Microsoft recently announced a deal with BMW Group to use Windows CE in the navigation systems of its cars. That much is reality, but what follows is my vision of a future scenario we might expect should current licensing trends continue. If you have been paying attention, though, you'll realise such a future might not be all that distant.
FBI: Interrogation of Ms Lisa Jones is commencing at 3.23pm. I am Agent Frank Murphy of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's copyright squad. With us in the room is Mr Ellis Preston, counsel representing ABC Motors Corporation. Ms Jones, do you acknowledge that you have been informed of your rights to have an attorney present if you wish, and that you have agreed to Mr Preston's participation in this interview?
Jones: Yes ... yes, there's just been some mistake. I didn't do anything ... I just want to clear this up.
Preston: Thank you, Ms Jones, so do we. Could you just describe for us the incident you had this morning involving your ABC Motors vehicle?
Jones: You mean when I couldn't get the car started again? I've been having so much trouble with that "electronic key" ignition system lately, I've been late to work every day this week. I was really anxious to be on time today, so I called your emergency service line. When they couldn't help me get the electronic key working, I asked them how to disconnect it so I could just start the car with the regular key.
Preston: So you specifically asked them to help you disconnect the electronic system. Ms Jones, don't you understand that's a violation of federal law? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it a crime to tamper with digital rights management technology. In asking our service representatives to help you do that, you were asking them to be your accomplices in infringing Microsoft's intellectual property rights.
Jones: Copyright Act? Microsoft? What does any of that have to do with me trying to start my car?
Preston: When you purchased your ABC Motors vehicle, the dashboard display presented a notice that your use of the electronic systems was governed by an end user licence agreement with Microsoft Corporation. You were given the opportunity to read that licence agreement right on the dashboard display before agreeing to accept it. Did you read that agreement before you started the car?
Jones: I tried to, but the print was so small I had to bend over and peer through the steering wheel. And it was taking so long to scroll through it, I think I just gave up and pushed the "I accept" button. The salesman said I had to do that or I couldn't start my car.
Preston: Yes, well, if you had read the licence agreement when you had the chance, you would have seen that Microsoft places certain restrictions on the use of its software that we at ABC Motors, as a Microsoft OEM, are obligated to help enforce.
In order to protect its intellectual property from possible illegal transfer, Microsoft forbids you to disconnect any part of the electronic system. Furthermore, Microsoft reserves the right to have us install updates to their software and their digital rights management capabilities when you bring your car in for service.
Jones: When my car is serviced? Is that why I started having all this trouble starting my car right after my last oil change? You must have put some new software in my car without telling me, and it's got some kind of bug. They can't do that, can they?
FBI: They can if it's part of your contractual relationship with Microsoft, Miss.
Preston: I'm not at liberty to say if there was a "bug" as you call it, Ms Jones. I do want to point out to you, however, that neither Microsoft nor ABC Motors bears any responsibility for fixing any such defects with your vehicle. Again, if you had read your licence agreement, you would know this.
Jones: Wait a minute. I don't know about Microsoft, but there is no way ABC can say they aren't responsible for any defects in my car. I have a 50,000-mile warranty.
Preston: Indeed you do. But in order to protect its rights under copyright law, Microsoft includes essential system components -- such as the drive train, brakes, tires -- as part of its licence agreement with you. Under Virginia law, which just so happens to be the law Microsoft chose to govern your agreement, you and Microsoft can opt to include whatever parts you choose as part of this transaction. But I believe that under your warranty, ABC is still responsible for any defects in the workmanship of the floor mats.
Jones: I can't believe this. Why wasn't I told any of this before I bought my car? Why couldn't I have been given a readable copy of this "licence" when I was signing all those papers in the dealership?
Preston: It's called freedom of contract, Ms Jones, and it's one of your most important rights. You and Microsoft can choose to enter into this contractual relationship in whichever way is most mutually beneficial and convenient.
Jones: This is insane. I don't care how big it is, Microsoft can't treat American consumers in such a shoddy manner. Just wait until I call the newspapers and tell them about all this.
Preston: Oh, dear. You really shouldn't have said the word "shoddy," Miss Jones. Agent Murphy?
FBI: Lisa Jones, I'm placing you under arrest for criminal violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Jones: Why? What did I do?
Preston: You just violated the most critical terms of your licence agreement right in front of us, I'm afraid: You disparaged Microsoft.
Disparage whomever you wish in your letters to Ed Foster, InfoWorld's reader advocate. Contact him at email@example.com.