Microsoft Reminds Everyone: You Do Not Own Your Software

from the don't-hit-the-nuke-button dept

With the proliferation of smartphones and other portable electronic devices such as tablet computers and e-readers, we are often left wondering, “Do we really own the books, games and other apps we pay money for?” Now that question has spread to your computer as well. PC World has revealed that Microsoft’s terms of service for its Windows 8 app store gives it the right to not only disable but also remove apps Windows 8 device owners paid money to own. In Microsoft’s own words:

In cases where your security is at risk, or where we’re required to do so for legal reasons, you may not be able to run apps or access content that you previously acquired or purchased a license for.

This is probably nothing new to users of the Amazon Kindle who had their copies of the book 1984 remotely deleted or to people who bought music from Rhapsody who had their DRM’ed tracks reduced to nothing over night. Nor is this unique to these businesses. As PC World also notes, both Apple and Google retain the right to remove software users of their devices “bought”. Businesses have been calling to question the ownership of digital products for quite some time. If we cannot prevent the loss of legally purchased products from those which sold these products to us, how can we really claim ownership?

If it is any consolation to you, Microsoft has told PC Mag that it will refund buyers of apps it deletes. However, any data you may have saved using the app will be completely lost. So not even the work that you put into this software is yours to claim ownership.

While Microsoft claims that it will primarily remove software in the case of security violations, it also retains this power for cases of “legal or contractual requirements.” This is quite the broad opening left here. With the looming threat of increased enforcement of Copyright through SOPA and PIPA, the idea that an app can be removed via a “legal requirement” creates yet another question over ownership. If an app we purchase ends up infringing some company’s copyright, patent or trademark, they could theoretically use that as a tool to remove that app from our devices.

We are moving further and further into a digital landscape for everything from movies, music, books, games and software. With this transition, companies that produce these products are working overtime to remind consumers that they are not owners of these products but merely licensees. We will not have the luxury of physical media on which we can claim ownership rights for much longer. Consumers for the last few years have been clamoring for more digital content. They have been the primary drivers of this transition. The only real question left is, do they realize the consequences that come with this change, and will they demand the right to claim ownership?

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Comments on “Microsoft Reminds Everyone: You Do Not Own Your Software”

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Louis Smith says:

What hypocrites!

Let’s see… google has the “right” to install products on my phone anytime they want – without my prior permission – and I don’t have the “right” (or ability) to uninstall that product without rooting my phone. They have the “right” to transmit massive amounts of data to my phone – without my permission – to give me books I don’t want on my phone. [note: lots of folks on google forums complaining about data overage bills] But if I do “buy” something from them that I do want, they have the “right” to delete it at will? uh… how’s this “serve the customer” again???

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’ve heard myself saying that over and over again in the past couple years. Never pirated due to my own laziness (I can live without) or incompetence (I can screw up with programs like I was getting paid to do it), but I absolutely understand the reason it happens: legally obtained supply continually fails market demand, the end.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

The Scariest Part

You know what scares me the most? That to a whole generation of people, this kind of remote-ownership of software/data is going to be seen as normal, natural and *shudder* even necessary.

Lately I’ve realized that I’m really, really lucky to be just old enough to have spent a few years with DOS and seen the emergence of Windows – because it means I actually understand what a computer is and how it works. What files are, and what programs (a word my brain still goes to before “apps”) are.

So when I hear about a digital movie “rental”, it’s just insulting and condescending – and when I hear about the remote shutdown of an app or deletion of a file it’s just seems like a total violation. And an app that won’t even run without contacting a server is fucking stupid engineering.

But at least I know how stupid and wrong all that stuff is. Now most people who use a computer don’t really know the difference between an application and a website. They don’t really understand what a browser is.

And I guess it makes sense and is inevitable to some degree. Most people who drive don’t know how a car works. But still, it freaks me out, because of stories like this one. I hope that people retain enough education about the machines they rely on to understand why digital information is infinite, and why remote management of their machines is a egregious, aggressive action.

