Friday, August 17, 2007

First Sale Doctrine, EULAs & Related Grumps

An open comment that began as a comment to the link post item on the 16th at's TechBlog : Major copyright case to test First Sale Doctrine, possibly shrinkwrap EULAs

Software companies use EULA's to control the use of their software much as the media companies use DRM schemes to control the use of their "intellectual property rights" after the theoretical sale to end-users. While I do understand the intent, the extent to which software marketers and their lawyers push this leads to very grumpy customers.

A short story:

Shortly after April 31 of this year my copy of Quicken Premier 2004 informed me that there was a problem with my download from my bank, "Quicken is currently unable to verify the financial institution information". I called the bank's customer service at two in the morning and, after talking to several nice people, I was informed, conspiratorially, that, although they weren't supposed to talk about it, my copy of Quicken, like all copies of Quicken "sold" to the general public, were designed to quit working as conduits for downloaded information from the banks after three years. In this case, April the 31st was my day of reckoning.

When I called Quicken to find out why I wasn't told about this three-year limit and generally grump at them, I was told that this was for my "benefit" to help bring me the latest and greatest updates that Quicken had to offer and they then proceeded with their sales pitch.

I used my copy of Quicken to deal with one checking account, nothing else. I don't need their "cutting edge" financial planning software. I "bought" the software thinking it would serve me until the banks or Intuit changed their download protocols. Little did I know that, like some sordid drug dealer, Intuit had just sold me only my first fix and that I now had to return, sweating and worrying about my financial status, for the next one.

Fortunately, I seem to collect disks from people who buy computers and don't want to use the bundled software. So, I have stacks of copies of the basic version of Microsoft Money. And so I have switched to using Microsoft Money. It is my understanding that MS Money also has some sort of time limit built-in, but, as long as there's bundled software, I should have a copy. Unfortunately, I really prefer Quicken over MS Money (Money has some quirks that drive me crazy!).

Technically, according to the EULA, I am using an illegal copy of MS Money because the original owner could not transfer it, legally, to me even though the original recipient does not have it installed on their machine and has no interest in using it. As a matter of fact, a great deal of the software on my computer comes from people who acquired software and decided, for whatever reason, they weren't going to use it and then gave it to me. It may not be the most current, but it all works very well for me, from my copy of Office Professional to my disc burning software.

None of it is pirated and nobody else is using a copy of it anywhere so, as far as I'm concerned, I feel I have every right to use it. Even my copy of XP professional was given to me as recompense for some work done. A friend wanted to upgrade an old Compaq computer and bought a copy of the OS. Because of driver issues he ended up buying a new computer with XP on it. I spent a few minutes tweaking the security on his wireless network and he gave me the copy of XP Pro that he no longer needed.

So, as you can tell, I am an avid supporter of the Doctrine of First Sale. Software companies and media distributors are like parents who just can't seem to get used to the idea that their kids grow up and have lives independent of their influence and control.