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When You Subscribe To Software No License Is Necessary

    Benefits of Cloud Based Software Services -

    Subscribing to software is becoming increasingly common. Many businesses and individuals choose subscription models rather than purchasing software licenses outright. This gives them flexible access to software on a month-to-month or annual basis. But what happens when you subscribe to software in terms of licensing? Do you still need a software license?

    The short answer is no. When you subscribe to software through a cloud service or SaaS (Software as a Service) provider, no additional license is required. The subscription itself acts as your license to use the software legally.

    This article will explain in detail how software licensing works with subscriptions versus traditional models. We’ll cover:

    • What is software licensing?
    • Pros and cons of software subscriptions
    • Do you need a software license with a subscription?
    • Software copyright and licensing law
    • Repercussions for using software without a license
    • Tips for staying compliant

    Let’s get started!

    What is Software Licensing?

    Software Licensing

    Before diving into software subscriptions, it helps to understand what software licensing is.

    A software license grants you legal permission to install and use a software program. It provides terms dictating how the software can be used.

    Licenses are provided by software publishers and developers. When you purchase software traditionally, a license key or agreement is included. This applies to one-time purchases of desktop and server software. It also applies to perpetual licenses for business software.

    Without a license, installing and running a software program is prohibited under copyright law. The software publisher owns the intellectual property rights. Licensing gives you certified access in return for a fee.

    Common license types include:

    • Retail: For individual software purchases. Allows use on one or more computers owned by the same person.
    • Volume licensing: For business, government, and organization purchases. Covers a set number of installs.
    • SaaS: Provided through a subscription to software delivered over the internet.
    • Open source: Authorizes free use, modifications, and distribution under an open source license.
    • Shareware: Provides a free trial period to try software. Must purchase a license to continue using it after the trial.
    • Freeware: Grants free use without requiring a license purchase.

    Without the proper license, using the software constitutes copyright infringement. Exceptions are software marked as public domain or with Creative Commons licenses allowing free use.

    Pros and Cons of Software Subscriptions

    Pros and Cons of Software Subscriptions

    Now that you understand software licensing, how do subscriptions fit in?

    With a subscription model, you pay a recurring fee to access software. It is centrally hosted on the vendor’s servers. Access is provided on-demand over the internet.

    This contrasts with traditional licenses, where software is permanently installed and runs on your own systems.

    Here are some of the top pros of subscribing to software:

    Flexible Scaling

    With a software subscription model, you can easily scale your usage up or down as needed. Rather than purchasing licenses for peak capacity upfront, you only pay for the seats you require each month or year.

    For example, if your team grows from 10 to 15 employees, you can increase your subscription quantity. If you then need to downsize again, you can remove those extra seats. This flexibility allows you to match software expenses to your current business requirements.

    Scaling is accomplished instantly through your account dashboard. There is no need to renegotiate contracts or wait for new license keys. This agility helps balance costs as business needs fluctuate.

    Subscriptions are ideal for businesses with seasonal cycles, project-based requirements, or unpredictable growth. Paying monthly or annually aligns software spending with real utilization rates.

    Reduced Upfront Costs

    Transitioning from purchased licenses to subscriptions significantly reduces upfront software costs. Rather than a large one-time fee, you pay a smaller recurring subscription rate.

    For a 50-seat license of an application costing $5,000 upfront, the equivalent monthly subscription may be only $500 per month. This converts the costly initial outlay into more digestible incremental payments.

    Lower startup costs make it easier for companies to access critical software, especially new and growing organizations. Predictably, ongoing fees are also easier to budget than large intermittent license purchases.

    Shifting spending from Capex to Opex allows organizations greater financial flexibility. Savings from subscription plan discounts can be redirected towards other IT and business priorities.

    Automatic Updates

    With licensed software, the burden is on you to maintain and update installs. But SaaS applications are automatically maintained for you by the vendor.

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    The vendor centrally manages the deployment of updates, patches, fixes, and version upgrades. These are rolled out seamlessly to the cloud-hosted software transparently. You benefit from continuous improvements with no IT overhead.

    For example, major version releases that previously required months of planning and downtime now happen automatically in the background. New features, enhancements, integrations, and modifications get delivered on the fly.

    The hands-off maintenance of cloud subscriptions reduces hassle and disruption. You can always access the latest software release rather than languishing on outdated versions. This enables users to stay on the cutting edge of innovation.

    Access From Anywhere

    SaaS liberates software from desktops and networks by making it accessible from anywhere. You can access the software from any device if you have an internet connection.

