Reading the fine print

It is not that often we sign agreements without reading them. Buy a home, read the legalese to make sure the deed is yours. Rent a car, read the agreement to see whether you need the extra insurance. Sign a receipt and make sure the items on the bill are correct.

But read a long-winded multi-thousand-word software end-user license agreement? Not a chance. Just click on the “I agree” or “I accept” and get on with your life.

For the most part, reading EULAs has become a non-event. If you don’t agree, you can’t load the software. Since you have no option but to agree, if you want to load the software, there remains little point in reading a document you cannot change. At least this seems to be the logic used by millions.

“Good, bad or ugly, we figure that license is cast in concrete and we don’t have much hope of changing it,” said Charlie Whitfield, an IS executive for a manufacturing company in Sault St. Marie, Ont.

But once you read a few dozen EULAs, one consistency remains. Software companies accept almost no responsibility or liability that their product will work beyond “substantial conformance with the applicable documentation”.

“Software is supplied ‘AS IS’ without warranty of any kind, either express or implied.” These exact words are found in dozens of EULAs.

The fact is few areas in the consumer world offer as little protection to the end user as software license agreements and, not surprisingly, there is a great divergence in opinions as to why this is so. The common tone was software’s inherent inability to be failsafe, and that bugs and idiosyncrasies are the norm.

“I think it is the inherent nature of software, software can never be 100 per cent bug free, it can never be 100 per cent failsafe,” said Coreen Lawton, a corporate lawyer in the technology law group at McCarthy T

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