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What Is Shareware

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You've probably heard the terms "public domain", "freeware" "shareware", and others like them. Your favorite board probably has many programs described by one or more of these words. There's a lot of confusion about and between these terms, but they actually have specific meanings and implications. Once you understand them you will have a much easier time navigating the maze of programs available to you, and understanding what your obligations are, or aren't, with each type of program.

Let's start with some basic definitions.

"Public domain" has a very specific legal meaning. It means that the creator of a work (in this case, a piece of software) who had legal ownership of that work, has given up ownership and dedicated the work "to the public domain". Once something is in the public domain, anyone can use it in any way they choose, and the author has no control over the use and cannot demand payment for it.

If you find a program which the author has explicitly put into the public domain you are free to use it however you see fit, without paying for the right to use it. But use care -- due to the confusion over the meaning of the words, programs are often described by others as being "public domain" when in fact they are shareware or free, copyrighted software. To be sure a program is public domain you should look for an explicit statement from the author to that effect.

"Copyrighted" is the opposite of public domain. A copyrighted program is one where the author has asserted his or her legal right to control the program's use and distribution by placing the legally required copyright notices in the program and documentation. The law gives copyright owners broad rights to restrict how their work is distributed, and provides for penalties for those who violate these restrictions.

When you find a program which is copyrighted you must use it in accordance with the copyright owner's restrictions on distribution and payment. Usually these are clearly stated in the program documentation.

Maintaining a copyright does not necessarily imply charging a fee, so it is perfectly possible and legal to have copyrighted programs which are distributed free of charge. Such programs are sometimes termed "freeware", though this term was in fact trademarked by the late Andrew Flugelman and the legality of its use by others could be questioned. In any case, the fact that a program is free does not mean that it is in the public domain -- though this is a common confusion.

"Shareware" is copyrighted software which is distributed by authors through bulletin boards, on-line services, disk vendors, and copies passed among friends. It is commercial software which you are allowed to try out before you pay for it.

Shareware authors use a variety of licensing restrictions on their copyrighted works, but most authors who support their software require you to pay a "registration fee" -- the purchase price of the software -- if you continue to use the product after a trial period. Some authors indicate a specific trial period after which you must pay this fee; others leave the time period open and rely on you to judge when you have decided to use the program, and therefore should pay for it. Occasionally a shareware author requires registration but does not require payment -- this is so-called "$0 shareware".

The shareware system and the continued availability of quality shareware products depend on your willingness to register and pay for the shareware you use. The registration fees you pay allow authors to support and continue to develop their products.

As a software user you benefit from this system because you get to try the software and determine whether it meets your needs before you pay for it. Authors also benefit because we are able to get our products into your hands with little or no expense for advertising and promotion. As a result it is not unusual to find shareware products which rival retail software that costs several times the amount of the shareware registration fee.

ASP members' shareware meets additional quality standards beyond ordinary shareware. Our members' programs must be fully functional (not crippled, demonstration, or out of date versions); program documentation must be complete and must clearly state the registration fee and the benefits received when registering; members must provide free mail or telephone support for a minimum of three months after registration; and members must meet other guidelines which help to insure that you as a user receive good value for your money and are dealt with professionally. We also provide an Ombudsman program to assist in resolving disputes between authors and users. For more information on the ASP or to contact the ASP Ombudsman, write to ASP, 545 Grover Road, Muskegon, MI 49442. You can also contact the Ombudsman on CompuServe dia an EasyPlex (electronic mail) message to 70007,3536.

SHAREWR.INF - January 1994

Provided by Richard Martin