Before I get into my topic, I just need to take care of a few legal matters. Reading this column may cause anger, confusion, sadness and many other unwelcome emotions. By reading further, you waive all rights, including any the author thinks of later on. If you do not accept this, stop reading now.
OK, Im just kidding, but if I were a software vendor, I wouldnt be. We all see click-through license agreements every day and dont give them any more thought than the time it takes to click the Agree button.
Of course, you give them thought if you run into trouble because of them, like the Mac enthusiasts who lost whole hard drives due to a bug in Apples iTunes software. Apple doesnt have to do anything to make up for the lost data because the click-through agreement indemnified it against lousy coding.
Or maybe youre a FrontPage user who wants to put a Built by FrontPage logo on your Web site. Not if the site has any content disparaging Microsoft, which could mean a bad review of a product.
If youre really unlucky, you live in Virginia or Maryland, states that passed UCITA (Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act). When it comes to consumers rights against bad software, UCITA ranks right up there with the Necronomicon for pure evil.
So what should we consumers do? Should we continue to click through and basically ignore these licenses? Do we wait for other businesses to decide to ride the same wave? Imagine fast-food places invoking “walk-through-door” licenses that indemnify them against food poisoning.
If youre not in a state that passed the UCITA, you can take some small comfort in the knowledge that many legal experts think click-through agreements are on pretty shaky legal grounds.
Despite this, I think I might start using a little shaky legal maneuvering of my own. After all, Ive dealt with plenty of legitimate contracts. Someone gives me a contract, I make changes and send it back, and then we negotiate to come up with a final contract. The problem with click-throughs is they are completely one-sided. So lets add the other side ourselves.
From now on, heres what Ill do. Ill read the agreement, cut and paste it into an e-mail, and then make deletions and additions to create a contract agreeable to my needs. I will then e-mail the contract to the vendor. Its pretty easy to find several e-mail addresses on a vendor Web site that should do for this purpose.
Of course, the key thing will be to add this line to the message: “Failure to respond to the proposed changes in 24 hours signifies acceptance of the changes on the vendors part.” I say fight shaky legal agreements with shaky legal agreements.
What do you think should be done about click-through user licenses? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.