DOlz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Scariest Part

In the late 1970’s I remember seeing a 16 inch by 16 inch by 6 inch, 5 Megabyte drive for an Apple IIe for $2,000. Also the first company I programmed for was proud of the 2 Megabytes of semi-conductor memory they had for their IBM 360. Each Megabyte stack was the size of a standard refrigerator. The computer on my desk has 10 Gigabytes memory and 4 Terabytes of internal storage. Talk about feeling old.

By the by, remember 8 inch floppies?

Rekrul says:

Re: The Scariest Part

Now most people who use a computer don’t really know the difference between an application and a website. They don’t really understand what a browser is.

Most people today couldn’t change their desktop resolution if their lives depended on it.

Pick anyone with a digital camera and I guarantee you that there are at least three copies of every photo sitting on the hard drive.

My friend needed my help to post an ad to Criagslist because they couldn’t figure out how to upload photos. Technically they were doing everything right, it just didn’t like their 2300×1700, 3MB files. Even if they knew the reason why it didn’t work, they wouldn’t have had any idea how to resize the images.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: The Scariest Part

There’s been, in the past few years, the idea pushed by sites like ZDNet and CNET that the browser is or SHOULD BE the operating system.

I know what utter crap that is but, as you say, there’s a lot of people who don’t know.

Nor do they know things like backup early and often and, in the case of data, synch to a place such deletions can’t access.

It’s true, literally speaking, that all I have is a license to my programs/apps whatever (let’s just say executable files) but that data is MINE, created by me for my own use with said executable file.

Back up, export to something readable like a text file if necessary but get it the hell off the device. In some cases and situations I’ll accept remote management as long as I’m fully aware of what it does and what I can do to bypass if I must.

At least Microsoft is being up front about this as opposed to a certain other iEverything company is.

Oh, and let’s not forget what I consider malware no matter how it got there, CarrierIQ.

Ain’t tech fun!

chris says:

Re: The Scariest Part

The other thing I don’t understand is people who seem to think an operating system can do nothing on it’s own. They’ve got to install an app for everything. Why would I need a program to copy pictures from a camera and organize my photos when the file browser works fine. For scheduled backups, what’s wrong with the Windows task manager? Others will want to download and install “File Deleter 6.0” which allows you to selectively delete old files from your computer to save disk space. A made up example but you get the idea.

Transbot9 (profile) says:

Back. It. Up.

I do not trust the cloud. Even without things like this, I do not trust the cloud. Technology breaks down. Networks have their own security issues.

Like preventing forest fires, only you can back up your data. Buy an external HDD (preferibly two) and mirror everything important – because when hardware fails or a company wants to delete what you purchased. Heck, a lot of people can keep their most important records on a couple of thumb drives. $20 can save a lot of money down the road if you just remember to Back It Up.

This has been a Public Service Announcement from someone who has been paid to recover data off dead computers. No, I do not like you screaming at me because you didn’t back it up and now have to pay me to recover your missing files, which may not be possible. Screaming does not make recovery attempts cheaper or faster. There is no discount for complainting. Yelling louder does not help. No, I am not responsible for you not following my advice.

Anonymous Coward says:

And an app that won’t even run without contacting a server is fucking stupid engineering.

So what happens when a DRM server is “broken” by the new SOPA/PIPA law if it passes? That’s truely the scary part. I’m not a big fan of digital media. This is why I still buy CD’s. You can’t delete data off a CD. I get to keep all the music I pay for.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So what happens when a DRM server is “broken” by the new SOPA/PIPA law if it passes?

Exactly. One of the many reasons it’s stupid engineering.

This is why I still buy CD’s. You can’t delete data off a CD. I get to keep all the music I pay for.

Well, iTunes music is DRM free now, as are many other stores – so you’re safe there.

chris says:

Re: You do not own your software.

If your talking the information in the abstract, than ownership is the wrong concept because the information itself can’t be owned. Some might be copyrighted but that doesn’t rise to the level of ownership. It’s more like an exclusive privilege and that privilege is to make copies. However since you likely willingly gave a copy of the information to them, you gave up control over that copy. If that information were actually copyrightable (it’s not) you could prevent them from giving copies to others but you can’t force them to destroy it which is an ownership right. They essentially own that copy. Plus, you probably agreed to enter into a contract with them which gave them the additional permission needed to make those copies and share them with others.

