All your (data) base are belong to us

Posted on 2010-09-21 10:00

The Vernor V. AutoDesk decision in Seattle just struck a major blow to consumers. Just as a spate of predatory lending in housing has probably ended the dream of home ownership in America and replaced it with perpetual rentership, this decision helps to remove a consumer's natural rights under the First Sale doctrine. It ensures that in what will surely be nearly all cases in the near future, a consumer will never actually own any software they purchase, but rather only the right to use it for some term of time. Over the past 10 years or so, other than free or open source software, consumers already have ceded this right for nearly all software they "own" anyway. Most EULAs stipulate that a consumer cannot sell or transfer the software they purchased to another, and in many cases cannot move it to a new computer if the computer they first installed it on crashes and needs to be replaced. A great example of that one is the Windows operating system which is only licensed for the machine upon which you initially install it. PC crashed? Legally, you've gotta buy it again.

Such a system may make sense for certain classes of software that are time dependant (Turbo Tax for instance) where you are really entering into a relationship with a company to keep on top of the legalities involved from year to year and roll them into the software. It also makes sense for softwares that require constant updates and R&D to keep functioning at all like antivirus where you're paying the software developer to keep on top of attack vectors from minute to minute. It also seems reasonable for software-as-a-service apps in the cloud. However, businesses that depend on very specialized software that may not be needed by many people in ten years should still have a right to be able to access the data created within that software. The data created in these programs is certainly the property of the licensee, yet without the ability to install the software on a new PC should the old one crash, the data very well may become inaccessible. Go tell my shop foreman that he can no longer access any of the programs that he created over the last 15 years that are used in our milling machines because I am not legally allowed to install the software that reads those files on a new PC, the PC's hard drive is crashed and the company that made the software is out of business. This problem becomes more personal when it includes access to medical records which by law needs to be accessible for 20 years - as yet no standard has been defined so medical practitioners are at the whim of whatever software company they happen to partner with when they start up the system.

References CNET's article - I totally disagree with this take on it. Electronic Frontier Foundation - I'm on this side of the argument