Friday, September 17, 2010

If notebooks were treated like software

Here's a small thought experiment.

Consider a notebook: not the high-tech computer notebook gizmos of late, but your run-of-the-mill spiral-bound paper notebook, the kind you write on with a pen or a pencil. It's so cheap and ordinary we don't give much thought to it. You scribble on it, you read it, and that's that.

Now what if, just consider what if, all the paper notebooks in the world were owned by the companies that made them. Those companies would have the exclusive rights to the manufacture, distribution, and use of notebooks.

If you needed a notebook, you would pay to get it from one of those companies...but...you wouldn't really own the notebook. Having exclusive rights, the company you got it from would still own it. The company would only give you the rights to use the notebook, for your use exclusively, and to only use it for writing. At any time, the company can look into your notebook to see what you used it for.

If you violated those rights, let's say by tearing out a page and making a paper hat, or by doodling flowers on it, or by letting a friend write on "your" notebook, the company reserves the right confiscate the notebook and throw you in jail.

That sounds like a crummy deal, right? And it is. But guess what: that's the case with proprietary software nowadays.

Consider the Microsoft End-User License Agreement (EULA). This is the document that governs the use of software like Windows. This is a legally-binding document, mind you, honored and enforced by the Philippine government. (It doesn't matter that you didn't read it, you agreed to it when you installed the software on your computer.)

Item 8 of the Windows 7 Professional EULA states:

SCOPE OF LICENSE. The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the features included in the software edition you licensed. The manufacturer or installer and Microsoft reserve all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not:
  • work around any technical limitations in the software;
  • reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble the software, except and only to the extent that applicable law expressly permits, despite this limitation;
  • use components of the software to run applications not running on the software;
  • make more copies of the software than specified in this agreement or allowed by applicable law, despite this limitation;
  • publish the software for others to copy;
  • rent, lease or lend the software; or
  • use the software for commercial software hosting services.

Microsoft is my favorite example, but is by no means the only culprit. Several other software companies also impose similar restrictions.

If our notebooks were placed under the same set of rules as our software, there would be no paper airplanes, or paper hats, or doodles on their pages. You couldn't tear out binding to see what glue they used. You couldn't lend your notebook to a friend, much less give it away. You couldn't do any of these things because the notebooks wouldn't be yours.

It's a crummy deal, right? For notebooks as well as software.

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