Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Can I possibly be the only person ever to wonder what all that garbage I'm supposed to read in one of those EULA (end-user licencing agreement) actually was about?

Of course, I've read one. But that was many moons ago, and I've long sense stopped caring so much - for the most part. But it brings to mind another question: as a licensing agreement, a form of contract, the scope of the agreement could potentially be as broad as the publisher wishes to make it.

I see no rational reason from preventing EULAs from doing things like preventing the user from engaging in certain types of business, certain types of activity more generally, perhaps even wearing certain types of clothing.

Now I'm aware of some limitations to contracts and exchange - having and failing to disclose prior knowledge of the value of a product, for example (which is, hilariously, the basis for all exchange - disequilibria of valuations). But in principle, there's no problem with this - you agree to it, and you're getting the compensation in the form of the software you use.

The question I'm getting at is tangential (as I'm sure such "abuse" of contract would be unenforced) - I'm wondering what the legal ramifications of ignorance of the terms of a contract are.

If I sign a labor contract, for example, stipulating that I shall receive 7 dollars an hour for labor, when I didn't bother to read and learn the specifics, my being upset later upon so discovering is nobody's fault buy my own.

Since legal language and lengthy, redundant documents are used, in a sense, as a tool to prevent people from reading them (and certainly from understanding them without legal council), there might be an argument that a blatantly deceptive contract is only partially enforcible...


SmoothB said...

In practice, end user license agreements do often tend to be unenforceable. (And certainly anything having to do with signing away the right to sue is completely unenforceable.) I imagine the length is one reason. But there has been a trend in contract law for the better part of a century for some terms in contracts to be rendered void in court on the grounds that they are "unconscionable." Whatever that means.

Anonymous said...

If a EULA contains a buried passage allowing the software makers to spy on your computer, is that fair? How can an EULA be understood without a law degree and knowledge of computer terms? Then you have agreements that are curiously vague with phrases like, "as we see fit" that lets a company do almost anything without breaking the contract. EULAs are definately anti-consumer, but we have no choice.


Tim said...

SmoothB, thanks for the comments, that's basically what I was getting the feeling of.

Jason, I don't know if it's fair, and I generally hate EULAs myself. All the same, I think if you agree to opening your computer to observation and they then do take a peek at your computer, they're not doing anything legally wrong.

Do I think it's morally wrong? Sure do, and I would bitch and complain to the company that did such a thing. You're right that we basically have no choice but to use the EULAs, but as SmoothB confirms, they're essentially unenforcable, and the companies are generally very interested in not pissing the hell out of their customers - Intel a few years back tried something with CPU ID numbers, and the consumer anger got a response.

So I don't think they're the end of the world, if only for the reason that abuse of them wouldn't be much more tolerable than any other type of scamming and shystering.

Anonymous said...

And what if you don't know what you're agreeing to? A properly worded EULA or other contract can mean just about anything. Without the courts and enforcement from the federal government, people have no way to protect themselves from an abusive company.

Consumer anger only happens when they know what is happening. Even then it tends to die down quickly. Despite DRM on Sony CDs, people still buy them. People still use Windows, get mortgages, and so on without knowing everything they are signing up for. Given the lengths of contracts, how can you blame them for not wading through mountains of legalese? I shouldn't need a lawyer to buy Vista.


Tim said...

That's the point - consumers don't need to get angry unless something happens. If something happens, they get angry and things usually work themselves out.

Are you focusing on the fringe cases where they don't? Like smoothb said, they're basically unenforcable in most cases, so even given a "by signing this agreement you agree to be my personal slave for all of eternity" clause, I don't see the problem - since it's just a joke, anyway.