Not long ago a small software company offered a big cash reward to anyone who read the End User License Agreement (or EULA) for their software product. The catch: you have to read the EULA to even know about the offer.

PC Pitstop buried a clause in their EULA that offered the reward to anyone who sent a message to the enclosed email address. The point was to prove that people rarely, if ever, read their software licenses. They were right – four months and 3,000 downloads later, one sharp-eyed end user finally wrote in and claimed the $1,000 prize. See http://www.pcpitstop.com/spycheck/eula.asp

Software developers are well aware of the fact that the end users who buy their products rarely read their license agreements. Many people are surprised to discover that the EULAs for their software might contain provisions granting the software company the right to conduct an onsite software audit with no notice, waive important consumer rights or other draconian measures which they would never knowingly agree to.

But this trend is changing as more IT professionals discover the importance of understanding their EULAs. Before Windows VISTA was released, Microsoft made the EULA publicly available. Not long after the IT community was in an uproar over some of the proposed provisions, including one that only allowed the end user to transfer the installation to a new system once (upgrading your existing system could constitute such a transfer as well). After that, you’re done. Want to transfer that software twice, or make a couple of upgrades? Go buy another copy of Windows then. That was essentially what the new license stated.

So what happened when the IT community raised their concerns? Not long afterwards, Microsoft removed the EULA and replaced it with a new, more user friendly version. See http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/420.

This is an important development; as IT professionals and attorneys continue to scrutinize these agreements, software developers will increasingly bring their licenses in line with consumer expectations. These examples prove that it can (literally) pay to read those license agreements.