Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Monday, May 09, 2005

Product Activation vs. Customers' Rights

On my work machine, Windows threatened to stop working in 3 days unless I reactivated it--even though my hardware had not changed. This is not the first time I've seen this happen. Fortunately, the online activation went through without a hitch. But what if it hadn't? I might have ended up losing a lot of productivity--not because of any real problem. Only because of an artificial, ill-conceived, and entirely one-sided operating system "feature".

Why should Microsoft even have the right do do that? Once they have your money, what right do they have to unilaterally rescind your right to use the product you paid for? has a statement of principles regarding customers' rights which I agree with wholeheartedly. Under the heading "Customers are entitled to control their own computer systems", they have this to say [emphasis added]:

A. Unless a product is clearly labeled as limited to a certain time or number of users or restricted to use on a certain system, sellers must not directly or indirectly disable the product or terminate a customer's rights in the product without a court order. Other legal remedies are readily available to sellers.

I hadn't thought of it that way before, but Microsoft's deactivating your operating system when it thinks your hardware has changed is tantamount to seizure of property without due process.

So why do we let Microsoft get away with this?

UPDATE: I did a little Googling and found I'm not the first blogger to ask whether copy protection is unconstitutional. This blog post suggests that product activation violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure as well as the Fifth Amendment guarantee against deprivation of life, liberty, and property without due process of law.

UPDATE II: I found a follow-up to the previous post. Many readers pointed out that product activation can't be considered unconstitutional, because the Bill of Rights only protects citizens against the government. But another reader argued that, since the DMCA effectively gives product activation the force of law, constitutional limits should apply after all.


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