Unnatural licensing

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://news.com.com/2008-1082_3-5065859.html



One interesting aspect of this article, on a reputable company that
had to pay $100,000 for software licensing violations they didn't even
know about, is that it shows how far licensing has come from common
sense.



I'm sure most home computer users are in violation of their licenses
because they let family members use their computer.



The Ernie Ball company did what seemed perfectly reasonable and
natural--passing old computers to different staff--and found it was
against their Microsoft license. Who would know? And this happens even
though UCITA was largely defeated. No wonder software companies and
other so-called intellectual property providers say that education
about the "right" way to handle copyrights and licenses should start back in school!



Imagine if your carpeting company was allowed to determine everything
you could put on the carpet--or even if your bookseller was allowed to
tell you who could read the books you buy. (So far, you're protected
by first sale rights--but of course DRM is threatening to erode that
right.)



Well, that's what modern software licensing is like. (Meanwhile, the
click-to-accept licenses that come with downloaded software seem to be
getting longer and longer, as if they lawyers want to make sure you
couldn't find the clause that bites you even if you took the time to
read the whole thing.) Licenses are out of touch with human nature,
even more than copyright law. To see how out-of-touch copyright law
is, I recommend Jessica Litman's (hard-copy) book Digital Copyright.
Meanwhile, read the article to see how the manager of Ernie Ball
exercised choice.


Has the software industry departed from common sense?


7 Comments

anonymous2
2003-08-20 11:31:19
i read the article
and he struck me as a bit of a loon.


(plus he is illinformed as microsoft sold off their stake in apple a long time ago.)


his words:
Well, if you don't wipe the hard drive on that PC, that's a violation. Even if they can tell a piece of software isn't being used, it's still a violation if it's on that hard drive.


He did not have to wipe the harddrive. all he had to do was remove the apps that he was only licencsed to use on one machine.


Makes simple sense to me. He was using multiple copies of a software product that he was only licensed to use on one.


There might be better cases to report on, but this "ernie' guy is probably not the one to hold up as a shining example.

anonymous2
2003-08-21 03:41:06
i also read the article
Firstly his name's not Ernie, that's his father's (and his company's) name.


Second, he wasn't "using" multiple copies of the software, as your own quote of him says.


Third, your missing the bigger point, that the licensing issue is confusing and people in good faith are getting caught out in the War on Piracy. It may be simple sense to you, but to many it isn't. Look at the headline of this piece for example.


Regardless of if he's a 'loon' or not, he was a businessman going about his business, not trying to rip anyone off and little more than an oversight cost him a lot of money and exposed him to ridicule.

GerardM
2003-08-21 07:26:39
i read the article
His biggest gripe is that he was made an example without having been given an option to remedy the situation. His case was published and he was made to look bad.


His choise was to forgo Microsoft products and it has paid off handsomely for him. He is a business man, when you are a geek you may not understand WHY he does what he does. That is okay put his reasons why is one of the point of the article.

nzheretic
2003-08-21 07:44:58
The BSA,Microsoft and the definition of Extortion
http://lwn.net/Comments/45527/
Some of the tactics used by Microsoft and the Business Software Association (BSA) in the name of the fight against software piracy directly hurt the consumer, Microsoft's competitors and even society in general.
dbrick
2003-08-21 15:17:36
Home computer
I agree with what you have to say here Andy. Very much.


However, I'm going to quibble over your statement about home users being in violation because you let someone use your home computer. In my quibbling I'll actually prove your point even more. Licensing is confusing and out of touch with reality.


All 10 members of a family can use the same computer and be in license compliance as long as there is at least one license for the software being used. Software is usually (not always) licensed per machine, not per user. So, if Microsoft Office XP is licensed and installed on the family computer, all kids can use it for their reports.


What cannot be done is to install the same copy of Office on multiple computers in the house and have each person using it on different machines. You have to have a license for each machine running the application. An exception to that is the Student and Teachers Edition of Office that allows it to be installed on 3 home computers.


There is even an 80/20 rule for some software that allows you to install a copy on your laptop. But, only if you are the user who will be using on the laptop. They don't want the wife to be using it on the desktop machine and the husband to be using it on the laptop. Most certainly not at the same time. Unless, of course, you are running the aforementioned Student Teacher edition.


