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I've seen a spate of questions on Stack Overflow and elsewhere about downloading programming tools and where to find them. Sometimes developers can't find a download link or availability in their country. Rather than encouraging them to violate laws, I think general education for these users is of the utmost importance.

How do I know what tools I can download in my country?

Why can't I download all tools for software development in my country?

Acceptable answers will indicate why users can't download tools in their country. Any links to resources to make tools available in countries where they should not be available will be deleted without haste, and will likely result in a short ban-period for the poster.

This is a how and why question.

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Can you be a little bit more specific on what tool you can't download in your country? It's not a very common thing for freely downloadable tools to not be available in a specific country, but for some tools like tools that deal with cryptography special laws may apply. –  Yannis Rizos May 30 '11 at 21:59
    
@YannisRizos and while that's often the reason that something can't be downloaded, I'm trying to come up with some sort of set of resources that we can refer users to saying "this is why your tool isn't available". If we need six such questions, or ten, all with the same tags, then so be it. Keep in mind that it's entirely possible that there are import-restrictions as well. There may be some situations where a tool can be downloaded for a specific purpose, but not for every purpose. –  jcolebrand May 30 '11 at 22:07
    
    
@RobertHarvey no fair, you stole that from me :p –  jcolebrand May 30 '11 at 22:33
    
I suspect that people who live in countries with draconian censorship laws that extend to software are not in a position to discuss them in an open forum. –  Stephen C May 30 '11 at 22:53
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are two parts to this question: what your country is willing to let you download (and use), and where the vendor is willing to let people download his software (which may be influenced by the laws of his country).

Common pitfalls on distribution and use

For the first part, there are 200-odd answers, one per country (or other polity with specific laws on distribution of software). Common restrictions include:

  • Copyright: Copyright law is similar in most countries, but details do differ. This rarely matters for the distributability of software, but it can change what you're able to do with the software, as the fine points of the license may be interpreted differently in different jurisdictions. In particular, some countries explicitly nullify restrictions against reverse engineering when the reverse engineering is performed for interoperability purposes.
  • Patents: Patents may not forbid you to distribute the software, but if the software uses a patented algorithm, you may need to have a license for the patent holder in order to use the software. Note that the patent holder isn't necessarily the author of the software. Patent validity is decided country by country (or in some cases by supra-national entities such as the EPO).
  • Cryptography: Most developed countries have ratified the Wassenaar Arrangement, which regulates the exportation of armaments, including cryptography. Nowadays, in democratic countries, cryptography tends to be considered more of an industrial matter than a military matter, and regulations have become considerably more liberal since the early 2000s. There are still import restrictions in place in many countries. The less freedom of speech your country has, the more restrictions you can expect.
  • DRM: A number of countries have specific restriction on the production, distribution and use of software that may circumvent copyright protection measures. The US law is called DMCA; the European equivalent is EUCD (and its implementation is different in different EU countries).
  • Imports: If you need to import the software, it may be subject to restrictions (up to an outright ban) or taxation.

Common pitfalls on software exports

If the software is produced in a different country, the laws of the country or countries where it is produced come into play, as well as and any country where it transits. If you are not a national or resident of the country or countries involved, and don't plan to visit them, you don't need to care, but the vendor does and may put technical or contractual measures into place.

A lot of software is produced in the United States. The US have rather more restrictions on software exports that most democracies (but fewer on internal distribution, thanks to their free speech laws). Export of cryptographic software is particularly regulated. PGP could famously not be exported as software (that was considered ammunition, the export of which was a criminal offense), but the source code could be exported in a book (that was considered speech, the export of which was a constitutionally-sanctioned right) and typed back in in another country. Nowadays it's often enough to merely declare cryptographic software for export.

There are further legal restrictions in the United States that prevent most kinds of exports, including software, to countries that the United States have economic sanctions about. Other countries have similar regulations, but usually less stringent or less strictly applied.

A lot of free software is pointedly distributed from a location other than the United States (typically Canada or Western Europe), in order to avoid US export regulations.

Contractual restrictions

Vendors may place restrictions in the license of the program, and may put practical limitations such as preventing downloads from certain locations. These restrictions are sometimes consequences of the laws in the vendor's locale: for example, a US vendor could be incriminated if they allowed residents of sanctioned countries to download their software. Sometimes, the restrictions are consequences of the vendor's commercial policies, for example because they want to set different prices in different countries.

Conclusion

If you think my answer makes things look too complicated, you're wrong. (If you think you can get away without bothering with all the complications, you may be right. But the regulations are there, whether you like them or not.) If you think my answer is anywhere near complete, you're wrong. If you think my answer is anywhere close to legal advice, you're a fool. I haven't knowingly written anything that's incorrect, but this is still just something some guy on the Internet wrote. Treat it with all the caution it deserves.

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Cryptography (the most common reason given)

From the point of view of living in the US, we have certain export regulations, such as when things involve cryptography. This is why there are open source libraries for cryptography that aren't based in the US, that allow people to get those goods without breaking export laws. This is often a large stumbling block, especially for companies like RIM, Apple or Microsoft, as their development tools often include a cryptographic component. Fortunately most of those are being built into the runtimes, to help reduce or remove the given restrictions.

See these three links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Export_of_cryptography_in_the_United_States

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Export_of_cryptography

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassenaar_Arrangement

General Politics

Those restrictions are often given for things like "national security policy" or "protecting national investments", especially when the building of the software involves state-sponsored contracts.

Sadly, politics do not keep up with anything except other politics. Technology developments far outpace social developments, and are, in point of fact, often the leading cause of social development, so it requires us doing technology to help influence the politics as they are evolving. But some things we can't control.

Export Restrictions

For example, one of the most popular cases of US Export cited in discussions like this, the US embargo against Cuba has nothing specifically to do with encryption exporting, but has to do with all trade. This has to do with both US Exports to Cuba and US Imports from Cuba.

Import Restrictions

Another reason might be if the importing country (the one where you are) has similar such restrictions. Here's a not really related example of import restrictions, but a better example would be appreciated.

Business Needs

Additionally, sometimes a company may not want to do business in another country. This is something that you might can influence by contacting that company's global headquarters and looking for more help. They may not be able to maintain a physical support presence in the country and that might be the cause of their not offering support in your country.

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The only real thing that comes to mind when it comes to not being able to download software is where cryptography is involved. In the US, cryptographic functions over a certain bit-threshold are classified as munitions and are subject to the same laws as munitions. Countries that are considered "hostile" by the US may also face complete sanctions in this regard, Cuba being an example.

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can we expound on this? –  jcolebrand May 30 '11 at 22:08
    
In fact, US Export laws don't make it illegal to download crypto code in Cuba. (And if they did, a Cuban citizen could ignore them on the grounds that it would be a waste of time prosecuting someone who is outside the reach of the US legal system.) The laws are about export; i.e. making the software available for download. –  Stephen C May 30 '11 at 22:49
    
@Stephen C Well I thought that was a bit obvious. I mean you cannot download the product because they producer cannot export it. –  Glenn Nelson May 31 '11 at 1:50
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