Software – The Cost of Doing Business

ALERT!  Breaking News!  Computer software can be expensive!!

Okay, I realize that isn’t really breaking news and is something that people already know.  However, the fact that people are already aware of that is what can create issues.  While various software packages can be expensive, design software is one of those software categories that really is expensive.  I have previously written a blog article on architectural design software packages under $2500 entitled “Inexpensive Architectural Design Software“, but those packages are not the mainstream products being utilized.  For most companies to compete in the AEC design community, they are pretty much required to utilize a software package that will cost a minimum of $4,000.00 per user.  Most software packages also either require you to be on a subscription plan or make you pay a large upgrade fee to remain up-to-date with the software.

Regardless of the method that you use to pay for the software, it is a large expense for each user.  However, I must say that is the cost of legally doing business.  If a company (or individual) wants to participate in a market that requires design software, then the software costs must be considered part of the business expense.  I may not like the cost to play, but I still want to play, so I need to pay.

With the high cost of software, it is tempting for people to find ways around the expense.  Many of those methods of controlling software costs are not legal and are to be avoided.  Some of those illegal methods are:

1. Installing one copy of software on multiple computers.

This is more commonly practiced than most people realize.  This occurs when a company installs the same software serial number on more than one computer in the company.  This is sometimes done as a short-term solution before a new license is purchased or received, but is more commonly done as an alternative to spending money on a new license.

Most EULAs specifically state that the software may only be installed on one computer at a time.  (While network licenses allow the installation on multiple computers, the network license prevents the software from being used by more computers than license quantities that were purchased.)  There are variations on this for home usage by some software packages, but not for production computers.

I had a discussion with someone a few years ago who took the position (and was adamant about it) that once a company purchased one copy of a software license, the company should be able to install the software on as many computers as desired.  At that time, this person was an employee in a company that believed in purchasing legitimate copies and was fortunately not in a decision-making role in regards to software.  However, this is not a rare position held by persons in authority and most of have heard of companies being prosecuted for this very thing.

2. Installing a copy of software that is licensed to another company.

Due to the downturn in the economy, many AEC firms have downsized their staff and are not using all of the software licenses that they possess. They may provide a software license to another company or try to sell their extra licenses.  Under most EULAs, this is not legal.  When you “purchase” a license, you are paying for the right to use the software and do not actually own the software.  Therefore, you cannot sell the software license since you do not actually own the license.  The transfer of licenses from one company to another is a complex and sometimes impossible proposition and must be conducted with the permission of the software developer.

A practice that is too common in the industry is to provide software licenses to other companies to use just to be nice and help them out.  An example of this may be a company that legally purchased their licenses, but then provided those licenses to others such as a drafting consultant.  If that drafting consultant is not an employee of the company that purchased the software, then the consultant cannot legally install that license on their computer.  Both the company and the consultant can be in legal trouble.

3. Purchasing illegitimate licenses.

There are many websites that sell illegitimate software.  While their websites may look legitimate, they are not licensed by the developer to legally sell that software.  The sales of AutoCAD® on these site is very common due to the expense of AutoCAD® and its dominance in the marketplace.

I recently received the following unsolicited email with the subject line of “AUTOCAD  2013  Products Full version” from a person using a gmail account and no company information:

I am selling AUTOAD 2013 Full version   — the FULL  version, besides it does not need to go through the “Activation” process.

Although this is a not an “official disk” it works exactly the same,and has even more benefits. Since it has no activation files, it can be installed unlimited times on as many computers as you like which is a big plus!

The only down side to this is that there is no Web Based Support from CAD/CAM COMPANY because it was not bought from them.

It’s functions is all the same as Store_Bought programs.

I’d be willing to sell it to you for a very low price of $150 USD .-plus a small shipping & handling fee.You simply cannot beat this offer.

This would cost you more than $5000 USD.-plus tax in any store and you can only install the store bought version on one computer.”

Usage of illegitimate software is not only illegal, but it can work improperly as well.  I heard of one person who installed a license of AutoCAD Architecture® 2012, but none of the architectural portions of the software worked correctly.  The serial number for the installation was 666-69696969, which is not a legitimate license from Autodesk.  They had been given this license from someone else and likely had no idea of the source of the software.

If you do not pay at least close to retail price for the software license, it is probably not a legitimate license.  Be wary.

4. Using educational version licenses.

Since companies like Autodesk provide free software licenses for students to use in the educational process, it is easy for the student to continue to use that software after they complete their education.  It is not legal to use educational version licenses to generate revenue or for any other commercial purpose.

I have had one user tell me that when they recently worked in a certain overseas market that most of the software used there was either illegitimate software or educational version software.  It was common for construction documents in the field to have the educational stamp on the documents and no one cared since everyone did it.


We must be legal and ethical in all aspects of our business, and that includes using legitimate software licenses.


I am not a legal expert and all of the above information is I understand it to be.  Refer to the EULA for any software in use and engage the services of a legal expert as needed.


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