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US court ruling nixes software EULA sales restrictions

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In an intriguing ruling picked up by LinuxJournal's Don Marti, a US district court has given encouragement to software users who want to extricate themselves from restrictive software licenses.

The judge, in the case Adobe vs Softman heard in the Central District of California, has ruled that consumers can resell bundled software, no matter what the EULA, or End User License Agreement, stipulates. Specifically, the ruling decrees that software purchases be treated as sales transactions, rather than explicit license agreements. In other words, consumers should have the same rights they'd enjoy under existing copyright legislation when buying a CD or a book. They can't make copies, but they can resell what they own.

"The balance of rights in intellectual property law is already tilted heavily in favor of the intellectual property owner," ruled Judge Dean Pregerson, in a burst of enlightenment.

In the case SoftMan was reselling Adobe software it received in bundles or "collections". Adobe claimed this was a breach of its trademark. Judge Pregerson wasn't convinced, and decided that existing copyright law should apply:

"... the purchaser commonly obtains a single copy of the software, with documentation, for a single price, which the purchaser pays at the time of the transaction, and which constitutes the entire payment for the 'license.' The license runs for an indefinite term without provisions for renewal. In light of these indicia, many courts and commentators conclude that a "shrinkwrap license" transaction is a sale of goods rather than a license."

The decision has its limitations, being merely a vacation of an earlier judgement. It doesn't even settle the Softman case. Given the powerful interests of the shrinkwrap software industry, it's likely to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

But it does weaken the case for blanket, catch-all EULAs, and give users the opportunity to resell bundled shrinkwrap software. ®

Bootnote:Readers have pointed out that the excellent Linux Weekly News first ran this story. Credit where it's due - you can read LWN's coverage here.

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