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  1. #1
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    Legality/Ethics of switching off site if user license runs out

    I am currently planning to develop some specialised shopping cart software that I plan to have run on a license basis, perhaps a yearly license.

    My target audience are likely to be the type that once the shopping cart is setup, they most likely wont change things ever again and thus wont go into the admin panel. So, in the event of license expiry or near expiry, having a red "your license has expired message" in the admin area wont be very useful.

    I am considering having some code in the software to switch off the store parts of it and have it say "Please contact...." similar to the way webhosts do when they suspend a site. Is this legal/ethical?

    I was also considering some text to appear on the index page of the store to say "License Expired" or something, however this is too easily removed by someone who knows a little bit of PHP.

    In any case, I plan to have a database of the clients and their license keys where I can contact them when the expiry is near, unfortunatly this is only as good as it can be enforced, people could just ignore my emails/letters/calls and continue using my product.

    Is there any better way of making sure there are no illegal copies out there?

  2. #2
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    If you are giving out the software, try

    http://www.olate.co.uk/products/iono/

    This offers a multitude of ways in which you can disable their access, from disabling admin completely right through to shutting off the whole system.

    But it sounds to me that you'd be better off offering it as a 'hosted solution', i.e. as an Application Service Provider' (ASP). That way the client never gets anywhere near the actual code, you control everything, you charge a monthly/yearly fee, and you get them to sign a contract stating they get shut off when payment doesn't arrive.

    I'm not a lawyer (funny how lawyers never give away free knowledge on forums), but considering that every web host on the planet can switch you off at the drop of a hat, I really can;t see the problem if an ASP does the same thing. I would get the contract drawn up professionally though.

  3. #3
    Employed Again Viflux's Avatar
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    I'm far from an expert, but will soon be facing a similar challenge.

    The first thing I would do is find an appropriate and applicable license type that will protect your code against any alterations made. With that accomplished, combined with your database of license expirees, I would think you would have a very strong legal case should someone continue to use your software post-expiry.

    Another idea my partner and I had is a heartbeat from the program itself. Combine that information with your license database, and you could have a very easy way of discovering when your application is being used illegally.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox
    But it sounds to me that you'd be better off offering it as a 'hosted solution', i.e. as an Application Service Provider' (ASP). That way the client never gets anywhere near the actual code, you control everything, you charge a monthly/yearly fee, and you get them to sign a contract stating they get shut off when payment doesn't arrive.
    I have considered a hosted solution in the past, but I have massive fears about one of my servers going down knocking out hundreds of sites. Perhaps it might be worth me doing something with Rackspace.net and some 0% downtime deal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Viflux
    I would think you would have a very strong legal case should someone continue to use your software post-expiry.
    I plan for the software to go for less than $1000. So it might not be worth persuing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Viflux
    Another idea my partner and I had is a heartbeat from the program itself. Combine that information with your license database, and you could have a very easy way of discovering when your application is being used illegally.
    You mean the software 'calls home'? I believe the legalities of that are also pretty questionable.

    I still feel a bit 'iffy' about my original 'switch off' idea. I can see someone saying "my site has been down for 3 days, I lost $10,000 in sales, im gonna sue you"

  5. #5
    SitePoint Addict Olate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BryceW
    I have considered a hosted solution in the past, but I have massive fears about one of my servers going down knocking out hundreds of sites. Perhaps it might be worth me doing something with Rackspace.net and some 0% downtime deal.
    Even with their 100% uptime service, you could still have downtime. That is why a system that uses a local license key to store the data locally on the customer's server rather than doing a call every page load is better. In our licensing system, this works by initially communicating with the license server and then downloading the license data. On future access attempts, the data is read from the local file. Every 15 days (by default, but can be changed) the license key file is refreshed from your server.

    Quote Originally Posted by BryceW
    I plan for the software to go for less than $1000. So it might not be worth persuing.
    That's not really relevant. However much you sell it for, it is still your work and you want to ensure people pay for it.


    Quote Originally Posted by BryceW
    I still feel a bit 'iffy' about my original 'switch off' idea. I can see someone saying "my site has been down for 3 days, I lost $10,000 in sales, im gonna sue you"
    You would put it in your terms of sale to explain what happens should the customer not pay. You would also probably send them multiple expiry soon notices via e-mail. If they ignore them or don't receive them, then it is their own fault - you're making reasonable effort to contact them using the details they provide.

  6. #6
    Employed Again Viflux's Avatar
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    Anyone who sues you for lost profit doesn't have much of a case...

    "We weren't able to use your software that we didn't pay for" shouldn't hold up in any court.

    Also, "phoning home" is common by applications checking for updates and what not, don't see how this would be any different.

  7. #7
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    A lot of software connects to a license server. Of course with e-commerce, you're talking about people's livelihoods. If your server weren't functional, you'd have to have a failsafe method of finding if the license is valid, so the store could keep running.

    I think the best way to do it would be to include a license file on their server with a specific expiration date. Then they have to get a new encoded license file every year or the store will stop running.

    It's no different than SSL certificates that will stop working if not renewed before expiration.


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