EULAs and Shrinkwrapped Software

I am writing the review for Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.  Doing some research, I found out that the PC version of the game uses SecuROM, which is one of the nastier DRM methods used on PC software discs.  In addition to this, Atari apparently only allows 3 installations of the game before blocking future installations.

According to many EULAs (End User License Agreements), you do not own the game at all: you are licensing one copy of the game on one machine at any one time.  Installing on more than one PC is technically piracy.

Then a thing occurred to me… you must accept the EULA to be able to play the game.  The EULA can only be read if you purchase the software and break the shrinkwrap… at which point the game is unreturnable to the retail store.

A binding contract that you can’t read until you’ve purchased the product controlled by said contract is absolute crap.  Any company that forced its customer to sign a binding contract without letting them read it would be thrown out of any court in America.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of ambiguity if shrinkwrapped EULAs are binding or not.  I don’t think this legal issue will be resolved anytime soon, especially with the  Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which takes away most of the rights of consumers.

The whole reason consumers may have issue with the whole EULA thing is because of DRM on many PC games.  The EULAs basically makes it legal for the company to block your installation if they think you’re a pirate.  In some extreme cases, once you install a game more than x times, it must be purchased again.

PC users have many legitimate reasons why they need to reinstall games over a lifetime.  There are hard drive crashes, hardware upgrades, OS re-installs… and legitimate users who purchased the game are the ones having to deal with all the grief.  Pirates aren’t affected or punished.  Legitimate users have turned to “hack” their legitimate game, even after spending their hard-earned cash, just to get around the constrictions of DRM.

This is one of the many reasons why Steam and other online distribution systems are great.  Steam doesn’t care how many times you install the software, because the DRM is tied to your account and not a physical disc.

Alan is a web architect, stand-up comedian, and your friendly neighborhood Grammar Nazi. You can stalk him on the Interwebs via Google+, Facebook and follow his ass on Twitter @ocmodshop.