Iím sure weíve all been faced with installing a piece of software and having to accept a user agreement in order to complete the installation. Actually these user agreements have become so commonplace youíll be hard pressed to find software that does not require you to accept a user agreement. As a result I hardly give it much thought anymore and just click 'accept'. So why did I not bother to read them? Partly because these agreements usually donít limit me in the way I use the software, theyíre mostly meant to safeguard the developerís intellectual property and to put in a disclaimer for the use of the software. Iím fine with that, as I have no intention to use it other than how the developer intended, and Iím quite sure the software works as advertised otherwise the developer would be going out of business soon right?
Because I mostly download my software instead of buying it in the store it usually comes with a trial period of 14 or 30-days, giving me ample time to evaluate whether it is suited for my purpose before I give them my money and continue to agree to the user agreement. When I buy software in a store things are different though, I obviously canít try the software out before I buy it, nor will the store give me a refund for software returns. So in fact you have already accepted the user agreement when you decide to hand over your cash, as thatís the point of no return. Whether youíre going to accept the user agreement thatíll pop up when you install the software or not, the store has just made a non-refundable sale. Thatís actually a violation of my rights as a consumer, Iíd like to know what I agree to prior to buying the software and installing it, but most store policies do not allow me to do that.
If you think thatís bad, things get even worse, with software developers offering their products for download and requiring online verification to be able to use them. But wait, thatís not that bad, Windows also requires you to verify the product key online after 30-days right? Thatís indeed true, but does Windows ask for your product key every time you boot up your PC, requiring you to connect to their servers to verify? No, of course not, as what if Microsoftís servers are down, or if thereís a problem with your internet connection? You will not be able to use your PC, and thatís simply not acceptable. Some software developers however seem to think differently. Prime example is Valve and their Steam content delivery system, which weíve discussed earlier
; even if you bought a retail copy of HalfLife 2 in the store you canít play the game unless you verify your purchase with their servers and accept their user agreement.
But there are others that take it a step further, if you bought World of Warcraft recently youíll have noticed you canít even play without an internet connection. First you need to verify your purchase and then all of your data is stored on their servers, and to make matters worse, if you happen to like the game you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to be able to keep playing it on their servers. So in essence they control if and when you play the game, all that you paid for and agreed to when accepting the user agreement is the right to use their software. I think thatís absurd, and a severe violation of my rights as a consumer. Just imagine Microsoft demanding you pay a monthly subscription fee to use Windows and requiring you to login prior to being able to use your PC every time.
I think this trend we see with PC games; moving to a situation where you no longer own the software, but just the right to use it on their terms, when and if they see fit, is not a good thing. It severely limits your rights as a consumer, as you no longer have control over your purchase. The piracy argument used by these developers is kind of moot, as 99% of all people will use their software as intended and not pirate it as the software developers make you believe. And the practical upshot of all of this is that you can only play these games if the developer stays in business and keeps authentication servers up. Thatís only to the advantage of the software developer and not the consumer, so whose rights are being violated here? It is not the software developerís copyright, thatís for sure. So maybe you should start reading those user agreements prior to accepting them now; as you might just end up having to verify your software online every time you want to use it.