In summary, avoid entering into contracts where possible to keep your ownership rights over your own data, and the devices and software you buy.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Worth reading in this regard...

…is Zittrain’s essay:

The way out is, of course, not to purchase anything from Microsoft or Apple or Google or Sony or any of the others that have already proven that they’ll take it back without notice and without compensation whenever they feel like it. Everyone who buys anything from these companies is endorsing and supporting this practice by voting with their wallet. The only way to make it stop is to cut off their air supply: stop giving them money.

Hans says:

Re: This is why

Spaceman, best post of this thread!

Afters years of reading the abuses of MicroGates, XP is the last s/w I will ever buy from him.

I have said goodbye to Mr Softee, Sony, IApples and array of other companies, which have sought to control and manipulate their consumers…

For better or worse, Linux, should be the future for all…

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, here’s a real life clue. I recently tried a new game that has just been put out. I’ve mentioned before I won’t buy without trying it first. Been burned too many times with that method.

Anyway, this new to me game I’ve tried, I like. I went to buy it. Only the first thing I read on the outside of the box is that an internet connection is required to ‘license’ the game. At that point, I put the game back on the shelf and walked away without purchasing it. I’ve had it with DRM requirements that want an internet connection to game on single player.

Just because they want to spy on what is on your computer, control distribution, and do it on your dime doesn’t encourage me to buy. The game was around $60 and for me a heft charge. Still I would have bought it, had it not have had this internet connection requirement.

I don’t agree to that, will not agree to it, and purposely run a computer for gaming without net connection so it won’t phone home. This is money the gaming house would have gotten except for the requirements that stick like a thorn in my craw.

That requirement does not stop pirates, only those that would actually spend the money to support good game programming. AS a pirate, you wouldn’t have to put up with that for a minute.

So tell me who lost in that transaction that claims various rights in order to use the program?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is also my stance. Lost count of how much actual money companies have not gotten from me, not due to pirating but just plain not buying.

You and I and others like us are the last line of defense against loss yet we’re the first offered up for cannon fodder.

Puts me right off, that does.


A Guy (profile) says:

The Cloud, Apps, Remote License Management (DRM)

These things all make me shudder. If you wouldn’t trust some random guy down the street to manage your personal information and productivity tools, why trust some random corporation to?

I’m a semi satisfied windows 7 customer, but it looks like I won’t be participating in Windows 8. At the very least, I won’t be touching their official app store. I gave up on Red Hat a while ago due to inconvenience. Maybe it’s time to give Linux another go…

Luptin Pitman says:

Louis C.K. love-fest...

This was the part that surprised me about the love-fest for the Louis C.K. experiment that got completely glossed over here at Techdirt and everywhere else I looked. The part in the license agreement that states “we reserve the right to modify this agreement at anytime”. So I’m paying $5 for what again? You (Louis C.K.) are magnanimous and are giving me the opportunity to pay you for your works but you still dictate what I can do with it and also reserve the right to change your mind at a later date? W. T. F.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Louis C.K. love-fest...

That’s pretty standard along with the stuff that basically says “what you just acquired may or may not work. So sad, too bad. you’re on your own.”

All in all, I don’t mind either. I got it now so change away. It works so change away. Just don’t demand that I have an internet connection so it can call home. THAT, I’ll block and then fake.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Louis C.K. love-fest...

A lot of that notice on the Louis CK page was fairly standard legalese for these kinds of agreements. Obviously that’s still not great – I would very much like to see the end of the cover-all-your-bases-by-retaining-all-rights boilerplate that shows up in the TOS of most websites. But I don’t think you can take it as much of a statement – it’s not as if Louis said to his lawyers “make sure there’s a clause letting us screw people over later in case we want to!” (at least I highly doubt it) – it’s just something they put in because that’s what everyone puts in a TOS…

So it’s not great, but it’s not terrible either…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Louis C.K. love-fest...

“So I’m paying $5 for what again?”

A copy of the digital file and the opportunity to stream it at this present moment.