Microsoft also has provisions for workers to install software from work on their home computers if, and only if, that software is being used for work purposes.


Matters get even more complicated when you start talking about OEM versions of the software that are licensed to the machine they came with. For instance, if you bought a Dell with Windows 95 OEM on it and later upgraded that to Windows 98, then threw out that machine and made one yourself without an OS, you are not allowed to install the Windows 98 upgrade on it, nor are you allowed to install the Dell Windows 95 OEM. You can, however, purchase your own OEM version of the OS, but usually only in conjunction with a motherboard purchase. The purchase of the motherboard proves that you are really building a system and not just trying to get a cheap version of Windows.


In a corporate environment keeping track of the generations of hardware and the associative purchases of software can be a nightmare. I can almost guarantee you that Ball is guilty of the following scenario, and nothing more.


Suzie the receptionist was bored one day and she asked Jimmy if she could help him with anything. He said he needed a bunch of ApplicationX documents updated and printed. Suzie said she didn't have ApplicationX on her computer. Bitsy, the IS gal, came over and installed ApplicationX for Suzie, and for the rest of the day Suzie helped out Jimmy. After that day she never used ApplicationX again and pretty much forgot it was there. Until the day of the BSA audit.


That is a pretty innocent violation.

jwenting
2003-08-22 02:24:40
i also read the article
That's the problem in wars, collateral damage happens.


But you're wrong in blaming the software industry for needing sometimes draconian measures to fight piracy, you should blame the pirates for making those draconian measures needed in the first place.


Often licenses use confusing legal mumbo-jumbo for sure, but they are mostlu logical in concept.
You have either a license to have X copies installed at any time (where X depends on which package you purchased), to use X copies at the same time, to install the product on X machines (with the license being locked to the hardware) or to have X users use the product (in which case it is locked to the user and not the hardware).
Most corporate licenses fall into the first category or the second.
Some consumer licensing now falls into the third (Windows XP Home comes to mind).
The fourth category is usually used only for custom software (though it is used sometimes for downloadable software too, with the license key being linked to the name, email or creditcard number used to purchase it).


the problem is that many companies don't keep track of installed numbers of licenses.
They buy 50 licenses for a product, thinking it enough for future growth (having only 40 machines at the time).
They grow to 60 and never check if there's still enough license slots to install those machines.
Next they know they're audited and found to have 10 machines running unlicensed software.
Simple (and cheap to implement) administration of the licenses would have prevented that.

anonymous2
2003-08-23 02:30:51
i also read the article...
"That's the problem in wars, collateral damage happens."
That's an excellent argument for not having wars.


The only thing distinguishing Ernie Ball is a) they got audited, and b) they are extremely happy about switching their entire business to Linux. Most people are mostly in compliance; no one is completely in compliance - they just think they are. And *everybody* has boxes of software that never got past testing or the hopeful intention to learn it, or which has become obsolete.


From my point of view as a corporate and individual consumer, it's a usability issue. The software itself is (hopefully) designed to be as usable as possible. But the anti-piracy measures are designed to make the installation and administration of the software *virtually unusable.* If you'll grant the metaphore, installation and administration of much software is designed like a firewall: usablility gets 'switched off', and then just enough is turned back on to allow paying customers to use it.


So when situations that *haven't* been imagined by the designers develop for the customer, it's the customer that has to find solutions to deal with it, somehow without breaking the licencing conditions.


I suppose the customer's solution is in their own hands: some vendors are more draconian than others; some develop decent systems; some don't. Usually it seems the one's with the most expensive products, have the most draconian licensing and badly designed activation and anti-priracy measures.


Now that our software costs are greater than our hardware costs, I suppose this means we should 'Ernie Ball' it: I should buy Apple and Macromedia, tolerate Adobe, and avoid Quark and MS in favour of open source alternatives. I doubt the designers will ever want to learn InDesign, but at least OS X Panther will have X11 built in, which might ease any transition to OpenOffice for the others. (I was really waiting for an Aqua version, but that looks like it won't be available until 2006.)