by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
I was recently asked, "If I have a copy of a software program and wish to use it on mutiple machines I would normaly purchase extra/additional licenses. However, as is often the case with older software, if I cannot do so because the originator of the software no longer exsists, (or cannot be found), where do I stand with these everlasting license agreements on older software? Don't they ever expire?"
Well they do, but in most cases only 50 years after the software was first published. This is an anomaly, because the copyright will by then have long outlived the usefulness of the software. However, you may still find yourself in luck. If the software publisher has gone out of business and been liquidated, then its assets should have been distributed to its creditors, including copyright to the software. If the software was considered valueless, the liquidator may not have bothered to sell the copyright, in which case it can be considered to have been released into the public domain. If that happens to be so, you will be entitled to use the software freely. If unsure, you could contact the liquidator to find out.
If the software publisher still exists, then the fact that you cannot find them is not an excuse for failing to licence their software. However, so long as you have made all reasonable efforts to contact them, you may be able as a practical matter to delay delay payment for their software until their whereabouts become known.