FELiX Blog

Poppy Gacke
Senior Consultant

A Simple Guide to Autodesk Licensing Compliance

Founded almost 40 years ago, Autodesk is a multinational software corporation providing products and services for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, education, and entertainment industries. Autodesk’s flagship product, AutoCAD, is widely used and well-known across the world.

Autodesk products can be expensive, with single licences for major products costing thousands of dollars each. Autodesk are also very active auditors, and cases of noncompliance can cost businesses huge settlement fees. As a result, any organisation with a significant investment into Autodesk software should pay attention to Autodesk licence compliance, usage and audit readiness.

This guide will explain how the major Autodesk products are licensed and highlight the common issues which cause non-compliance in the event of an audit.

Autodesk Product Licensing Guide

Many customers will now be aware that Autodesk has phased out its perpetual licensing model in favour of a subscription-based licensing model. Most Autodesk products can now be purchased on a monthly, annual, or three-year term. Here are the major Autodesk product categories and the licensing terms that govern each product.

Free Autodesk Licences for Education Users

Students, teachers and academic institutions can take advantage of free access to Autodesk software for three years. Once the three years have ended, if the user is still eligible, they can re-subscribe, and a new three-year term will start.

Architecture, Engineering & Construction Users

Customers for the above set of Autodesk products can purchase licences in a subscription or ‘Flex’ model. Flex is a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model based on tokens, which is beneficial for occasional users and is structured as follows:

  • AutoCAD customers will use 7 tokens per day
  • Revit customers will use 10 tokens per day

Autodesk customers who purchase a licence for this computer-aided design (CAD) software package are covered for three previous versions of the product. i.e., a customer who buys AutoCAD 2022 can also use 2021, 2020 and 2019. AutoCAD can be installed on up to three computers or other devices per named user, as long as the devices are not used at the same time.

There have been some recent changes to the way that customers can purchase AutoCAD. Firstly, AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD Electrical are no longer sold as individual components but are included with AutoCAD subscriptions. Also, multi-user subscriptions are no longer available, however Autodesk is currently allowing customers to transition to a Named User plan with a 2-for-1 trade in.

There are other variations of AutoCAD that customers can purchase; AutoCAD mobile app and AutoCAD LT. AutoCAD mobile app (formerly AutoCAD 360) is a cloud-based app for use on iOS or Android devices and can be purchased in a Premium or Ultimate subscription. AutoCAD LT is a ‘light’ version of the same software and costs ~25% of the full licence. The reduction in cost is due to limited functionality, as AutoCAD LT is only for 2D CAD rather than 3D as per the full licence.

Revit /(LT) (building information modelling software) is available for Windows only.

Product Design & Manufacturing Users

As with AutoCAD and Revit users, customers of product design and manufacturing software can also purchase licences in a subscription or Flex model. These Flex ‘pay-as-you-go’ tokens are structured as follows:

  • Fusion 360 customers will use 2 tokens per day
  • Inventor customers will use 8 tokens per day

Fusion 360 is a cloud-based product which combines design, engineering, and manufacturing functionality in one platform. Additional functionality can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis. There are extensions for advanced manufacturing, additional data management, or functionality to 3D print high value metal parts, to name a few.

Fusion 360 is free for non-commercial use and for qualifying start-ups (“business must be less than three years old, have 10 or fewer employees, generate less than $100,000 USD in gross annual revenue (including parent entities) and have a valid website or transact on a social media or digital platform”)

Autodesk Inventor, a mechanical design and 3D CAD software package is available on Windows only.

Media & Entertainment Users

Once again, media and entertainment customers can purchase licences in a subscription or Flex model. The tokens for the Flex model are structured as follows:

  • Both 3ds Max or Maya customers will use 6 tokens per day

3ds Max (formerly 3D Studio/3D Studio Max) is 3D modelling and rendering software used in video games and films with CGI animation. The platform is Windows only.

The latest version of Maya (3D computer animation, simulation, modelling and rendering software) is compatible with Windows, Apple and Linux OS.

Maya LT is a lesser-functionality version of Maya and is ~15% the cost of a full Maya licence. Maya LT is video game design software with modelling and animation tools for video game development.

Important Autodesk Licensing Terms and Conditions

To maintain a confident level of Autodesk compliance the customer should be aware of the standard restrictions and licence usage rights documented by Autodesk. The Autodesk EULA includes examples of licence restrictions that Autodesk deployments may be bound by. These include restrictions such as “permitted number, licence type… and other attributes specified.”

