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The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) never got enacted. UCITA does things like standardize provisions for shrink-wrapped license agreements, or End User License Agreements — EULAS — what you are agree to when you click “I agree” in a program’s installation.

Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of smart lawyers out there, many who saw that this thing would be a real problem for consumers. For example, this excellent writeup posits that consumers think they are buying a piece of software, not licensing it and so don’t really understand the idea of licensing.

At any rate, UCITA basically died. However, the idea of a shrink-wrapped agreement is very much alive, and all software companies use them. They are, in fact, vital documents which outline the rights of the licensee (the purchaser) and the licensor (the software developer).

But they are abused (this story is one example). Spyware adware vendors use EULAs to do a whole host of ugly things. I find the use of EULAs in this context laughable, and I think any sane judge would do the same. I mean–what if a EULA said that you would need to spend $300 per hour to arbitrate a disagreement with the EULA? That’s exactly what one EULA found by Ben Edelman says. It’s plainly idiotic.

Ed Foster at InfoWorld blames the “shadow of UCITA” for the use of EULAs to trick and deceive users.

I do think we do need to get EULAs cleaned up and standardized. Years ago my old alma mater, Borland, revolutionized EULAs with a “no nonsense” license agreement, and it was a Good Thing.

Plain language is one thing (the plain language movement in government is an example of how so many people are fed-up with legalese). But common sense is another attribute of a good license agreement. Our own EULAs we use at Sunbelt aren’t perfect, but we do try and keep them fairly straightforward and understandable. We ourselves could do better.

And no, I’m not a lawyer–and those so qualified are welcome to post comments.

Update: Ed Foster corrects me, “UCITA was enacted and is still on the books in Virginia and Maryland.” Ed also mentioned the Fair EULA (FEUA) project, which I didn’t know about. It’s a good idea and we will be taking a look ourselves. Thanks Ed.

Alex Eckelberry