When you buy a product, you have several rights. You have the right to demand that the product work as advertised, that it be safe, and that you, as the owner, can do whatever you want with the product. You can modify it. If it breaks, you can fix it. You can sell the product or give it away.
Software should be the same way!
When you install a piece of software, the first thing you see is a license agreement, followed by the words "I agree" and "I disagree" below them. In many states, these are legally binding contracts. The problem with End User License Agreements, or EULAs, as they are called, is that people don't read them. If no one reads these contracts, then the companies that produce the product have no incentive to provide fair terms. EULAs often have disclaimers stating that the software is sold "as is", that companies do not guarantee that the application will work, or that it won't damage your system, and if it doesn't work properly, then you are not entitled to modify the software.
Would you buy a car that was sold this way? Would you be satisfied if, unknown to you, mechanics came in and changed the parts in the middle of the night?
Other so-called "agreements" demand that the user cannot give away the product (even if the user gives the unopened original software away). Some licenses have stated that customers cannot use the product in ways the company disapproves of. Generally, you, the customer, often cannot see the contract until installing the product. And the worst part is that the vender is free to change the license agreement, even after after you have agreed to its terms.
David Zamos, an Ohio college student was sued by Microsoft for selling one unopened copy of Windows XP Professional and one unopened copy of Microsoft Office XP on eBay. The following arcitcle discusses how he spent 21 days preparing, two months waging a legal battle, and $40 in copies alone, to retain the right to keep his $143.50 in profit, all because he couldn't get a refund on the original items.
Also, note that he being sued for violating terms he never saw or agreed to, simply because he bought the product.
A well known Web Design Product has had the following terms written in its License Agreement:"You may not use the Software in connection with any site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia, or their products or services, infringe any intellectual property or other rights of these parties, violate any state, federal or international law, or promote racism, hatred or pornography."
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/01/09/17/010917opfoster.html?0920tham, http://slashdot.org/articles/01/09/21/1438251.shtml, http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/01/10/15/011015opethics.html
Some companies also demand that the user not publish reviews or benchmarks of the product. Let me repeat that. If you have ever used this product, you are not allowed to discuss it. In some cases, the law has declared such action illegal, but only after a long and expensive fight.
We, at SEERI, do not condone the
illegal sharing of copyrighted material, but in this article, Brilliant Digital
Entertainment produces software that is bundled with the file-sharing
application Kazaa. The EULA for this company states that Brilliant can use any
system running Kazaa as a node in their distributed computing grid. This story
first broke when Brilliant wrote a SEC Filing stating their intent to use these
systems for storage and distribution of data, and possibly for cycle-scavenging
(using the processor for Brilliant's purposes). But, they're not robbing you of
disk space and performance. They're sharing it with you.
users are paying more than just a monthly fee. Systems running Juno can be used
for large-scale distributed computing projects. The company states that,
although they demand the right to use any computer, they will only use computers
on a volunteer basis "at first".
In this article, Roxio's ToastCD claims the right to use Digital Rights
Management (DRM) on the CDs it burns. Users are concerned that Roxio does not
give them the right to burn non-DRM CDs.
"Critical Security Patch" for Windows Media Player states that it will
download and install new DRM software without the user's knowledge. So,
Microsoft fixes a defect in a product that you paid for (according to Microsoft,
Media Player is part of the operating system), and in return, they ask you to
renegotiate the licensing agreement.
Click here, or visit http://www.fairterms.org to learn more about your rights as a customer, and why you should be discerning about what you agree to. If we, the customers, don't read the agreements, then software manufacturers will be able to write whatever they want, and it will still be legally binding.
The Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute is a member of AFFECT, and we support the "Stop Before You Click" campaign. For more information, please visit http://www.fairterms.org