Cory Doctorow Has a Brilliant Idea to Fix EULA Mess

Writing for UK newspaper The Guardian, author Cory Doctorow offers an eminently sensible fix for those confusing, consumer-unfriendly End User License Agreements:

Here’s the world’s shortest, fairest, and simplest licence agreement: "Don’t violate copyright law." If I had my way, every digital download from the music in the iTunes and Amazon MP3 store, to the ebooks for the Kindle and Sony Reader, to the games for your Xbox, would bear this – and only this – as its licence agreement.

"Don’t violate copyright law" has a lot going for it, but the best thing about it is what it signals to the purchaser, namely: "You are not about to get screwed."

Cory also finds irony in the approach which content rights-holder take on the copyright issue:

The copyright wars have produced some odd and funny outcomes, but I think the oddest was when the record industry began to campaign for more copyright education on the grounds that young people were growing up without the moral sensibility that they need to become functional members of society.

The same companies that spent decades telling lawmakers that they were explicitly not the guardians of the morality of the young – that they couldn’t be held accountable for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, for gangsta rap, for drug-fuelled dance-parties – did a complete reversal and began to beat their chests about the corrupting influence of downloading on the poor kiddies.

Ditto for the video game industry. As GamePolitics has reported in the past, game publishing lobby group ESA hopes to takes its anti-piracy "education" program into elementary schools.

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  1. ash1300 says:


    "Don’t violate copyright law"


    That seems a bit silly.  Contracts create rights and obligations between parties.  Consumers are already legally required to not violate copyright law.  It is, after all, the law.  If people violate copyright law, the copyright holders can pursue legal remedies regardless of any promises in an ELUA to not break the law.

  2. questionmark1987 says:

    "If it had ever been given a serious legal challenge I would say that we need to do something about it."

    Blizz V. MDY

    This is from a blog paraphrasing the end ruling thus far (as far as I know there’s still an appeal process to go through).

    "Blizzard argued, and Judge Campbell agreed, that when users violated the World of Warcraft EULA, they no longer had a license to play the game and were therefore guilty of copyright infringement."

    I’m trying to find a better source, I had one a while back that was following the whole story but I don’t remember where it was now.

  3. Killj0y says:

    Not sure who called this idea brilliant.  Corey perhaps?


    The EULA is a legal straw man.  It’s a scarecrow meant to give lawyers something to send out C&D letters to people they don’t like.

    If it had ever been given a serious legal challenge I would say that we need to do something about it.


    As for education.  Teach children product liability law, teach them lemon laws, consumer protection laws and the bill of rights and then let them laugh at the EULA and tell the corporations that their petty little slip of paper isn’t going to protect their failing business model from the innovations of the next generation.

  4. JC says:

    I must chuckle at the irony he pointed out, but the phrase of "Don’t violate copyright law" is too vague for many uses. Basically that doesn’t do much except strip away all rights since everything basically requires that you break the copyright protection on it just so you can play your damn game. So in other words, you just make the law-abiding gamers criminals and treat them with more shit than being thankful for them actually buying but then immediately call them a pirate because of bugs that are out of their control.

    Oh, and whenever you make a back-up they’ll call it violating copyright law as well, despite the fact it is suppose to be the exception to that, besides fair use laws. Typically, I find that the moment you agree to an EULA, you basically say, "I’m ready to get screwed and hope it doesn’t happen to me."

    In my eyes, none of this is a fix. This is just beating around the issue instead of making these things illegal or something.

  5. JQuilty says:

    I don’t like it. "Copyright law" is too vauge and still doesn’t solve fair use issues like the cracking of DRM for personal use being illegal. And the EULA changes as law changes.

  6. Adrian Lopez says:

    EULAs and Open Source Licenses are both adhesion contracts. It’s just that Open Source licenses are adhesion contracts done right.

    The trick the commercial software publishers are pulling is trying to get you to agree to a license when you absolutely don’t have to. They want to sell you software retail, but treat the transaction as if it weren’t a sale. It’s basically a scam.

  7. d20sapphire says:

    To be honest, even though there are tons of DRMs and such out there, Doctorow’s proposed EULA is really all the gaming and music industry have right now.  There is nothing (that I know of) that 100% prevents someone from copying the data from a game or music file stored on any device.  If there is a will there is a way, and the consumers have shown there is definitely a will.

  8. Wolvenmoon says:

    Theoretically some do, and there have been threats brought about onto modders who push it too far. A special case would be morroblivion, which required an installed copy of morrowind+tribunal+bloodmoon. It, through batch files and an installer, (Intended to) ported all of morrowind’s content into oblivion.

    It was shut down and later picked back up, i don’t know what the current status is.

  9. Wonderful Lizard of Oz says:

    I’m scared of EULAs because I’m worried it may make game modding illegal, even when the mods are designed such that you need the original game to run them.

    Also, I think that sort of EULA is particularly ridiculous since the reason I want to make game mods is so that I can send them to the company that makes the game as a sort of tech demo for what I’d like to see from them in the future.

  10. Wolvenmoon says:

    (read my entire comment before replying)

    Too bad for the music and game industry. As the world changes, so must they.

    Or they could keep getting more and more hypocritical and piracy could become easier and completely untraceable to the point that law enforcement can’t get ahold of REAL internet criminals because the pirates have created the demand for complete online anonymity.

    I can just hear it now, rap music talking about the evils of copyright law on the same album about nailing a prostitute.

    Why not have a computer accessible in the next GTA game? If the protagonist tries to pirate something, give them a moral lesson about the dangers of piracy! Or you could even turn the entire prostitute faction against him! Militant sluts ftw.


    Here’s an EULA for them that I’ll claim to have spoken to every checkout clerk : "By selling me this title you agree that I own a single copy of this software and can do whatever the hell I want with it."

    Since there is no paper trail in a verbal agreement, and there is none in an EULA, I figure that this is about as legally binding.


  11. Firebird says:

    Here’s the world’s shortest, fairest, and simplest licence agreement: "Don’t violate copyright law."

    …and I am sure by then, Hell will freeze over.

    Not being critical here, but I see no solid solution for the EULA problem.

  12. sqlrob says:

    Except those aren’t EULAs. Some of the OSS licenses explicitly disclaim being a EULA (see GPLv2).

    Maybe pull false advertising claims on the companies? EULAs aren’t licenses, they aren’t granting something you’d not have otherwise.



  13. Adrian Lopez says:

    In addition to "don’t violate copyright law", a reasonable EULA might also say "you may also do the following things, otherwise prohibited by copyright law, subject to the following terms and conditions". Open Source licenses are often a good example of such a principle.

    Unfortunately, most EULA’s go beyond this reasonable principle and attempt create new rules out of thin air.

  14. gamadaya says:

    There are hundreds of thousands of lawyers working all the time on copyright law cases. If copyright law was so simple that you could just say "don’t violate it", then those lawyers wouldn’t need to exist.


    Internet troll > internet paladin

  15. hellfire7885 says:

    Sadly, I don’t see it happening, as that is too simple ane would leave too much open t oconsumers, at least how the copyright holders would likely see it.


    "game publishing lobby group ESA hopes to takes its anti-piracy "education" program into elementary schools."

    That can not turn out good. I can see it now.

    "IF you see a video game for sale at a yard sale ,report it to a police officer, because that person, is a pirate"

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