Respecting licenses goes both ways

Respecting licenses goes both ways

Summary: As one might imagine, I occasionally disagree with fellow ZDNet blogger and Microsoft employee John Carroll, on topics like software patents, DRM and other issues. However, I'm mostly in agreement with Carroll on this one.


As one might imagine, I occasionally disagree with fellow ZDNet blogger and Microsoft employee John Carroll, on topics like software patents, DRM and other issues.

However, I'm mostly in agreement with Carroll on this one. (For the record, I'm also sick of Tom Cruise.)

While I don't care for the "religious movements" comment, (never mind the fact that proprietary software folks tend to get a hellfire and brimstone tone when discussing "pirated" software) I agree with Carroll that open source developers and advocates need to close ranks with Microsoft in expecting users and others to respect licensing terms set by Microsoft and open source projects alike. As I wrote the other day, if you don't want to pay the price Microsoft sets for Windows, then don't use Windows. If you must use Windows, however, then be prepared to pay the piper.

If Microsoft were to violate the GPL, they'd hear about it -- loudly -- from the free software community. (And rightly so.) By the same token, however, FOSS advocates should be just as quick to condemn users who violate proprietary licenses, for a few reasons. One, just because it's fair. Whether you agree with the terms of Microsoft's licenses or not, they have the same rights that we do with regards to control of code. If it's wrong for a company to use GPL'ed code without honoring the terms of the license, it's wrong for users to subvert Genuine Advantage authentication to get Windows updates when they haven't paid for the privilege.

If Microsoft wants to charge $19.99 or $1,999.00 for a license for Windows XP, that's their right. I tend to think $19.99 would be a lot more reasonable than what they're charging, and they might see fewer users trying to "pirate" Windows if it were more reasonably-priced -- but that's a totally different discussion. The bottom line is that they get to set the price tag, and the choice should be between paying the license fee or choosing a different product. Choosing to use Windows without paying for it is no more acceptable than it would be for a company to use GPL'ed software in a program without abiding by the terms of that license -- and FOSS advocates should be clear on that point. Yes, it is a bit amusing that Microsoft's "Genuine Advantage" system is so easily bamboozled, but we should discourge users from doing so. Of course, this works both ways -- so I expect to hear Carroll and the other folks on the proprietary side of the fence speaking up when corporations fail to live up to the terms of the GPL and other open source licenses.

This is also a good way to bring users into the debate about proprietary software and open source software. Many users will tell you that licensing doesn't matter to them -- and of course it doesn't, when they just ignore the terms of the license. For all that most people know, Microsoft's EULA could require their first-born child in exchange for a single-seat license -- they don't abide by the terms of the license, so they don't care what the terms are.

On the other hand, if users were forced to abide by the license and actually pay the license fee, they'd be much more likely to weigh the benefits of the FOSS licenses versus the proprietary licenses. Granted, we can't force users to abide by proprietary licenses -- but we could at least try to make it less socially acceptable to ignore the licensing terms. And I'm not saying that users should or would choose software based on price alone -- but the current practice for many users is to treat all software as "free as in beer" when it is not. That's wrong, and we should say so.

Topic: Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Complete agreement, on both sides.

    I agree 100% and would condem someone not abiding by the GPL just as fast as I would the Autodesk license for AutoCAD.

    I mean good grief, there is more software than you can shake a stick at, find one that uses a license you can agree with and use it, regardless of who created it!.
    • you mean if we do not agree with the IE license I can uninstall it

      lol, or are we forced to leave it installed on servers and patch once a month

      my biggest beef with my fav OS, is the bolting of apps

      ms has a monopoly, they are abusing it imo
      • What does YOUR EULA say?

        You agreed to it, live with it.
        • that is so lame no ax

          I expect more from you - lol
      • Irrelevant

        The "bundled" IE is part of Windows, whether you like it or not. If you don't like it, don't use Windows. You are free to wipe WIndows off of your computer and install something else. That may not have been true several years ago, but it's a perfectly reasonable and valid option now.

        And that's got nothing to do with respecting Microsoft's choice of licensing.

        Carl Rapson
        • the new ms way it seem - TAKE IT O LEAVE IT


          I have loved ms sense win 3.1 - I see my fav os going south - I don't like that - you may, but I don't
  • 1) Informed consent

    IMHO, the best thing for [i]software libre[/i] would be for people to actually have to initial and agree to all of the terms in a EULA as they would for a deed of trust or other serious contract.

