The State of Virginia just passed legislation that tries to give some force to the so-called “shrink-wrap software agreement” you supposedly agree to every time you install a software package on your computer. The software industry is “ecstatic”. This is their “crown jewel” of legislative achievements. If you wonder what “soft” money in politics really means, this is it.
Now, the naive and gullible reader will ask himself a simple and natural question: why? Why would the software industry be so happy about a law that seems to make it illegal to do something that it has, supposedly, always been illegal to do? That is, violate the shrink-wrap agreement on your software application?
For fifteen years, we have all been installing these software applications and clicking on the ubiquitous “I Agree” button every time before being allowed to install the application.
Imagine if you read in the paper tomorrow that the government of Ontario was passing legislation making it illegal to speed on our highways. You would be rightly perturbed. If this legislation makes it illegal to speed now, why did I pay my tickets before this legislation was passed? Right....
The consumer-citizen has the right to make a few logical deductions here and invoke the natural right of expediency in order to respond to this blatantly hypocritical piece of legislation.
1. All software issued before this legislation was passed can be freely copied and distributed as you please. Obviously if the shrink-wrap agreement now has the force of law, it did not have the force of law before. So go ahead-- copy away! Give Office 97 to all your friends! Make sure everyone you know can play with Photoshop 5.0! Sell copies of Quicken 98 at your fruit stand! All of these products were sold subject to agreements that, according to Virginia, did not have the force of law.
2. Since the principle of secondary contract agreements that take effect after a transaction is concluded (the shrink-wrap agreement is entered into after you already bought the software, when you install it on your computer) is now enshrined in law, the consumer should also take advantage of it. For example, you can send a letter to Microsoft saying this: "Acceptance of my payment for Microsoft Office constitutes an agreement between Microsoft and the purchaser that the purchaser will be compensated at his average hourly wage for any time spent attempting to recover work that was lost due to the deficiencies and instabilities of Microsoft products."
You may be aware of the fact that, in spite of the shrink-wrap agreement, which states that the purchaser must return the software to Microsoft and receive a refund if he or she does not agree to the terms, Microsoft virtually never, in fact, refunds your money. Neither will the store that sold you the Microsoft product.
So get yourself a good lawyer, because it's going to be a ride. Here's what might happen: Microsoft will reject the agreement and demand that you either agree to the shrink-wrap license as it is written or... or what? Return the product? Ha ha! Now, I'm not so cynical as to think the worst of everybody, but some people obviously will simply make a copy of the product onto a CD and then return the original disk to Microsoft.
Fat chance. Microsoft knows that.
If enough people try this, I think we could have a real movement going.