When discussing software licensing in your organization, how many times have you heard someone say “oh, that software is free”, or “we don’t need to buy a license, we have an enterprise agreement”? Or my favorite … “it’s okay if we’re over-installed; we pay XYZ vendor so much money, they’ll never audit us”. Say what?!? 

One of the biggest challenges faced by Software Asset Managers is to understand and communicate what specific software a company is entitled to use, and how they are authorized to use it. Obviously this information is necessary to maintain compliance, and to answer the inevitable “do we have an extra license” question. Yet, too often, the answers are assumed by non-SAM associates.

Before delving into the murky details, let’s be clear - entitlements refer to what licenses you have a right to use. I clarify this because many people are under the impression that if they pay for software, they own it. This may be a minor point, but if not understood, it can become a sticky point as well. Software is sold as a right to use, subject to the legal agreement accompanying the product.

And yes, this applies to perpetual use license models as well.

Now that that’s out of the way, what exactly do you have rights to? To determine this, you need to look closely at, and fully document your purchase records, your contracts or agreements, and the license terms and conditions of use, or EULA. Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong. Unless you have a solid software purchase program in place, your Software Asset Manager is probably constantly chasing their tail trying to figure out what you’re entitled to. A solid purchase program means a process with governance over how software can be purchased or acquired for your organization.

Ideally, all software requests come through your SAM team. This includes everything from credit card purchases to negotiated enterprise agreements to “free” software. And if you really want a mature program, your SAM manager is involved throughout the entire process.

There are many (hopefully obvious) reasons for this, but speaking specifically to entitlements, your SAM team is responsible to document and communicate the license terms, as well as the specifics of the software license details.

It’s important to note here what I mean by license details. Too many software solutions are sold via agreements where the solution is simply listed as XYZ with X number of licenses. When the software is deployed, there could be a half dozen or more components which get installed.

This is a nightmare for Software Asset Managers who are left scratching their heads when looking at what’s deployed vs what’s included in the solution. This also leads to the misconception previously stated – that just because you have an enterprise agreement, you are entitled to all the software provided for that solution.

This question should be asked for every software program or license purchase: what are the associated components we’re allowed to install/use? There is no reason the publisher can’t provide the details, and frankly, there’s no reason to sign the deal until you have it in writing.

Simply put, if they can (and they will) hold you to compliance for their product(s), then they sure as heck should be willing to tell you exactly what you are entitled to use!

Software Asset Managers also need to know what’s installed as free or evaluation software, because software license entitlements are not just about what’s been paid for. When your technical department downloads and installs software, they’re agreeing to the license terms by accepting the EULA. It’s risky business if these terms aren’t reviewed and agreed upon by your SAM team and your Legal department

For example, I once worked for an organization that packaged and deployed hundreds of instances of a popular network training tool. When questioned, the tech team said, “don’t worry, that’s free.” Yes, it was free – for students and instructors only. The majority of the users were not registered in the classes, and therefore, not entitled to use the software. The company clearly violated the terms of the End Use License Agreement.

Additionally, there are hundreds of software titles by small publishers which state that the software is free for personal use only, or that software must be removed or purchased after the initial evaluation period. I’ve seen many cases of unauthorized installs of these license types, and I’ve heard many times that they are free. No, they’re not. And even though it’s unlikely you’ll be taken to court, you should still be concerned with the illegality.

To summarize, it’s important to fully understand your software license entitlements and your SAM team professionals should be involved in the acquisition, documentation, and communication process.

Or, to be blunt and somewhat dark (I apologize in advance) - in the words of Dr. Steve Maraboli, motivational speaker and author, “a sense of entitlement is a cancerous thought process that is void of gratitude and can be deadly to our relationships”.