    This enables a mobile workforce that can work remotely from home, on the road. Location is no longer a barrier to productivity.

    Cloud delivery also enables BYOD policies. Rather than managing software installs on employee devices, credentials allow access from personal smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

    Cross-platform compatibility further expands access options. One subscription works across all operating systems and form factors, whether it’s Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, or Linux.

    Anywhere access and device flexibility maximize opportunities for employees to contribute. Work is no longer tethered to physical offices, leading to greater agility.

    Predictable Expense

    Perpetual licenses produce erratic IT expenses that fluctuate wildly. Unsustainable software budgets make costs difficult to contain.

    Converting to subscriptions creates stable, predictable spending unaffected by peaks and valleys. Monthly or annual fees remain consistent, allowing reliable forecasting.

    Ongoing costs are aligned with real usage rates. Additional seats can be added to meet demand rather than overspending upfront on shelfware licenses. Tight coupling of software fees to headcount and utilization normalizes budgets.

    With subscriptions embedded as operating expenses, software becomes a variable cost that scales dynamically with the business. This avoids ballooning irregular CapEx and enables sustainable growth.

    Try Before You Buy

    Transitioning business-critical systems to new software is risky. But SaaS subscriptions let you test the software first via free trials.

    Most vendors offer trial periods ranging from 14 to 30 days. You can provision trial accounts, allowing hands-on evaluation before any purchase.

    Piloting software with real users reveals strengths and weaknesses to assess fit. Testing helps confirm capabilities match needs before committing long term.

    If the software proves unsuitable during the trial, you don’t proceed with a paid subscription. This try-before-you-buy approach reduces the risk of failed software investments.

    Free trials allow informed decisions based on experience rather than demos and promises. You can verify quality and results before spending a dime.

    Recurring Costs

    While subscriptions offer lower entry costs, ongoing fees can accumulate over long-term use. Monthly or annual payments continue in perpetuity versus a fixed one-time license cost.

    For software required long term, cumulative subscription fees can eventually exceed the upfront license purchase price. While cash flow improves initially, the lifetime cost can be higher.

    However, feature additions and continuous upgrades in subscriptions offset some long-term costs. Still, evaluating the break-even point helps determine an economical subscription term.

    Businesses should model multi-year projections to compare perpetual license ownership costs to subscriptions. This helps identify the most affordable option.

    Reliance on Internet Connectivity

    Locally installed software is always accessible, but cloud solutions require consistent internet availability and performance. Slow or unstable connections impair productivity.

    Mission-critical systems may be unsuitable for SaaS delivery if uptime and speed cannot be guaranteed. Some internal or remote locations may lack adequate connectivity.

    While mobile broadband has improved accessibility, coverage gaps still exist. Connectivity should be assessed to determine if cloud software can be supported everywhere it is needed.

    For some organizations, on-premise solutions may be preferable to remove reliability dependencies. Hybrid solutions can also keep critical systems localized while leveraging cloud apps where feasible.

    Data Security Concerns

    Subscriptions, data, and applications reside on the vendor’s infrastructure rather than being controlled internally. This requires vetting security posture and practices.

    Cloud vendors must provide air-tight protection for sensitive customer data. Reviewing third-party audits, compliance certifications, encryption levels, and security team qualifications is advised.

    Ultimately, organizations must weigh the risks and benefits of offloading security responsibility. Vendors with strong safeguards and transparency can mitigate concerns.

    Hybrid architectures maintaining local critical data stores alongside cloud systems provide an alternative. This balances security with SaaS accessibility and convenience.

    Loss of Access if Subscription Lapses

    Canceling a SaaS subscription immediately terminates access and use rights. Unlike installed software, no version remains operational after the term expires.

    This turns subscriptions into rental agreements. Failure to renew leads to complete software loss with no local fallback option remaining. Business continuity requires maintaining licensing continuity.

    To reduce disruption risks, subscription lifecycles should align with key application requirements. Backup options should also be formulated in case renewals lapse accidentally.

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    While access removal is inherent in the subscription model, planning for contingencies minimizes potential work stoppages. Prompt reminders and renewals further mitigate the chances of oversights.

    Vendor Lock-in

    Multi-year subscriptions coupled with sticky data dependencies create reliance on vendors that is difficult to break. Switching providers requires migrating data, which adds friction.

    Vendors leverage this inertia to disincentivize changes after renewing contracts. Custom integrations and configurations also increase the complexity of decoupling from incumbent solutions.

    Lock-in limits negotiating leverage, competitive pressure, and options to change course. Objective evaluation of alternatives becomes constrained by high switching costs.

