Spence Regulates Faculty Use of Software Licenses
In an attempt to prevent the illegal use of computer software, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has instituted a plan to regulate the signing of software licenses.
Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence said in a memo dated January 28 that software licenses "can have repercussions both for the individual and the institution." Addressed to software purchasers and users, the memo instructs members of the Faculty to ask designated expert to review their software licenses.
While officials said Harvard has not been sued for misuse of software, the University wants to prevent future legal problems that could arise from individuals signing licenses they do not understand completely.
"The University wants to make sure its representatives do not sign something and commit the University to something it can't enforce or uphold," said Director of Computer Operations Lewis A. Law, one of four people designated by Spence to sign software licenses.
In the last several years, more University staff and faculty members have begun to rely on computers, increasing the potential for misuse of licenses, Law said. Computer software--which can be protected by copyright laws, patents or trade secrets--is still considered a new field in which the restrictions are not always clear, many computer experts said.
"When an individual signs a license, he is very often obligating the institution," said Dennis Devlin, administrative," computing systems manager whom Spence named as an expert who can review, but not sign, license agreements.
"Most people at the University are not lawyers," said Joyce Brinton, director of the Office of Patents, Copyrights, and Licensing in Holyoke Center. "Many people may not read [the licenses] carefully."
Software licenses can include terms of confidentiality, ownership of modifications made to the software and limitations on use, some of which can be "very nasty hookers," Law said. Certain secrecy restrictions, for example, can be difficult to enforce because computer users save backup copies for their programs.
"Most people will sign anything without reading the fine print," Law said, adding that Faculty users may inadvertently sign agreements "the University cannot possibly live up to."
In a case in which Harvard cannot abide by the conditions of the license, the University can negotiate with the company involved to change the licensing terms, Brinton said. Licenses signed by individuals that may make unreasonable or unrealistic demands on the University can be broken and renegotiated, she said.
Other faculties within the University,including the Law School and the Graduate Schoolof Design, are implementing similar license reviewprocesses or considering such plans, Brinton said.
Officials said they do not know how manysoftware licenses have been signed by members ofthe Faculty or how many will need their attentionunder Spence's initiative. "I don't think the loadis going to be overwhelming," Law said.
The review process does not have provisions forpersonal computer software, which officials saiddoes not require signatures on licenses and thusdoes not obligate Harvard, unless the software isfor course use