Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Can You Criticize Your Computer Software?

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Can You Criticize Your Computer Software?

Article excerpt

Who's in charge of what you do or say with your computer equipment? You, or the companies who sell it to you? While none of us are completely in control of our destiny - even the most unfettered work under the sway of someone else in one way or another - one of the reasons for the success of the personal computer revolution is how PCs empower individuals.

More and more, however, computer companies are trying to wrest that control away from you.

Before delving into this, here's an idea about how we all can empower ourselves: sharing secrets. What computing tips or littleknown computer programs or Web sites do you find indispensable and feel that others might benefit from? E-mail them to me, and I'll construct a future column around the best of them.

The latest controversy surrounding control issues involves software end-user license agreements, or EULAs. When you buy a software program, you typically don't actually own it. You're just buying a license to use it.

How you use the program is governed by the wording of the EULA, which usually is printed on the envelope that holds the program's disc and also appears on screen when you install the program.

Open and install the software, and you must agree to abide by its license provisions, including whether you can copy the program onto more than one computer. Many EULAs use arcane legalese to try to absolve the software company of all responsibility if the program doesn't work as advertised or even work at all.

The most controversial software license issue involves free speech. Did you know that with some software, you're not allowed to criticize it without first asking the software company's permission?

Imagine not being able to read a movie review from your favorite reviewer because the movie studio didn't let the reviewer publish his not-so-favorable opinions. Imagine the same happening with CDs, books, restaurants and so on.

You might think this is much ado about something little, just overzealous lawyers trying to cover themselves with no prospect of companies actually exercising the rights they force you to sign over to them.

After all, these no-critique provisions fly in the face some of our society's most cherished ideals - about a free and open marketplace of ideas - not to mention the spirit of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

What's more, some legal experts feel these agreements aren't or shouldn't be legally binding because by the time you've determined what you need to agree to - that is after you've bought the software - it's too late to back out of the agreement. …

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