    Organizations should consider portability upfront and use open APIs and formats. Phased transitions between vendors and avoiding extensive customization also promote choice.

    Do You Need a Software License with a Subscription?

    When You Subscribe To Software No License Is Necessary

    This brings us to the crux: do you need a software license when subscribing to software?

    The answer is no. The subscription is your license and grants you legal permission to use the software.

    You don’t install software locally with a SaaS or cloud delivery model. Instead, you access software remotely installed on your vendor’s infrastructure.

    Rather than receiving a license key or download, your subscription login credentials authorize you to use the software. No additional license purchase or activation is required.

    As long as your subscription remains active by paying the recurring fee, you are licensed to use the software as outlined in your agreement.

    If your subscription lapses due to non-payment, your access and license immediately terminate. Renewing the subscription restores your license.

    So subscriptions greatly simplify software licensing. The subscription replaces the need for separate license tracking and management.

    Now that you know licenses aren’t needed for SaaS software, you may wonder how this aligns with copyright law?

    What you need to understand is that subscriptions operate fully within the scope of software copyright and licensing law:

    Software Copyright and Licensing Law -

    Copyright Applies to SaaS Software

    The vendor who created the SaaS software retains full copyright ownership over their source code and intellectual property. This does not change with a cloud delivery model.

    Even though the software is hosted remotely, the vendor still legally owns the software. They have invested time and resources in developing it, so they hold the exclusive rights to license usage.

    SaaS subscriptions do not constitute a software sale or transfer of IP ownership. Customers pay for licensed access, not outright software acquisition. The software itself remains the vendor’s protected intellectual property.

    Copyright law grants vendors control over how their software is used and distributed. SaaS delivery falls completely within the scope of established software copyright protections.

    Subscriptions Provide a Valid License

    Some people mistakenly believe that SaaS software can be used without a license because it is hosted remotely. But, subscriptions provide a legitimate license to access and utilize the software legally.

    Your subscription credentials authorize you to use the software within the permitted terms. This serves the same licensing function as a traditional software license key or activation code.

    So, while no installation occurs on-premises, subscribing grants a valid software license. As long as your subscription is current, your usage is licensed and authorized by the vendor. You are not using the software unlawfully.

    Terms of Service Outline the License

    SaaS subscription agreements and terms of service documents legally define license terms just like a traditional license agreement. This contract outlines your specific licensed uses.

    Details like number of users, usage limits, restrictions, rights, and duration are spelled out. This establishes the legally enforceable subscription license terms.

    Usage that exceeds or violates the agreement constitutes a breach of contract and license non-compliance. Following the terms ensures your access and utilization are permitted under your specific license.

    Overarching Licensing Principles Still Apply

    SaaS software is fundamentally subject to long-standing software copyright and licensing laws. Vendors retain full ownership and control. Customers receive licensed access granted by subscription.

    The main difference is that this license is bundled with software access. However, the legal principles remain consistent whether it is installed locally or delivered via the cloud.

    You cannot own or use SaaS solutions beyond subscription allowances. Valid licensing practices still apply even though the delivery method is different. Understanding this helps ensure compliance.

    Repercussions for Using Software Without a License

    Repercussions for Using Software Without a License -

    Given software subscriptions provide a built-in license, what happens if you use a subscription service without one?

    This constitutes unlicensed software use, carrying significant civil and criminal penalties.

    Copyright Infringement

    Using software without a valid license or active subscription is considered copyright infringement. The software publisher retains ownership rights, so unlicensed use violates those rights.

    Infringement claims can be pursued even if the use was unintentional. Without proof of a license, unauthorized usage constitutes infringement under the law.

    Copyright holders can demand immediate cessation of unlicensed use and seek compensation for damages suffered as a result. These infringement claims are backed by legal precedent and statutory penalties.

    Civil Lawsuits

    In addition to infringement claims, software vendors frequently file civil lawsuits against those using software unlawfully. These lawsuits aim to recover financial damages incurred by the unauthorized use.

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    The plaintiff can recoup lost profits equal to the cost of the software license. In some cases, additional actual damages may be claimed for things like loss of competitive advantage.

    If the defendant profited directly from the infringing use, the vendor can seek these ill-gotten gains as well. The court can order payment of full damages plus disgorgement of related profits.

    Statutory damages up to $150,000 per instance may be awarded if infringement is found to be willful and intentional. The penalties can add up quickly, turning unlicensed use into an expensive mistake.

    Criminal Charges

    Civil remedies are common responses to unlicensed software use. But in egregious cases, criminal charges may also come into play.