The agreement has already been changed (you’re allowed 3 downloads rather than the initial 2), but I think that clause was more regarding the streaming option and future support. i.e., at the time of launch, you could stream the video or download copies, but there will probably be an unspecified time in the future where neither service will be available, he might also decide to change the file formats, and so on.

Either way, you get to keep the file and Louis CK isn’t going to be able to suddenly remove the file from you if he wished. I don’t believe that the agreement would be changed in detriment to existing viewers, although I could be wrong. That’s the difference here.

Anonymous Coward says:

First off Mike, I have to congratulate you, it took 4 paragraphs before you tried to scare monger us about SOPA. Awesome, you are almost cured!

Second, welcome to the future. You didn’t want to do it any other way, so things are moving rapidly in a direction you won’t like. I find it endlessly amusing that Windows8 will work hard to stop security issues before they happen, and that includes getting rid of software that is at risk. I am laughing as more and more of you move onto “cloud based” solutions, including downloading software on the fly (see microsoft 365 as an example). What you seem to ignore is that it means that the providers can move your cheese at any time, they can change the product, and you have no recourse.

It’s a brave new world, welcome to it. You are the ones who shaped it, so enjoy it.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Do you think for one microsecond that I’m going to get “cloud” based software solutions like Office 365? I don’t even use the disk based version!
It’s a corporate targeted solution anyway, and more power to them if they can find a market there.
One of the annoyances of Win7 is that it tries to “stop security issues before they happen” just as Win8 will but it’s as leaky as it ever was and Win8 will be too.
There are very good reasons for that but I doubt you’re all that interested in wandering in the halls of techie stuff as you have neither interest in it or ability to understand it.
Nor am I moving to “cloud” based solutions. For example every picture I upload to Flickr is there to share not to store. I keep my own copies safely here, thank you.
Even moreso now given the insanity of SOPA and ICE I’m not about to trust my data to a cloud based solution based in the United States. (Or anywhere should it come to that.)
Anyway, I’m glad you’re amused, even if you’re mostly amused by fantasy of your own making and not reality.
They’ve always had the ability to change product and save files in incompatible ways. Hell, MS Office is infamous for it. And no, I don’t have any recourse, except to switch which I did long ago.
If I were you, though, I’d watch things like your last sentence. If we shaped the world, WE have the power to change it.
So, thank you very much, we’ll enjoy it as you freak out over fake issues like endless piracy, how poor and destitute the RIAA and MPAA are and several other things you get excited over.
I actually look forward to your posts, as illogical as they are and as full of untruths as they are (see, I even used Parliamentary language there to call you a liar) and how cowardly you are.
Reading you and imagining the foaming at the mouth as you type lightens up my day hugely.
The place won’t be the same without you once you get bored of being alternately ignored or insulted. Never worry though. We know another troll will come along.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Windows8 will work hard to stop security issues before they happen, and that includes getting rid of software that is at risk.”

I can only assume you’re referring to Windows 8 not allowing dual boot solutions? As in, if you install 8, you can’t install Linux as well. If so…then apparently, you know sweet fuck all about computers, if you’re actually saying that Linux is “software that is at risk”. Linux is not risky, at least not compared to Windows.

N2iT (profile) says:

I ran into this issue on steam and my games two years ago

The thread was “do I own this game?” and was meant to be a smart assed remark. stupid me thinking that I did I was complaning about steam updating Borederlands without my consent now when I started the thread I was mad about how they change the game. But that quickly changed as I was ridiculed jumped on called names by alot of people this went on for months the posts to this thread numbering in the thousands I was angry that they had the right and abbility to enter my computer without my permision and change something that I didn’t want them to that I had bought now I was told that I didn’t write the game so I didn’t own it I asked them if they made the car they drive and do they feel they own thier car? I compared what steam did to my game to me buying a Ford car and them picking it up in middle night painting it tity pink and getting mad at me because I didn’t like the color. Now I still don’t think this is right I think what we pay for and is contained in our computers or phone or what ever should be ours like a renter has rights in the courts and the landlord can’t gain entry wthout prior notifacation what up here?

