Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sold, Not Licensed

I've been thinking about EULAs a lot lately. For those readers who do not know what an EULA is, I'll give a quick backgrounder. EULA stands for "End-User License Agreement". Just about anybody who has ever used a computer has seen one. An EULA is the legal text that is typically shown after you download or install new software. It usually includes a statement to the effect of, "You must agree to the following before using this software." Following that statement, there's generally a very long legal "contract" and there's typically a button that says "I Agree" at the bottom. Until you click that "I Agree" button, you won't be allowed to use the software. Most people just click the "I Agree" button and don't bother reading the text of the EULA.

However, if you do stop to read an EULA, you'll find that nearly every one ever written includes, somewhere near the beginning, one critical little bit of text. This little bit always goes something like this:

"This software is licensed, not sold."

What this is claiming is that you did not actually buy a copy of the software and as such you don't own any copy of the software. It claims that the only thing you have bought is a license. A license to use the software. Then if you read the rest of the EULA, what you'll find is that this license that you've bought puts quite a few restrictions on the ways in which you may use the software.

It turns out that the entire EULA relies on that one phrase "licensed, not sold". If it were not for that little phrase, the whole rest of the EULA becomes meaningless. As I've spent some time thinking about that little phrase, I've realized there are some serious problems with it. By extension, this means there are serious problems with EULAs.

After much thought and consideration, I've come to a conclusion: In my opinion, when an EULA says "This software is licensed, not sold", it's almost always a lie.

This blog was created out of a desire to explore and analyze the concepts behind EULAs and to tell the truth about them. The truth that, in reality, most commercial software is actually "sold, not licensed."