What is an EULA?


EULA is an acronym for End User License Agreement. It defines the relationship between the provider of software and the end user. Usually, the EULA restricts the way a user can use software, such as prohibiting the redistribution of the software or reverse-engineering it. Other times, it specifically gives the user those rights, as in the case of the GPL. While the EULA was once a traditional contract, existing on paper (or even as the shrink-wrap on boxed software), today much software is distributed via the Internet, making physical contracts impossible. Thus, the idea of an EULA screen was added to many programs' installation routines. While the enforceability of such a contract is debatable for individual home users, it does provide legal protection to software distributors from having the software reverse engineered by competitors.

While the original purpose of an EULA was to protect software developers and distributors from having their products unlawfully distributed, that goal is now only a small part of most EULA's. Common current clauses include the restriction that users may not benchmark the software, reverse-engineer it, or even publicly criticize it! That means that comparing a program against a competing product, even for your own use, is illegal. And posting the results of such a test in a blog could result in criminal prosecution and possible imprisonment or fine, so a blog host needs to show special care. Another common clause is that the software may monitor computer usage, automatically update itself via the Internet, and may disable certain features as deemed appropriate by the software vendor. That means that you agree that the software may monitor your activities on the computer, inform its programmers about them, and may disable itself at will. However, probably one of the most common EULA terms today regards distributor's damage liability. The United States, the European Union, and most other government bodies have laws that protect consumers from damage done to them by equipment or software they purchase. The EULA of most common software today removes this protection. Thus, improperly coded software, or even malicious software, can damage your computer and the distributors are released from all liability.

With the recent release of Microsoft Windows Vista, the interest in EULA's has been brought to the forefront of consumer attention. Many consumers are refusing to upgrade their computers to Windows Vista because of the harsh terms of the EULA, and still others have, ironically, sought to use pirated versions of the software that are less invasive than legal, authorized versions of Vista. The Vista EULA specifically gives Microsoft the right to monitor your computer usage and determine if you are in breach of any individual portion of the contract. If so, then the computer user has authorized Microsoft to disable Vista. As legal copies of Vista "call home" to Microsoft periodically to report on their status, many are worried that if they circumvent DRM measures with legal copies of Vista, the operating system may cease to function. However, as pirated copies of Vista do not call home, they are not subject to deactivation. Anther worrisome clause of the Vista EULA include the restriction that users cannot benchmark the operating system without changing specific settings as outlined in an online Microsoft document, and even then they cannot publicly publish their findings. Thus, a blogger comparing Vista to XP has breached his EULA and is subject to having his operating system disabled. Additionally, the Vista license is one-time transferable. That means that if you buy a new computer, you can transfer your license to the new machine, and that's it. You must remove the operating system from the old computer, and you cannot upgrade your computer again. One upgrade only. Thus, as the Vista EULA contains almost all the restrictions that were against the consumers' interest in past EULA's, and some new restrictions, it is a prime example of how software distributors can take advantage of consumers, and can circumvent consumers' legal remedies.

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