Intrusive License Agreements

A reader wanted to know my views on mordern day Software License Agreements that users are “forced” to accept. The reader was referring to clauses related to audits, sending information from the user’s computer to the vendor’s computer/database directly over the internet and similar intrusive provisions. The license agreement accompanying my software also contains similar clauses. The reader seems to be convinced that certain software vendors are using these clauses to legally harvest information from users’ computers for reasons other than checking software piracy or error reporting. I have not seen the proof of this as yet, although I would love to.

To understand this better, we need to know where this is coming from. Let’s take the case of the programmer who tried to sell SolidWorks source code. The last I heard, he was roaming scott free and even working as a programmer. In third world countries, IP protection laws are useless. If this was the outcome of a successfull FBI sting operation, which collected every shread of evidence that was necessary, and still was not able to convict a soul, it’s not hard to imagine what kind of use our good old license agreement will have in a court of law.

This guy was caught red handed selling source code. You can only imagine what system you would need to have in place to trap people using pirated software, which in my opinion, is a far lesser crime. It is very difficult to prove that someone is using pirated software if you cannot physically visit his location. Another way is to put certain information in the files created by the software which is serious and specific enough to incriminate the user in a court of law. Yet, another way is for the user’s computer to relay information directly to the vendor. This is when things start to cross the line. The more information you collect to strengthen your case, the more you violate the users right to privacy, encroach on his IP and a dozen other things.

And now, to complicate things even more, it is alledged that some vendors are taking advantage of this to harvest other information from users, unrelated to piracy or usage altogether. Whether this is true, I do not know. However, I would certainly like to.

As a software vendor, we are already bogged down by continuously making changes to our software locking system so that the cracks do not work. I have no time, energy, money and patience to go after users with a license agreement that has no teeth. If I am going to have a license agreement, it might as well be worth it.

I know that I risk being tagged as a someone using unfair means to achieve an ulterior motive. So be it. What can’t be cured must be endured.