I am using unlicensed simulation software (downloaded from torrents) for Doctoral Thesis (and Research papers) on my personal laptop without the knowledge of my institution as the university doesn't have the licensed software. 1) Is this safe? 2) Can I be questioned by the software vendor. 3) Can my paper be retracted from journals?

(I'm uninterested in answers relating to free student versions of software and freeware.)


4 Answers 4


It’s not OK to use unlicensed software. I would suspect that advisors would be very concerned about one of their students using an expensive software package for which they didn’t have a license, since they might have liability for letting you use it.

If it’s so important, then you should talk to your advisor about getting a license.

While I am not personally familiar with people having degrees revoked for using unlicensed software, I could certainly sympathize with arguments calling for sanctions against people who do so.

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    I would strongly object to a degree being revoked for using unlicensed software. It's a civil justice matter; the software company may give them a fine, but knowledge acquired is knowledge acquired and this shouldn't matter at all. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 7:30
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    @FedericoPoloni I lile your argument, but imagine someone doing unethical experiments on human participants. They may acquire knowledge; their methods are not ethical; their degree is likely to be revoked because of the latter. Knowledge itself is not sufficient. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 8:52
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    @DmitrySavostyanov The underlying ethical questions are different, so it is hard to generalize like this. There is no direct personal harm involved in using unlicensed software, and so it is harder to apply the same sanctions as when humans are involved (which will usually also be criminal, not civil). Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 12:59
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    @Greg wow, that is pretty serious, do you have any sources that support your claim? I observed in a number of european countries that the "torrenting community" is very much represented in student culture. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 15:23
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    -1. OP was asking "is it safe", not "is it OK". Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 5:37

This is an interesting topic.

To your questions:

1) Is it safe? Probably not.

2) Can I be questioned by the software vendor? Probably not.

3) Can my paper be retracted from journals? Probably not.

You would have to be sure that you don't get caught. If you are doing your doctoral research at a bigger university you might slip through the cracks because somewhere in your univeristy is using a legit license of the software. In this case it is unlikely that the software company would actually investigate if you are using a license. If you are doing your doctoral research at a smaller university your work might be unnoticed and the software company won't investigate further. But Google Scholar will find everything in case they would want to investigate.

The software company could ask you if you have a license which would be their last step in the investigation. In most cases that happens when someone is using a company outside normal business hours or in a completely different IP range than normal. In your case the software company would only see you using a cracked license. I never heard about software companies who are creating simulation software actually asking reserachers regarding their licenses. But they are fully aware of some researchers using unlicensed software.

If your paper can be retracted from journals could depend on the journal guidelines. The software company would probably see it as some form of advertisement. I would be more worried about your doctoral thesis and your relationship with the university if $h!t hits the fan.

Side note: I know cases where researchers got licenses for simulation software from the software companies. If it's a good project they might support you and are interested to get the results published. They always want to see practical applications for their sotware published because that is the kind of advertisement.

Side note 2: What is wrong with your university? You are doing doctoral research with unlicensed software. Isn't your thesis advisor concerned with how you are obtaining results and the software you are using? And why did you get a research topic when your university doesn't have the actual tools for it?

  • @aeis. My university is having an older version of the software.
    – Deepak
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 11:46
  • @NumeroUno Why not using that version?
    – P. G.
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 11:47
  • Now I would do.
    – Deepak
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 11:53
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    I am thinking to work on that cracked software because it is installed in my laptop and I can work on it while I am in home as well.
    – Deepak
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 12:01
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    @NumeroUno Why not just ask the university to provide you with a licensed copy of the software? Presumably the university/your advisor would have a budget for things like this, probably labelled as something like "research expenses".
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 11:47

In many countries it is forbidden to use unlicensed software. Hence, using unlicensed software might result in litigation against your university,* which might lead to your dismissal. Thus, it is unsafe to use such software.

*There are cases when software vendors have litigated against universities. But, it is difficult to know how many, because universities and software vendors will likely want to settle in private.

Having edited the OP's question, I now note that unlicensed software is being used on the OP's personal laptop. Hence, litigation against the university might be difficult, but perhaps not impossible (since the research is most likely owned by the university).

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    Is there any documented case of a university being sued or prosecuted as a result of one of its members using pirated software on their personal computer?
    – Pont
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:04
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    Yes, my first search result is "Westchase Consultancy...has taken the Women’s University in Africa...to the High Court seeking to recover over $418 000." Of course, we should not expect too many results, because universities and software vendors will likely want to keep settlements private.
    – user2768
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:10
  • Guaranteed they want to settle out of court, newspapers, in fact all parties agree to keep quiet ... A colleague of mine wanted to leave his teaching post - talked to me saying "I have to wait 6 months..." I said go and talk to the dept head and see what they say : one month later he was back in industry, and they had another person to teach as well : the Uni and Industry work together (at least the Uni I was at had HUGE ties with several manufacturers) so no noise, no fuss and swapping people continues...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:54
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    Here's the story you quoted but didn't link. Let me complete the sentence you partially quoted. "... to recover over $418 000 for allegedly illegally acquiring the firm’s source code from Microsoft without its consent." The consultancy "provided the institution with the enterprise wide university management software." This case does not appear to involve a university member using pirated software on their personal computer.
    – Pont
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 20:01
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    @Pont (I hadn't noted the OP was using a personal computer until I edited the OP's question.) We've established that universities are sued by vendors for unlicensed access to software. Moreover, I've noted that litigation might be difficult if unlicensed software is used on personal, rather than business, computer. We'd need a lawyer to establish whether the university has any liability for work conducted on the university's behalf using equipment not owned by the university. (Establishing that universities are typically reliant on staff using their own equipment would be a starting point.)
    – user2768
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 8:37

No, it's not okay. What's the ultimate point of a PhD? To train you in how to perform research.

What are the best practices for producing ethical research? Not using pirated software, for a start. If you use pirated software in the production of your PhD thesis, it's entirely possible that your university will take action against you for violating academic integrity standards.

For example, in the Australian Code of Responsible Conduct of Research, Rule 17 says:

Comply with the relevant laws, regulations, disciplinary standards, ethics guidelines and institutional policies related to responsible research conduct. Ensure that appropriate approvals are obtained prior to the commencement of research, and that conditions of any approvals are adhered to during the course of research.

Since software piracy is illegal, knowingly using pirated software in your research would constitute a breach of this rule. Indeed, in their document "Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018", available for download from the page previously linked to, the definition of a breach of the code includes:

Conducting research without the requisite approvals, permits or licences.

  • 1
    This bureaucratic answer does not answer the question, or incorporates moral or normative judgments that have no relevance to the question asked. It also makes bold statements that are subjective or illogical. For example: "What are the best practices for producing ethical software? Not using pirated software, for a start." -- But the OP didn't ask about practices for producing ethical software at all.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 15:17
  • @Dilworth Corrected typo, thanks for pointing it out.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 22:03
  • Not sure why this Answer is getting downvoted. It’s true, it’s about the ethical aspects of the Question, and it’s backing it up with citations from relevant regulatory documents that Australian universities base the relevant portions of their Manuals of Policies and Procedures on. It’s not quite a quote from a professional organisation’s Code of Ethics, but it’s pretty close.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 6:39
  • I did not point out a typo, but a conceptual error in the answer: you assume by mistake that the OP is interested to perform "ethical research", but this is not part of the question.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 13:00
  • @Dilworth Producing ethical research is literally what a PhD is intended to train you to do. If you're behaving unethically when you're doing your PhD, you're likely to get punished by your institution if they catch you, assuming you're going somewhere even remotely reputable.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 13:09

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