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A EULA repository

By gunner800 in Internet
Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 07:29:20 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

Those of us who pay for software often buy a box labeled "You must accept the enclosed License Agreement before you can use this product. If you do not accept the terms of the License Agreement, you should promptly return the product for a refund.", or something to that effect. You cannot read the License Agreement (EULA) without opening the box, so you must purchase the product before you can see what it is you have to agree to. If the EULA is unacceptable to you, you are instructed to return the product; chances are very good you will not get a full refund.

Wouldn't it be nice to read the EULA first rather than gamble on that boxed software? To know what you have to agree to before giving money to a retailer who is not obliged to give you a refund?


I have in mind a publicly-accessible website which stores and catalogs software EULAs. Users could contribute the EULAs they have encountered, and any visitor could view EULAs which have been contributed. To be thorough and fair, each EULA should be associated with the version of the product, date and location of purchase, and perhaps other information.

The technical aspect seems simple enough. The scripts to power it wouldn't be overly complex. When traffic and contributions are small, one or two people would be able to maintain the site. Staff needs should grow linearly, unless the site were to add functionality. Hardware and bandwidth needs would be those of a typical website.

Financial needs would be simple, but not necessarily easy to achieve. A small, unpopular, static website is cheap to operate. A large, popular, dynamic website is not. With no way to predict just how large, popular, or dynamic this website would be, I worry about funding. But there are plently of ways to generate money with a website.

My real concerns are with legalities.

EULAs are generally copyrighted just like anything else, and I doubt agreeing to a license gives a user any particular right to distribute copies of it. Basing a website on publishing other people's copyrighted works is risky at best. A software publisher could convincingly argue that such a web site is trying to deprive the publisher of sales.

I also worry about the consequences of inaccurate or misleading contributions. If this site is at all popular, it won't be possible to verify every contribution or gather enough EULAs by trusted staff members. If we publish a nasty EULA which turns out to be false, might we be guilty of some sort of slander or libel? How effective would a disclaimer such as "This EULA has not been verified and may not be correct" be at fending off legal attacks?

The legal concerns would be largely eliminated if we only published EULAs from companies who explicitly gave permission to do so. Some companies might even send us copies of their EULAs to ensure accuracy and to help inform their potential customers. Other companies would want no part of this project, and might fight us if we include their EULAs.

Obviously, this project is still at the "Wouldn't it be cool if..." stage. Ultimately it may be abandoned, radically changed, implemented as I see it, or taken up by somebody else. But I really do believe that the opportunity to read a EULA before paying money is important. If software publisher's won't give us that opportunity, we'll have to provide it ourselves.

Please help to develop (or destory) this idea. What have I overlooked? What is really involved with creating such a web site? Who would help the project, and who would attack it? What should such a web site do, and what should it avoid?

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Poll
EULA repository: Good idea?
o It's been done 2%
o Yes 70%
o Maybe; not as gunner800 envisions it 11%
o No 14%

Votes: 34
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A EULA repository | 11 comments (10 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
makes EULAs more acceptable (4.25 / 4) (#2)
by Delirium on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 08:58:03 PM EST

The problem with this for those of us who don't believe EULAs are valid in the first place is that it would make them more legally acceptable. Currently, since you don't have the opportunity to read the license prior to "agreeing" to it, there is at least some argument against being bound by its terms. If there's a publically-accessible website with a database of these EULAs that would be difficult to justify.

Interesting. (3.33 / 3) (#5)
by Seumas on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 09:00:47 PM EST

Yeah, it's an interesting idea, but like you say -- you'll have problems assuring that the EULA's you have are the most up to date and you'll probably have major legal issues, since those same assholes who make you open the software and run it to read the EULA will probably put your family in cement boots and a salt-water nap if you date display their license agreements online.
--
I just read K5 for the articles.
Well let me see.. (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by mystic on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 09:17:40 PM EST

First of all... this is a good idea. I would not say "great idea" because there are problem, as you have rightly mentioned.
EULAs are generally copyrighted just like anything else, and I doubt agreeing to a license gives a user any particular right to distribute copies of it.
This will be a big pain in the ass. I am very certain that companies will have objection with any A B and C copying their EULA on any X Y Z site. Why? One reason (without even getting down to IP etc.), would be prevent misquote. You said:
Some companies might even send us copies of their EULAs to ensure accuracy and to help inform their potential customers.
Well, I can see a different picture. Due to the fear of inaccuracy, the companies will make it illegal to quote their EULA. That sounds like a better deterrent than to supply an EULA copy themself. Lesser trouble for them and lesser chance of anyone daring to misquote them.

