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Software Government The Courts Your Rights Online News

Software Customer Bill of Rights 293

Posted by michael
from the we-the-people dept.
Cem Kaner of Badsoftware.com has written up a Software Customer Bill of Rights. Very appropriate considering our recent stories about Microsoft viruses, Dell's BIOS-clickwrap licensing agreement, etc.
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Software Customer Bill of Rights

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  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Sunday August 31, 2003 @02:46PM (#6840048) Homepage Journal
    Just for reference, for those who don't have time to R the FA, here are the ten items listed in the Bill of Rights, without the explanation.

    (Note, this does not excuse you from reading the FA, there will be a test.)

    Software Customer Bill of Rights

    1. Let the customer see the contract before the sale.

    2. Disclose known defects.

    3. The product (or information service) must live up to the manufacturer's and seller's claims.

    4. User has right to see and approve all transfers of information from her computer.

    5. A software vendor may not block customer from accessing his own data without court approval.

    6. A software vendor may not prematurely terminate a license without court approval.

    7. Mass-market customers may criticize products, publish benchmark study results, and make fair use of a product.

    8. The user may reverse engineer the software.

    9. Mass-market software should be transferrable.

    10. When software is embedded in a product, the law governing the product should govern the software.

    Bonus points if you can figure out which of the above *didn't* have a detailed explanation in the original!
  • by tambo (310170) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @03:16PM (#6840196)
    Microsoft touts its market dominance at every opportunity - to support its FUD ("don't use Linux, go with the market leader!") and to control software and hardware developers relying on this computer-technology bottleneck ("either it runs according to our spec or it doesn't run.")

    Hell - they even use it in this exact same context: "If Linux breaks, you can't call anyone. You can try getting some help from the Linux weirdos on some IRC channel, but good luck to you. Now in the unlikely event [ha!] that Microsoft software breaks, you have one source of qualified assistance [at $1.99 per minute, no doubt.]"

    So it's disingenuous, at best, for Bill to now claim that his self-proclaimed role as figurehead is being unfairly used against him by suing Microsoft for its defective products. It's not unfair - it's the down side of positioning yourself as the standalone market leader. It's blatant doublespeak for Bill to destroy all the competition (illegally) and then claim that he's being singled out.

    - David Stein
  • by cemkaner (55453) <kaner@kaner.com> on Sunday August 31, 2003 @07:20PM (#6841443) Homepage
    Let me clarify some of the issues that I see raised in the comments:

    1) My proposals are primarily in support of disclosure. For readers who prefer free market accountability to litigation, that's what disclosure rules support. To make rational decisions in an open market, the customer needs information to base the decisions on. The information rules that I advocate are not far from laws that currently govern traditional sales:

    - The customer can see the contract before the sale and use that knowledge as a factor when comparison shopping (and the press can help customers comparison shop by publishing information about the contracts, such as warranty policies, support policies, etc.)

    - The company is accountable for its claims. I'm not talking about claims like "our burgers are yummy." I'm talking about "statements of fact" (specific statements that can be proved true or false). Laws governing warranties, fraud, and deceptive trade practices make these claims enforceable in the traditional markets. If you can't hold the company to its claims, you can't know what you're buying.

    - The company can't prevent mass-market customers (and reporters covering mass-market products) from publishing comparison studies and product criticisms.

    - The company can't prevent mass-market customers from using reverse engineering to discover bugs and security holes, false claims, etc. (NOTE: Patent law protects the original ideas in a product, whether you reverse engineer them or not. Additionally, my proposal doesn't invalidate a restriction against using reverse engineering to help create a competiting product. It invalidates restrictions that bar people from doing non-competing things, like discovering problems, making this product interoperable with others, fixing bugs in products that a company no longer supports, etc.

    - The company has to disclose its KNOWN defects. Note that failure to disclose significant defects in traditional goods can be prosecuted under the deceptive trade practices or unfair competition laws.

    The next main theme is privacy/security related. These are ground rules, not litigation magnets. Don't transfer data from someone else's computer without permission, don't block their access to their own data (a trick that some companies use to force customers to renew licenses or agree to unfavorable new license terms) and don't cut off their rights to use software they've paid for without a court order.

    This isn't about bugs. It's about misconduct.

    Do we need to polish the language to make that distinction clear in the legislation? Of course. This is a set of principles, not legislation. The goal here is to present the ideas simply (while giving enough footnote-links to provide context for legally knowledgeable readers). Legislative precision comes after appropriate people accept the principles.

    SO WHY BOTHER? WHAT'S THE POINT?

    The software industry is increasingly vulnerable to regulation. Software publishers aren't creating masses of new jobs in the United States. They've made a lot of people angry, partially because they've been doing business in ways that would never be tolerated under traditional American sales law. The most visible representative of the industry is a monopoly that seems to be so greedy as to be willing to try to wipe out even the research / scientific / free-public-benefit community in order to preserve or trivially increase its market share.

    When companies look like they're more about greed than about providing benefits to the country, they become vulnerable to regulatory proposals. If their business practices seem dishonest and their products cause widespread, well publicized social disruption, some legislators will introduce bills to regulate the industry. Every crisis is another opportunity for legislation.

    Not necessarily good or wise legislation. If we want THAT, it's up to us to advise legislators. Otherwise, they'll do what they do and we'll complain about it later.

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