Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is It Legal to Trash Old Computer With Licensed Software?

Dear Rich: I have a creaky ancient computer that's long outlasted its design life. Some of the software installed on the computer is under various proprietary or open source licenses (GNU General Public License and so forth) that either prohibit transferring the software at all (many proprietary programs) or impose onerous restrictions on doing so (GPL-licensed software requires you distribute the source code). My state requires defunct electronics to be appropriately recycled -- but, doing so means transferring the device, which may contain code that can't legally be transferred. In most cases, with the GPL, you're not even allowed to ask the destruction service to sign an agreement not to access or copy the licensed software. So, from a legal standpoint, can these license terms actually bar you from legally disposing of a dead computer or device?
We salute your obedience to your software licenses but we feel you are overthinking this one. Software is licensed primarily to control its duplication and limit its uses. If your ultimate objective is to deep-six the computer and its licensed programs, a licensor would have little motivation to spend the time and money to go after you -- assuming there is some way the licensor could even learn of your actions.