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Adobe demands 7,000 years a day from humankind

It's all in the EULA fine print

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Just what are we agreeing to?

So just what is it that the licence contains that they’d rather we didn’t dwell on? Most of us will rightly assume that the text will refer to intellectual property rights regarding copying or transfer. These aren’t unreasonable restrictions in most cases, although the idea that you should be downloading a software package such as Flash for each machine you run it on – rather than ferry a copy around on a USB drive for multiple installations – seems rather draconian. Still, the companies would argue it’s part of the deal. You want our free app, then you download it so our site stats look good. We should obey, but often we don’t when there’s a family of laptops to support.

Such behaviour is a relatively minor offence given the scope of most licence agreements to relieve the vendor of the responsibility of actually delivering a functioning product. No doubt the developer would endeavour to provide something that works, but we’ve all experienced buggy software that has delivered hours, if not days, of misery.

Indeed, like many software agreements, Adobe’s Flash licence openly acknowledges the issue and kicks off with this point:

1.1 Warranty disclaimer. The software and other information is delivered to you “as is” and with all faults... Adobe and its suppliers and certification authorities make no warranties conditions, representations, or terms... as to any matter including without limitation non-infringement of third party rights, merchantability, integration, satisfactory quality, or fitness for any particular purpose.

Even with a bit of pruning it remains heavy on the legalese. Don’t forget this is just one agreement that eight million of us are nodding to daily and are supposed to have read and understood. And if I understand this right, it’s saying: don’t blame us if it isn’t any good.

By the way, did you know you’re not allowed to instal Flash Player on a server?

3.2 Server Use. This agreement does not permit you to install or Use the Software on a computer file server. For information on Use of Software on a computer file server please refer to http://www.adobe.com/go/acrobat_distribute for information about Adobe Reader; or http://www.adobe.com/go/licensing for information about the Adobe Runtimes.

It seems a bit confusing though, as the licence for Flash also refers to Acrobat Reader – no doubt a ‘one size fits all’ draft for the free stuff. As for Runtimes, presumably Adobe reckons people that run servers have a better understanding of its terminology, and refers to Flash and the like. If you follow the link though, it explains that you need to apply for a licence to distribute the software, not actually run it on the server. I guess this grey area comes down to a definition of a server, because these days you can get one as an app for £14.

Mac OS X 10.8 server

Better uninstall Flash before running this on your Mac – it's the rules you know

I’m a bit worried about this one, though:

4.4 Notices. You shall not alter or remove any copyright or other proprietary notice that appears on or in the Software.

So quoting that is a breach? I’ve removed it and altered it by isolating that clause from the rest of the text.

Now, if I went through all of the areas that piqued my interest, this is could eat up quite a bit of time for mankind, but hey, chances are you agreed to this all of this. And in doing so, you also indicated that you had read and understood it too. So you’re absolutely fine with all these legal obligations for using this (free) software, right? I guess, like me, you assume that nothing too bizarre is in there that and that only sensible clauses appear and nothing that would be a major inconvenience. But here’s the last one I’ll look at today, and I’m not even half way through the agreement.

After mentioning all the things I can’t do in Section 5 Transfer, the agreement says:

You may, however, transfer all your rights to Use the Software to another person or legal entity provided that: (a) you also transfer (i) this agreement, and (ii) the Software and all other software or hardware bundled or pre-installed with the Software, including all copies, Updates, and prior versions, to such person or entity...

So Adobe wants me to pass on all the Flash updates that my machine has installed? You’re kidding me, right? They’re not even on the web site any more. Was I banned from deleting them too? I guess that might count under the “no modification” clause in section 4.5.

Oh and don’t forget this...

(b) you retain no copies, including backups and copies stored on a Computer...

So if I flog a computer with Flash on it, I’m supposed to weed it out from my backups in order to satisfy this clause that, like so many many many millions of other users, I ticked “I agree” ? If I’m wrong about any of this, well I did read, but I guess I misunderstood. So is that my fault or those who wrote the document? Is there further legalese that insists that users should meet a certain level of intelligence to be sure that having read, they really have understood?

In essence, what is being imposed is some clumsy form of regulation from the vendor that doesn’t recognise end-user habits or the language they speak. No surprise that nobody reads this stuff then. So what’s the point? Surely this legal drafting increases the price of the software we pay for – even with the free stuff, this will occur indirectly.

The point, I suspect, is that vendors prefer not to trust users and robustly defend their interests in legalese that will be called into play when necessary. The defence seems like a nuclear option when you consider who the targets are. By contrast, users blindly trust vendors with each tick of the I agree box, having never read a single line of the licensing contract.

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