The customer should also be aware that the territory that the licence is used within could affect the organisation’s compliance status. If the customer’s contract or Purchase Order document doesn’t contain information regarding the territory in scope, Autodesk may argue that the licence is for use only within the country or jurisdiction where the customer purchased the software (by looking at the bill-to/ship-to address). This means that customers should be vigilant when deploying software outside of the purchasing territory, especially when company-wide deployment is global.

Autodesk does not allow installations of ‘unauthorised’ software, even if the software hasn’t been accessed or used. The following term highlights this:

You may not install, access or use (or allow installation of, access to or use of) any Software other than as authorized by such license and these Terms, and any other installation, access or use is unauthorized.

 This could include devices that are no longer in use but are still reporting in the inventory and may become visible to Autodesk during an audit. However, it can be argued that an industry standard is to exclude or ignore devices that haven’t been used in more than 90 days and most SAM tools have the functionality to do this automatically. While this can be managed with good SAM practices, it emphasises that just because a product hasn’t been used, it can still cause compliance issues.

Finally, there are specific terms regarding previous version use rights. When a customer purchases or upgrades to a newer version of the product, there is a 120-day window where they can install and use both the previous version and the new version of the product for test and migration purposes (as long as they do not use both versions at the same time in production).

After the 120 days, the customer must remove all access to the previous version. For some products and license types, such as the newer AutoCAD subscription model, customers may be able to use previous versions outside of the 120-day window. The customer-specific contract or product EULA should be reviewed for any Previous Version Rights.

Autodesk Audit Common Compliance Issues

Autodesk audits may be conducted directly by the Autodesk compliance team or third-party auditing firms. Autodesk can deploy their own scanning tool which can report on multiple Autodesk inventory metrics including product serial numbers. The capability of Autodesk’s scanning tool to discover Autodesk products is usually more complete than regular Software Asset Management discovery tools available on the market.

During an Autodesk software audit there are some common areas that they will immediately look for:

  • Modified or ‘cracked’ software
  • Keys or accounts that are copied or sold
  • If usage does not comply with the licensing terms of use (using software on more computers/by more users than authorised by the licence, using the software outside the designated territory, etc…)

Using Copied/Cracked Autodesk Software

Autodesk state on their website that you can prevent using copied licence keys or ‘cracked’ serial numbers by purchasing software directly from Autodesk or through an authorised ‘value added’ reseller. Autodesk have webpages to report a seller of non-valid software as well as to report suspected use of non-valid Autodesk software:

https://www.autodesk.com/genuine/unlicensed-use

There can be security issues with using non-valid software as ‘only genuine, legally licensed Autodesk software is warranted and supported by Autodesk’, so customers may miss out on security updates with non-valid software which in turn increases the likelihood of exposing the customer to malware. The BSA website states that malware from unlicensed software costs companies nearly $359 billion per year.

Usage Not Complying with Autodesk Terms of Use

A deep-dive contract review will enable customers to determine whether their usage complies with the terms of use. Customers can compare their software inventory to the licence entitlement that has been purchased, considering any relevant licence terms or restrictions. Customer-specific contracts should be reviewed first, but Autodesk SLAs can be found online, here:

https://www.autodesk.com/company/legal-notices-trademarks/software-license-agreements-legacy

These are sorted by release year (back to 2011) and the webpage includes a description of which products each agreement relates to. Note, Autodesk will commonly use these to prove ‘click-through’ acceptance.

Furthermore, the Autodesk Licence and Services Agreement (LSA) limits usage to either a particular named territory within the licence or, if not stated, then only to the specific country in which the licensee acquires a licence. Recently, this may have caused an issue for some EMEA companies, if ‘EU’ was marked as the named territory, since Brexit means that customers in UK can no longer use the software.

Licensing Remote User for Autodesk Software

A particular issue with the Covid-19 pandemic is that some users may have become remote workers that reside in another country or territory, making their use of the software non-compliant. In addition to this, the LSA states that any independent contractors are required to be “working on Licensee’s premises…”, so if contractors moved to remote working, their use would also become non-compliant.

As previously mentioned, educational institutions can use Autodesk products for free. However, these users cannot carry the same ‘licence’ over to a commercial environment.

Autodesk Audit Defence

If your organisation has an investment in Autodesk software and you would like to ensure compliance, or defend against an active Autodesk audit, contact FisherITS.

Poppy is a SAM and licensing specialist with experience including roles as Compliance Manager for a major software publisher and a professional services SAM account lead across a variety of industries. Poppy’s licensing knowledge is a result of numerous audit defence projects across most major software vendors, including contract reviews, advising on NDAs and devising strategies. 

The FisherITS team is made up of licensing experts who worked for the Big Four publishers or audit firms which means that they understand exactly what to expect from a software licence audit. We have developed a suite of commercial and technical methodologies that are designed to minimise your financial exposure if you are under an active audit.