Does software labeled as freeware have a copyright?

“Freeware” is a catchall term for software that is available for use for free or for donation. It doesn’t describe why the software is distributed for free, and this is the question that you need to determine in order to figure out what types of copyrights are in a freeware software application and who owns those rights. 
That said, according to Wikipedia, most software labeled as freeware is proprietary and closed source. This means that the software company that created the work still retains a full copyright to the software, while you only have a license to use the software.
This also means that, even though you got the software for free, it doesn’t necessarily give you free reign to redistribute the software on your own website. It’s even less likely that you will have a right to redistribute and charge someone a fee to buy it. 
The end-user license agreement—the contract that you customarily must agree to when installing software—governs what you can do with a piece of software. Customarily, “the software license may impose restrictions on the type of use including personal use, individual use, non-profit use, non-commercial use, academic use, commercial use or any combination of these. For instance, the license may be ‘free for personal, non-commercial use’.”
Because these end-user license agreements are different for each piece of software, you have to determine what copyrights are held in a piece of freeware on a case by case basis. 
There a few shortcuts. If the software is said to be open source, it’s likely that the program is governed by one of the common open-source licenses like the BSD or GNU license as opposed to a custom drafted license. As soon as you figure out what license its licensed under, a few quick Google searches can tell you the limitations of what you can and can’t do with that license. 
What is required from open-source licenses? 
Check out New Media Rights’ Open Source Licensing Guide which compares the five most common open source licenses (GPL, LGPL, BSD, MIT, and Apache).
That said, it would still help to consult an expert to figure out which license is best for our software.
Can I sell the commercial software that I create using open source code?
That depends on the license of the open-source code you used, but generally the answer is no, which might be surprising to a more than few software developers.
First, you need to determine if the code was freely distributed without any caveats, or if the code was under a license.
If you have already created a business and have begun to sell software made from open-source code, you may want to consult the section “What should I do if I have already created commercial software based on open-source code?” for more information.
If you have any questions about what an open-source license will and won’t allow you to do, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.
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