It is well known fact in CAD blogging circles that an individual from Australia called R. Paul Waddington exists, for the simple reason that he leaves no opportunity to call attention to the issues he faces with Autodesk’s licensing policies and mechanisms. Paul is a frequent commenter on this blog and over the years we have had several discussions and arguments, all of them being constructive. I always say that you learn more from someone who disagrees with you as opposed to some who shares your view.
For a long time now Paul has been publicly objecting to parts of Autodesk’s End User License Agreement, such as the audit clause. He has also been alleging that Autodesk makes use of trojan software in their Customer Involvement Program (CIP) to spy on its customers.
Finally it looks like Autodesk has had enough of him and is now refusing to sell him their products. In a very very long post on his blog, he explains in excruciating detail exactly how Autodesk Australia and its resellers are refusing to accept his purchase order to renew his Inventor subscription. This time the gloves are off as he has decided to name names and has issued an open challenge to Autodesk and its resellers.
Paul tells me that he has a lot more to say. The question is whether it will have any effect other than getting him in more trouble than he already find himself in. But in his own words, he is “like a dog with a bone” not ready to let go of the issues that he has been raising for all these years.
Regarding the audit clause, I have written about this issue on this blog in a post titled “EULA Paranoia“. Basically, I believe only people with ill-conceived intentions really need to be bothered about this clause. I do not believe Paul is one of them. As regards the allegation about Autodesk using trojan software in their products, I would like to see some evidence. In the absence of evidence, I suppose the fact that Autodesk does not allow the user to review the information being transmitted through CIP only goes to fuel speculation. Moreover, the reason given by Autodesk for not allowing the user to review the data is even more intriguing. Autodesk says that the information cannot be reviewed by the user because it is packaged in a way so that it does not affect the performance of the product. Even if I bring myself to accept that explanation, I don’t see a problem in giving the user the option to review his data and let him know that it may affect performance. So people like Paul could satisfy themselves before submitting information to Autodesk that will help them improve their products. The argument from Autodesk’s side is equally interesting. Autodesk says that CIP is optional. So if a user does not trust Autodesk he can simply opt not to take part in the program. As far as I know, Autodesk does not slip the customer into the CIP on the sly. Their products specifically ask a user if he wants to take part or not. The only time taking part in the CIP is mandatory is when signing up for and using beta software, which I believe is perfect fine. If Autodesk trusts you to respect the NDA and not disclose information about beta software, it is only fair that you trust Autodesk to use the information you provide to them under CIP properly and ethically. Moreover the whole point of beta software is to get feedback from users.
In my opinion, this whole thing comes to just one word – trust. If a user does not trust his software vendor is it fair to force the software vendor to trust the user? One can argue that every manufacturer has the right not to sell his product to a someone who he does not wish to. So is it all right for a drug manufacturer to refuse to sell a drug to someone who needs it and is willing to pay for it? Granted, a CAD product may not be as critical as a life saving drug. But some businesses rely heavily on these products. Where do you draw the line? Has CAD software become a right? Can some court force Autodesk to let Paul continue using its products? Is this what this whole thing is going to come down to – another law suit?
As an aside, I also wonder how Autodesk’s rivals will see this. I am referring to the ones that Autodesk has been taking to court recently and who have been claiming that Autodesk is using monopolistic tactics. I wonder how a judge or jury will see this episode. Will they will be able to correctly put it in context. Of course, Autodesk can wash its hands off this whole thing and blame it on their reseller, which is exactly what appears to have happened in this case.