The Fine Print

by Tracy Lenocker, (M.ASCE), Pres.; Civilsoft, Orange, CA,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 6, Pg. 36-38

Document Type: Feature article


An engineer who uses software, or supervises those who do, must know the laws regulating its purchase and use. Whether a company contracts for custom software, or leases, licenses or contracts a prewritten package from a vendor, there are certain legal obligations and liabilities assumed. There are two ways to obtain software. It can be custom written or acquired from a vendor. There is a misconception that copyright laws, warranties and product liability do not apply to a company that writes or has software written for them. In fact, all may apply. For any program written in-house, it should be clearly understood that the program is owned by the company. The buyer is protected under the Uniform Commercial Code. A program licensed, contracted or leased from a vendor is usually protected by U.S. copyright laws. Most software is copyrighted. There is liability in receiving copied programs, or in allowing copied programs to be used. If a program is useful, purchase it. The engineer or surveyor, however, is a licensed professional, totally responsible to the client. The engineer is liable for design errors whether made by a draftsman or a computer program. It is the responsibility of the professional to check the results.

Subject Headings: Computer software | Licensure and certification | Laws | Liability | Contracts | Standards and codes | Surveys (non-geomatic) | Client relationships

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