    Intentionally stealing source code or hacking protections could trigger theft of trade secrets charges. Trafficking in copyright circumvention tools can also lead to criminal prosecution.

    Law enforcement entities like the FBI may get involved if conduct crosses into criminality. Convictions can lead to prison time, not just financial consequences.

    Software Disablement

    Beyond legal actions, software publishers use technical countermeasures to combat unlicensed use. They may remotely disable and deactivate programs confirmed to be running without authorization.

    Disabling causes the software to stop functioning, rendering it useless without a legitimate license key to restore functionality. This quickly halts infringing usage in its tracks.

    Financial Penalties

    Large statutory penalties allow software vendors to recover significant damages from infringement:

    • Up to $30,000 per unlicensed work
    • Up to $150,000 per willful infringement
    • Attorney’s fees to recoup legal costs

    These stiff fines make infringement economically infeasible. It ends up vastly more expensive than properly licensing the software.

    Reputational Harm

    Copyright disputes and lawsuits also inflict substantial reputation damage. Customers and partners may avoid businesses found liable for infringement. Brand and company value deteriorates.

    Ongoing legal issues can tank valuations and impede access to capital needed for growth and innovation. The fallout negatively impacts future prospects.

    Few organizations can thrive long-term after being branded an infringer. The stigma makes infringement extremely high risk.

    Other Legal Actions

    In addition to copyright claims, vendors may also sue for:

    • Breach of contract
    • Violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions
    • Contributory infringement against third-parties involved

    These civil, criminal, financial, and reputation consequences create formidable deterrents to unlicensed software use. They underscore why maintaining compliant licensing is mission-critical.

    Tips for Staying Compliant with Software Licensing

    Given the risks of unlicensed use, following best practices helps avoid problems:

    Maintain Active Subscriptions

    Don’t let software subscriptions inadvertently lapse. Set up renewal reminders and confirm renewals are completed on time every billing cycle.

    Lapsed subscriptions can disrupt access and lead to non-compliance issues. Renewal alerts and checks safeguard against accidental terminations when payment dates are missed.

    Track Subscription Status

    Use tools to audit and inventory subscriptions across the business for complete visibility. This allows you to centrally monitor licenses, usage, billing details, and expiration statuses.

    Comprehensive tracking ensures you always know the state of subscriptions company-wide. It also aids license reconciliation and optimizing renewals.

    Remove Access Promptly After Cancellation

    When canceling a subscription, remember to revoke access to prevent unauthorized use immediately. Terminate accounts and deactivate credentials to avoid lingering availability.

    Prompt removal of access when canceling subscriptions is crucial to maintaining compliance. Allowing terminated licenses to remain opens the door to infringement risks.

    Review Agreement Terms

    Know each subscription agreement’s permitted uses and restrictions to avoid violations. Don’t assume common terms across vendors. Carefully review each contract.

    Routinely examining agreement specifics keeps usage aligned with stipulated license conditions. This avoids exceeding seats, usage metrics, or duration.

    Don’t Share Logins Beyond Allowances

    While subscriptions allow some license sharing, they don’t exceed permitted seats or usage volume. Concurrent usage limits apply, even across a single organization.

    Enforcing unique logins up to contracted quantities ensures you don’t over-allocate access. This prevents well-intentioned but illicit license sharing.

    Seek Legal Counsel With Questions

    Consult an attorney specializing in software licensing if you have any doubts or need guidance on compliance. Don’t take chances; seek expert legal advice.

    Experienced advisors provide interpretation where licensing agreements may lack clarity. They also keep you abreast of the shifting legal landscape.

    Stay Informed on Evolving Laws

    Keep updated on changes in copyright, IP, and software licensing regulations that may impact subscriptions. Compliance requires understanding the latest regulations.

    IP laws constantly evolve. Monitor legal resources to ensure business practices and license agreements never fall out of compliance as laws modernize.


    When you subscribe to software through SaaS, no license key or additional purchase is required. The subscription itself authorizes you to legally access and use the software under the agreed terms.

    Traditional licensing principles still apply, with the vendor retaining full copyright ownership. But subscriptions bundle the license with the software access, streamlining compliance.

    Lapsing on renewals or using software without an active subscription constitutes copyright infringement. Staying current and compliant is crucial to avoid civil and criminal penalties.

    Following best practices around tracking, renewals, and reviews helps organizations stay within their rights. Seeking legal counsel provides expert guidance on any licensing questions.

    So while subscribing to software may feel simply like paying for access, it comes with important licensing impacts under the hood. Understanding these nuances helps ensure you successfully leverage SaaS and cloud software within legal bounds.