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By Jack Ganssle

License Agreements

Summary: EULAs: Read `em and weep. They are completely one-sided.

Maybe it was a slow news day. Tiger was in rehab. The Salahis were hiding behind the 5th. Whatever, I was installing a tool chain and actually read the license agreement, always a bad idea unless one has a strong appetite for the absurd. At 4646 words, some seven pages, riddled with lawyer-speak, it sure appears designed to induce narcolepsy.

The vendor is a great company with a marvelous product, and has provided fantastic support. And I'm a big believer in the legitimacy of copyrights. But these so-called EULAs have become outrageous.

First, the EULA is titled an "agreement." While it meets the definition of that word, it feels much more like coercion. There's no provision to modify the language in even the slightest form to fit the technical or legal needs of the customer. The "agreement" spells out all of the vendor's rights and none of the user's.

Secondly, the sheer length of said "agreement" insures few will read it before clicking the "accept" button. Of course we have a responsibility to read and understand contracts. But confronted with a blizzard of fine print every day, it's awfully hard to do so.

Then there's the provision that we, mere engineers, agree to bind the entire corporation to the terms of the EULA. Huh? That's probably not legal, certainly not likely, and is sure to get one fired if the PHB finds out we're making such commitments.

The "agreement" stays in effect for an "indefinite" period in time. That word means either forever, or for a neither precise nor exact time period. That sounds like somewhere between a microsecond and eternity, so means nothing.

One is further required to keep records of the use of the software. Do you?

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the only warranty given is that the media will be defect-free. I downloaded the stuff, so even that weak guarantee is pretty lame. Would you buy an appliance whose only guarantee is that the box it is shipped in will be intact? To quote a pithy section from "Software for Dependable Systems - Sufficient Evidence?", "No software should be considered dependable if it is supplied with a disclaimer that withhold the manufacturer's commitment to provide a warranty or other remedies for software that fails to meet its dependability claims."

Yes, I know that many see EULAs as more motivation for the use of open source software. But proprietary tools have an important place in this business.

What's your take on EULAs?

Published November 18, 2009