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EULA's are becoming more and more restrictive. They in general give no warranty that the software will do what is supposed to. In fact, it is common practice to explicitly disclaim all warranties and to explicitly make no guarantees about the reliability, functionality, or usability of the software.

If you buy commercial (non-free, non-open source), then usually you will not be able to return the software if you find that it is unfit for the purpose you intended. Usually, the only way to return software is to show that the physical media was damaged. In this case, most stores will only replace the media for you; you won't get a refund. If you read the EULA before breaking the seal on the media case itself, you are probably in a better position to demand a refund. If you break that seal, there's almost no chance.

When purchasing software in shrink wrap, it is not usually possible to read the EULA before you purchase the software and open the box. Sometimes that same EULA will say that by opening the box, you have agreed to the terms of the EULA. If this is the case, and the EULA gives the software company the right to bring the BSA down on you for an audit or something, then you're screwed.

By agreeing to an EULA, you now commonly give software providers the right to install other software on your machine, monitor your behavior (web pages visited, etc), use your computer's resources for other purposes than those you have designated (BDE's Altnet, for example), and so on. Many EULA's also state that you do not own the software that you have paid for, you are rather leasing or renting it from the software company, and also that the privilege of using the software may be revoked at anytime. EULA's nearly constitute service agreements now, and since it's a good bet that many people buying software these days are connected to the 'net, it is easy for a company to remotely disable the software (until you rebuild your machine, but you might be screwed even then; if the software can connect to the providers site and the provider has a database of disabled software, it will be simply disabled again).

Some say that clauses in EULA's are unenforceable. Indeed, I don't believe that an EULA has been tested in court until now. The Blacksnow/Mythic case holds that at least certain clauses of EULA's are enforceable by law (pending appeal / ruling from higher court). This ruling only applies in a certain jurisdiction, but I think you'll see other courts looking at this decision whether or not they should be. Other jurisdictions and countries will probably follow this precedent. So be careful about what you actually agree to.

If you are purchasing commercial software, and cannot read the EULA without opening the box, then ask a salesperson to open the box for you. Explain that you would like to purchase the software because you think it will do what you need it too, but that you have concerns about the EULA. Stores will probably be reluctant to do this at first, but if enough people become concerned about the contents of EULA's, then they will have to allow people this in order to sell software.

Of course, most people don't care about the contents of EULA's. They just want to run to the store, pick up Quicken or whatever, and get their taxes done before the deadline. However, I think we will see more and more cases of software companies going after others citing the draconian clauses that the user agreed to by installing the software, then people will become more aware of this problem.

People must begin to treat EULA's like any other legal contract. I hope people aren't signing employment contracts (which can sometimes say things like "you cannot practice {profession} for two years after the termination of this contract, anywhere in {country}") without reading them through, and neither should people be clicking "Agree" without reading them through.

If you don't have time to read and understand the EULA, find a trusted third party (like your lawyer) to look it over for you. Otherwise, don't use/buy/download the product.

Of course, I have to squeeze in the obligatory plug for free software (as in free speech), and one for open source software too (the differences are subtle, but important). If I download a program covered by the GPL, then I know exactly what my rights, privileges and responsibilities are with respect to that piece of software. I know this because I have read the GPL license, which is really short and terse as software EULA's go. The same goes for programs covered under BSD licenses.

EULA's for commercial software often vary widely between different products from the same company, and even between different versions of the same product. I have to read every single one of those very long, fine printed licenses if I want to understand my rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Thus, if a GPL'ed or BSD licensed alternative is available, I can use it without having to read. I also get the benefit of having the source code, meaning I can (or my organization can) audit the software for security holes, quickly (if I'm willing to invest the time to learn the code) fix bugs that may appear, and add new features without begging to the deaf ear of a software company.

Ultimately, my point is, read the EULA, and understand what it means, before opening/installing/downloading software, especially if you want or need to be aware of what you legal obligations and rights (or lack of) are.

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