News.