    If people knew what they were agreeing to, fewer would.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • 2) Conflation

      Keep in mind that John's original complaint wasn't about license violation -- it was about high-fives over the hack that broke WGA.

      As I pointed out on his blog, there [b]is[/b] a difference. A clever hack is a clever hack, and deserves recognition regardless whether it's a spoof of TCP packet sequencing, elliptical-curve encryption, ..., or WGA. [u]Finding[/u] the hack isn't a problem -- it's [u]exploiting[/u] that's objectionable.

      Microsoft set a puzzle to the geeks of the world, then John got steamed when someone solved it. If you don't want puzzles solved, don't pass them around.

      The logical conclusion to John's POV is that some things are morally beyond questioning, where the "white hats" can't inquire into how something works (or doesn't) because "gentlemen don't read each others' mail."

      John's reaction is the same I see in some other engineers who take offense when a review finds something wrong with their work. Worse, some take offense at the very [b]idea[/b] of reviewing their work. The good ones, in contrast, beg to have their work reviewed and when someone finds a flaw, their reaction is more one of "Ah! You got me!" with a smile.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • I see your mistake..

        ---"A clever hack is a clever hack"---

        No, it's an illegal act and should require both a fine and jail time.
        • Please point out

          Where the hack of WGA is illegal.

          Now, as I have been posting since John brought the matter up, [b]pirating[/b] MSWindows in the first place certainly is. However, the WGA hack in itself isn't.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • no more illegal then ms hacking aol server to allow msn to use them

    • And they have to do it before buying the PC

      Since most legal copies of Windows are come pre-installed on new-PCs, the purchaser should have to go through and initial the entire MS EULA prior to the order for the PC being completed.

      I wonder how many sales Dell would actually complete if this was the case?

      I wonder how quickly they would start funding desktop linux development?
      • Why would any OEM do this?

        Thier goal is to sell PCs, not promote a wanna be desktop OS.
        • How is Linux a wanna be desktop OS?

          Linux can scale and be set up for a very wide variety of systems:

          From wristwatches
          To super computers

          and everything in between. What is your beef with Linux? It is capable of being a solid and reliable desktop for many, many, many people, more than you want to believe really.
        • Why would any OEM do this?

          To get around having to make their customers sign every section of the MS EULA prior to buying a PC with Windows preinstalled.

          I think they would lose a lot of customers if buying a PC became such a long and arduous process. Not because people would actually read the EULA and get scared, but because consumers have attention spans similar to goldfish.
        • yo

          your the only wanna be I see!!!
        • You can calculate how much it costs Dell

          When someone orders a perfectly reasonable notebook, it comes to them, they fire it up and get that blast of legalisms, and they actually [b]read[/b] the stuff. Deciding "no thank you" they hit "do not agree." System dies. They call for tech support. Tech support says that the license is part of the purchase, without it their warranty is void etc.

          Customer sends it back to Dell. Dell argues about refunding sums. Dell doesn't want to pay shipping. Customer reverses CC charge, places complaint with BBB, and tells Dell that if they want their box back they can pay for shipping.

          Box sits while Dell threatens legal action, but eventually Dell folds (because they've been there before and know that they have a seven high.)

          What does this cost Dell? And, since I'm sure you'll insist it's made up, check with your BBB -- it happens, and the only reason it doesn't happen more often is that almost nobody reads the EULA.

          Thus the point: if the EULA had to be executed with the care that other contracts are to be enforcable, the world would be a different place.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Exactly!

      The EULA should be displayed page-by-page, and on a time delay (2mins per page?), so that you would have a chance to read it. Each page would require a click on the "agree" button (with the accompanying annoying "Do you REALLY want to do this?"). Maybe after the 1hr it takes to run though the entire EULA, people will have a better understanding and appreciation of what is included.
      Roger Ramjet
  • is it wrong

    "it's wrong for users to subvert Genuine Advantage authentication to get Windows updates when they haven't paid for the privilege."

    is it wrong for people who have not want ms snooping around on there pc, is ms against people's privacy?

    they already have activation on XP, now they need this too, a once a month check of your hard drive to see if your ms software is genuine
    • Sorry Jason, you ar again wrong.

      There is no check of any sort, unless you want to download download additional items. Think of it being like getting back into the theater, you have to show them your ticket to prove you have the right.