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What’s a EULA?

Celeste StewartEULA stands for End User License Agreement. This is an agreement between you, the end user, and the software provider. EULAs come in two forms: paper and electronic. For example, if you buy software at your local electronics store, the software will come in disk form and likely have a EULA printed on paper and may even have an electronic version as well. If you buy software online and download it, it will have an electronic EULA as part of the installation routine.

EULAs define and restrict what you can do with the software. For example, most EULAs strictly prohibit copying and distributing the program. While this serves the software provider's best interest and is a reasonable agreement, other clauses in EULAs take away your rights to sue should the software be poorly coded and damage your computer. In addition, EULAs often spell out that they will impose upon your privacy in some manner. Would you voluntarily allow a program to monitor how you use your computer? Chances are you have readily agreed to just this, not once but time and time again.

Do you really read the EULA? Paper EULAs often have tiny print and are filled with legalese. Electronic EULAs are also filled with small print, complex language, restrictions, exclusions and other notices. Plus, they require that you click "I agree" before you are allowed to install the software. As a consumer, if you want to use the software, you have to agree to the terms of the EULA.

What's so bad about agreeing to EULAs? If the EULA is straightforward and fair and doesn't strip away your rights or impose upon your privacy, then go ahead and agree. The problem with EULAs arises when they contain unreasonable conditions, limit liability, or invade your privacy. For example, did you know that many EULAs actually prohibit criticism of the product? Other EULAs admit that they will be adding programs such as pop-up ad generators and then go on to prohibit removing these unwanted programs.  

So, what can you do? Not much. When possible, read the EULA before you buy. Some software developers post their EULAs on their websites including Adobe and Symantec. However, most EULAs aren't generally available until after you've made the purchase and opened the box - which makes your product virtually unreturnable thanks to stores' "no return on open software" policies.

If reading the EULA beforehand is not possible, take the time to read the EULA carefully after you buy the software. If you are not comfortable with the EULA's terms, don't install the software. Call the software vendor directly and complain, asking for a full refund. In addition, let the electronics retailer know of your dissatisfaction with the product's licensing agreement. The more consumers speak up, the better the chances of drawing attention to these concerns.    

Finally, get involved. Several consumer organizations have formed to speak out against unfair EULAs. Here are a couple of good resources to learn more:

AFFECT - Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions

Stop Before You Click - A campaign to promote fair terms

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