The Omnipresent EULA

If you’ve ever installed a program on your computer, you probably at some point had to agree to an exhaustive license agreement before you could begin the installation process. The End User License Agreement, or EULA, for short, is typically about ten printed pages worth of legalese squashed into a 3-inch square box.

I will be the first to admit that I have probably only read one (that of EverQuest, if I recall) of the license agreements of the plethora of software I’ve ever installed. God knows what I’ve agreed to by just blindly clicking, “Yes, I agree” and continuing on my merry way. I could have very well agreed to turn my residence into a halfway house for unemployed game developers. I would conjecture that very few others have even read the full text of a EULA, except this one guy who got $1,000 from a company because he actually read their license agreement.

This brings up an important consideration: How well can EULAs stand in court? I suppose technically they should be legally binding, since the user is technically supposed to read the agreement before clicking “I Agree.” It seems to me, though, that any judge with any sense at all could see that EULAs are specifically designed to confuse users. You almost wonder if software companies don’t want users to read their licensing agreements. *cough*spyware*cough* I certainly know I can’t afford to have a lawyer translate for me each time I wish to install software, and I doubt I’m alone in that respect.

Even more harrowing is an article posted on Slashdot a couple months ago about a gamer who purchased a used copy of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, the current flavor of the year MMORPG. He found that he could not create his own account with that particular copy’s authentication key because the former owner already had – even though he canceled his account. To quote directly:

Note that section 3B in the EULA explicitly grants its users the ability to transfer the physical property and “all of your rights and obligations under the License Agreement”, presumably including the Authentication Key which is needed when creating a new account. What Blizzard expressly disallows is the transfer of accounts, according to Section 1E of their Terms of Use, which is not at issue here. Apparently, Blizzard is allowing each Authentication Key to be used only once, preventing anyone with a used copy of the game from creating a new account. Is Blizzard violating the terms of their own EULA?

Though I’m not certain of what became of this, but it seemed to be quite an issue when Blizzard was throttling sales of the game because their servers were overburdened by the amount of people already playing. It was nearly impossible to buy the game at retail, so a logical alternative would have been to buy a used copy from someone who already played the game and did not like it. It’s not like these people are stealing anything. They want to play the game, and they want to pay Blizzard the monthly fee to do it.

If you ask me, EULAs are getting out of hand.