Culture: Document
ANSI software license   (+4, -1)  [vote for, against]
standardize so we don't have to read them

Does anyone read thru software licenses? I used to. But now, for all I know, I've just agreed to sell my firstborn into slavery when I tear open a new package. This is especially irksome when I can't read the agreement beforehand because it's inside the package.

Now I know there are evil tramplings of our rights such as the DMCA. I had in mind something more balanced. Have ANSI gather up all the typical clauses in software licenses and organize them into categories based on how objectionable they are. Then a software package could have a little notice listing which parts of the ANSI license their product falls under. Users will read the ANSI license beforehand and keep a little list of which clauses they don't like.

Currently, the whole software license business is a laughingstock, full of garbage that's hard to take seriously and can't be enforced. It's just one more way the law is made into a joke.

The worst license I ever saw (wish I'd kept it) was from Timberwolf. For the privelege of trying a crippled demo version, you agreed to a whole lot of things. Among them was what I call the "jack-booted thugs" clause which said they had the right to enter your premises anytime during normal business hours to inspect your computers for violations of the terms. You also had to give them 30 days written notice if you wanted to end the agreement, but they could end it instantly by phone or e-mail. You agreed not to reverse engineer their stuff, of course. But there was more. If you created any software vaguely related to their product (let alone a clone) it was their property and you had to notify them of what you'd done and hand over the work (gratis, naturally) immediately. I might have ignored all that and tried their stuff out anyway, but I couldn't get a key unless I "signed in blood", that is, told them my name, address, etc. and provided a phone number for them to call back and verify.
-- ThotMouser, Apr 30 2002

-- phoenix, May 01 2002

Rant, but there's a somewhat useful idea in there, to wit, standardized EULAs. (Much like lots of open-source stuff is under the GPL or BSD or Artistic license and you can figure out the license once and reuse your understanding).
-- wiml, May 01 2002

You'll never get standardized EULAs because laws vary from state-to-state and country-to-country.
-- phoenix, May 01 2002

I'm for preservation of fair use laws.
-- bristolz, May 01 2002

bristolz, I'm woefully naive about legal matters. Could you explain (briefly, of course) how fair-use laws impact software licensing?
-- Dog Ed, May 01 2002

Ooops. Sorry 'bout that. There was originally more to my anno that dealt with EULAs. The part I left was a comment about the DMCA and my concern that heavy-handed "terms of use" on Web sites and other digital media can gut the intent of fair use.
-- bristolz, May 01 2002

[annotation revised to remove Zero-Wing reference]

I agree that finding the EULA to be a verbatim copy of the GPL or other well-known set of terms makes understanding one's rights and obligations much simpler in the long run. If there were, let's say 5 standard EULAs from which to choose, then a software author could select which level best suits the product and simply copy and paste the text of it into the installer dialog and media packaging.

The levels might break down like this:
1) This is free software. Do whatever you want with it, but give the author credit where it is due.
2) This is mostly-free software. Redistribute it if you want, but don't change anything.
3) This is commercial software. You must purchase a license for each copy that you use. You may permanently transfer an unexpired license to someone else if you notify the author and surrender or destroy all copies for which you no longer hold a license.
4) This is commercial software. You must purchase a license for each copy that you use. You may not transfer your license to anyone else.
5) This is slaveware. By just looking at it you agree to do everything we tell you to do. We own your soul and your firsborn child. Only we may terminate this agreement.

All the usual mumbo-jumbo about derivative works, trade secrets, and reverse-engineering would of course be included in 3-5 above. Also standard disclaimers of liability would be included in each of the above.

Of course a standard EULA would identify itself as "ISO Standard EULA xyz.123.456 " on the first line. If additional terms and conditions are needed then they can be added in a special section called "Additional Terms and Conditions" which immediately follows the text of the standard EULA.

Users would then be able to skip over all the familiar parts and go straight for the section on additional terms and conditions.
-- BigBrother, May 01 2002

Just when I thought we were done with Zero-Wing references for good. Uuuugh.
-- globaltourniquet, May 05 2002

How about a set of icons to indicate some of the common meanings in eulas printed on the side of the packaging? Then, for the experienced computer user, a brief glance would give an idea of which particular idiocies the license encompassed, without them actually being legally binding in and of themselves.

For instance, a blue circle would be the basic indicator as to when the eula came into effect: if there was a little icon of an envelope inside the circle, you'd know that opening the package constituted agreeing to the terms. If it was a cursor icon, you'd know that the agreement was ratified during the software installation. Other icons could let you know to what extent you were "signing in blood," or how the software could be distributed.

The advantage of this is that the eula could still be crafted (by the crafty lawyers) individually, but a standardised set of ideas could be used to sum them up more easily.
-- yamahito, May 05 2002

random, halfbakery