Thursday, May 12, 2005

License Insanity

I've generally managed to avoid non-free software lately, but the other day I was asked to install the new Adobe reader at work, and (having an attack of morbid curiosity) I decided to read its license. Some of the provisions in there are truly jaw-dropping, at least if you've been away from the Gollum software culture for long enough to forget what it's like on the "other side". Bear in mind that you can download this software for free off Adobe's Web site; nonetheless, you are forbidden to:

  • Use anything other than NFS on UNIX or Windows Terminal Services to remotely access the software. This clause excludes, as far as I can tell, NFS on Linux (Linux is not UN*X), SMB on any operating system, more obscure filesystems (Coda, AFS, Intermezzo, etc); it also forbids you from running acroread over an SSH tunnel or via VNC.
  • Back the software up more than once. (<BSA>rotating back-up tapes, are you? Take that, lawbreaker! *smack*</BSA>)
  • Make it more convenient in any way to install the software.
  • Make it more convenient to use the software, by integrating it with other graphics software.
  • Save data in PDF forms on your local filesystem, and don't you dare even THINK about trying to find a workaround! (I think this means that it's illegal for you to use cups-pdf with acroread. You hear that, you cups-pdf-using pirates, you??)
  • Install the software on two computers that might be simultaneously used, unless you download a separate copy for the other computer. Actually, I'm not clear on whether you're allowed to ever use this on more than two computers (they only seem to give permission to install it once, with a special exception for non-simultaneous use on two).
  • Use certain features of the software (not clear what) with documents that haven't obtained permission from Adobe to use those features.
  • Be a citizen of Serbia, Sudan, or Iran (among others).
  • Refuse to perform an audit of your licenses for this software, should Adobe demand that you do so.
  • Install an upgrade of acroread without purging all older versions. (Death to those vile IP-destroying staged rollouts!!)
  • There's also the usual "thou shalt not reverse-engineer" clause. (but if you are permitted by law, then you may reverse-engineer it -- PROVIDED that you first ask Adobe to give you the information and they refuse. That's nice of them, don't you think? Oh, did I mention that requests for information go through Customer Service? And that you are forbidden to tell anyone else what you learned?)

...however, if you refrain from doing all that, Adobe will graciously deign to permit you to run its software. Did I mention that all this is for software you can download for free off the Internet?

With every passing day, I become more convinced that Wonko the Sane had the right idea. And just to reinforce that thought, I am not a lawyer and this really, really, really is not legal advice.

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