Anonymous Coward says:

A relevant slashdot post that I’ve copied over to techdirt twice (I hope the author doesn’t think I’m infringing) is the following

“”That’s the beauty of software these days. You purchased the hardware, which you have in your possession. You didn’t purchase the software. You purchased a “license” to the software. Sony is still providing you with software, albeit in updated form. They fixed a bunch of bugs, and added new “features.” What’s not to like?

This is the fundamental problem with software “sales” as they currently exist. They’re a hybrid sale/license, such that the laws associated with sales and licenses don’t really apply well. The software industry hops to the side that benefits them the most. Oh, you want to sell your copy of SuperMetalHaloBrothers ? Sorry, you *licensed* the software, and the license is non-transferrable. Oh, your kid munged your CD for SuperMetalHaloBrothers and, since it’s licensed, you’d like to just get replacement media? Sorry, you *purchased* the item and you’ll need to re-purchase it because the original item was destroyed.””

Posted by Migraineman (632203)

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Exactly. I remember a while back hearing that Sony does agree that you do own the PS3 hardware once you’ve paid for it, you can install your own OS on it if you want to…the only problem with this? To install another OS, you’d have to circumvent the restrictions placed on the pre-installed PS3 OS, which is currently illegal. So they’re basically saying “Of course, you can do whatever you want with your PS3, so long as its what we tell you to do”, reminiscent of the famous Ford quote “You can have any colour you want, so long as its black”.

Steve R. (profile) says:

The Whole Concep of "Sale" is Under Attack

Property rights, as a concept, do not simply belong to the content creators. When your purchase a product you supposedly gain a property right to that product. Well, that property right is being eliminated.

Unfortunately, those (content creators) who scream the loudest about their so-called property rights being abused are hypocrites concern the property rights of others. They refuse to accept that anyone else can have a property right.

chris says:

1) In one version of a fair world, large software companies wouldn’t use their enormous wealth to buy legislation that benefits them at the expense of the majority such as the DMCA, and people wouldn’t download illegal copies of software.

2) Large companies get to write the laws.

3) People download illegal copies of software.

4) Combine 2 & 3 and that seems pretty fair to me.

aikiwolfie (profile) says:

Why All The Fuss?

As much as I hate Microsoft I can’t help but think some of the fuss over Microsoft’s terms of service for it’s new on-line software repository … err … store is a bit of a storm in a tea cup.

Any system where software is updated be it on-line or by DVD or whatever gives the vendor a potential kill switch. So “kill switches” have always been there. They’re nothing new.

Microsoft have always maintained as most software companies have done, that you are purchasing a license to use the software within the scope of their EULA. And indeed technically speaking it’s the same situation with open source software. Even though OSS licences do tend to be a lot more liberal, the original developer holds on to their copyright. Why would that change just because Windows 8 is just around the corner?

Frankly it’s all a load of fuss over nothing to get people talking about Windows 8. Which Microsoft really needs. And sadly it’s working.

The current view in the industry is Windows 8 will flop. Which has Microsoft already talking about changes before the final launch. As with Windows Vista and Windows 7, the only people buying Windows 8 will be Microsoft die hards and consumers who aren’t offered a choice when they buy a new PC with the OS pre-installed.

Could it be 3 strike and Ballmer’s out!?!

Chris says:


This article and some of the comments thereto, seem to demonstrate a startling misunderstanding of the law and intellectual property. When one “buys” software one does not purchase it per se; rather, it is LICENSED to that person, not sold. If I were to go to Best Buy and purchase a copy of Microsoft Office, I would be paying Microsoft for the right to use that specific software and to install it on as many computers as are permitted within the End User License Agreement: a binding contract by which both I and Microsoft must abide. However, Microsoft retains final ownership of this software, which is their intellectual property. Pirating is illegal and is no more excusable than stealing a television from Walmart because their prices are too high. If Microsoft were to suddenly terminate my ability to use the product I have been licensed, I would be entitled to a refund. If you do not agree with the legitimate and legal licensing practices of a particular company, it is your right as a free market consumer to abstain from doing business with said company; and you are entitled to seek other proprietary and open ended alternatives. Stealing; however, is not an alternative to a legitimate license of proprietary software.

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