Monday, January 28, 2008

Terms of Service: Silly Legal!

I'm sure you're all aware that legal issues are often decided by common sense. In other cases, the precise letter of the law governs all. It's risky to rely on common sense, because you never know when you've got to pay exact attention to what a law, or a contract says.

I hope that bit of philosophy helps you to understand why I thought thrice before agreeing to yet another Terms of Service for a major software product. (By the way, I'll soon tell you the full story of my attempt to modify a company's Terms of Service, the story I began last Tuesday, the 22nd. I have good news and bad news.)

Anyway, the company I work at has some crown jewels, and one of these is a product that I am helping to evolve. (I'm just a bit player here, I claim no credit for its brilliance.) I had to install it today, so that my newest software would become part of it in our current project. Frankly, I simply could not agree to this term in the ToS:
You may not: ...
· reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble, modify, translate, make any attempt to discover the source code of the Software, or create derivative works from the Software;
· separate the Software into component parts for use by more than one user;

If you were to ask me what I DO at work, I would say that the above lines pretty much describe it. How can I agree NOT to do my daily work? But I had to agree to the ToS, in order to do exactly what it forbids.

Common sense better prevail this time.


Martin Langeland said...

Contrast it with the legal notice on I Love Big Trains by McComas/Stachler Productions. This video for kids and bondable adults has the most to the point spiel ever:
"The Producers spent a lot of money to make and distribute this film.
Don't copy it."
--ml said...

Martin, I like that notice. It's sensible, readable, and to the point.
- PB