This is a good idea, but I think that it should be implemented by some trustworthy and reputed organisation. Just to give an example, maybe W3 Consortium (I know, they have nothing to do with company products, well it is just an example of what I mean when I said reputed and trustworthy).

That is my take.

Why I'm hopeful (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by gunner800 on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 09:50:26 PM EST

Traditionally, fair use is greatly expanded for critical or review purposes. This might fall into that category.

But the courts do tend toward unpredictability when computers are involved.

---Ignore poorly-chosen handle for purpose of gun-control discussions.
[ Parent ]

fair use (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by janra on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 02:11:22 AM EST

Traditionally, fair use is greatly expanded for critical or review purposes.

Post the EULA and an 'unofficial translation and explanation in plain english' side by side? Would that qualify as a review, I wonder... I've been tossing that idea around for a while but I haven't had the time to do it, nor do I know much about law.


--
Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
I'll agree... (5.00 / 3) (#9)
by Sairon on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 11:22:23 PM EST

My feeling is that the more information there is available to the consumer, the better. It might even be good to have educated explanation of the legality of these licenses. There may be struggles from companies...

I think that companies that have problems with this may have something to hide. It may be frightening to these companies for people to know what they are doing to their customers. If they have that much to hide, and fear and loather their customers so much... well, that's not good. That's information I would also like to have. Maybe any company that had their EULA removed should be placed into a list of non-cooperative companies. The implication then being that these companies are rather anti-consumer, and you ought to not buy their software, because there is something rather scary in their EULA they don't want you to see until it is too late.

JPM

I have trouble believing some of this (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by DoubleEdd on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 06:22:41 AM EST

Take:

If the EULA is unacceptable to you, you are instructed to return the product; chances are very good you will not get a full refund.

Then compare to the typical EULA clause:

If you do not accept the terms of the License Agreement, you should promptly return the product for a refund.

If you do not receive the refund the company has broken the EULA. In that case, surely you can either sue them or just ignore the EULA since its already been broken. I don't believe that the kind of person who typically has trouble accepting the EULA is the kind of person who will let a big software company walk off with their money, and I don't believe that the big software companies are so stupid as to think they can get away with that.

Why we don't get complete refunds (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by gunner800 on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 04:37:21 PM EST

The EULA is a contract between the buyer and the producer. The retailer cannot be bound by any clause in the EULA, so they are not obliged by it to provide a refund. Stores I shop at will refund only 85% of the price, and only within a set time after purchase. That's typical around here.

The instruction to return the software for a refund is just that: an instruction. It is not a guarantee that a refund will be provided or how much of one will be provided. As to if the EULA contract is "broken" if the retailer does not provide a refund, I don't know; it hasn't gone to court yet, but most manufacturers are not volunteering to provide refunds or relax enforcement of EULAs when customers try to return software.

In theory, the retailer might be obliged to refund your money because what you "bought" is of no real value. U.S. contract law states that no contract is binding unless both parties receive something of value, and retail purchases are partly covered by contract law; there are similar laws in other countries. I don't think this theory has been tested in court either.

I don't like gambling that judges think the same way I do.

---Ignore poorly-chosen handle for purpose of gun-control discussions.
[ Parent ]

Hmmmm (none / 0) (#14)
by DoubleEdd on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:23:32 AM EST

Fair enough - but surely you can claim the RRP back from the manufacturer? THEY wrote the EULA, so they should be bound by it.

[ Parent ]
Buyer's wish: A box within a box (none / 0) (#12)
by mami on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 10:21:26 AM EST

If the companies do not like to put their EULAs online, why not selling the software in a box within a box. The outside box would contain inside a unique serial number for the EULA plus the printed EULA (or a pointer to a secured web site, which one could access on the basis of the EULA serial number) and a separate sealed box with the software, having its own registration number.

This would allow the buyer to read the EULA without touching the sealed software. Is the EULA accepted (could also be by FAX and phone), the software's registration number would unlock the actual software only in combination with the EULA's serial number then flagged as accepted. Kind of a double check.

If people were to return the software, they would always have to return an unsealed software box and an unused EULA reg number. Would also make it easier to read the EULA for people who have no internet access at the time of the purchase, or the ones who buy software to set up a system they want to connect on the basis of said software.

A EULA repository | 11 comments (10 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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