Unfair EULA’s

A recent study conducted by Britain’s National Consumer Council has questioned the End User License Agreements (EULA’s) of 17 software companies, including Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, McAfee, Corel and Symantec.

14 out of the 25 products surveyed did not mention on their packaging that installation requires the user to accept a license agreement. I find this odd because one of the first things any installer shows the user is the EULA, and unless he clicks the “Accept” button, the installation does not continue. So obviously the product cannot be installed unless the EULA has been accepted. But I guess they were pissed with the fact that Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 had a seal on the CD case with instructions to read an enclosed paper copy of the licence agreement before installing software. Actually, I see no problem with that either. Of course, if Kaspersky declines to give a full refund to a customer who does not agree to the EULA after openning the CD case, then they need to be given a lesson in consumer rights. That’s precisely why I believe that the EULA should be freely available online for a prospective customer study and analyse before he decides to make a purchase. At SYCODE, we have a link to our EULA right next to the product download link.

The report goes on the suggest that even if the EULA was available prior to purchase, the legal jargon in it makes it hard for consumers to understand their rights and responsibilities. I think that is taking it too far. What do you expect? A beautiful piece of prose written for a 10 year old? Law, by definition, is complicated. If it were that simple, we would not need lawyers, now would we? It gets even more complicated when you are licensing something as opposed to buying it.

The report also suggests that the terms in the EULA are designed to protect the interests of the software companies to the detriment of end users. It cites Symantec’s EULA wherein Symantec gives itself the power to suspend it’s Online Backup service for a user’s failure or suspected failure to comply with their EULA. To take things further, Symanted is not obliged to maintain any of the user’s backups or transfer/migrate the same to any other backup service. I tend to agree. This seems heavily tilted towards Symantec, especially the term “suspected failure”.

The full report can be downloaded here (PDF: 675 KB)

Contrary to popular belief, there are people who do take the time to read the EULA before placing their order. From my experience, very often these people are the ones who are interested in taking their work on the road and want to have the software working on their desktop in office and their laptop as well. Our EULA allows that, but still prospective customers contact us to seek clarification on that particular provision and we make it a point to answer their queries to their satisfaction.

A common argument is that the end users cannot individually negotiate the terms of the EULA and are forced to accept it. For fun, let us imagine that Carl Bass takes leave of his senses and decides that he wants to negotiate his EULA with all nine million Autodesk customers. I will leave you to calculate the legal bill that such negotiations will result in. And while you are at it, take a wild guess as to who will eventually be paying for that bill.