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EULAs, indemnification, and user protection

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End user licence agreements (EULA) are nobody's favorite reading. Users of free and open source software (FOSS), who are accustomed to licences that give no warranty and admit no liability, may be even less inclined to read EULAs than most computer users. Perhaps, though, we should start. Over the last few years, commercial GNU/Linux distributions have been wrestling with the question of whether users should be indemnified in the event that a third party patent is upheld -- and, in some cases, their answers are starting to appear in their EULAs. However, whether these varying answers offer better protection than the GNU General Public License remains unproven.

Until recently, EULAs in GNU/Linux have been short and to the point. As far as legally possible, they offer no warranty, and liability is never mentioned. Many non-commercial distributions and projects, such as the Debian Project, continue to be released under such licences.

Yet, slowly, some commercial distributions are taking a different route. In the last few years, indemnification has become an increasingly important issue in FOSS communities, largely because of the SCO-IBM case. Claiming ownership of Unix, SCO alleges that IBM has allowed copyrighted code to pass from System V Unix to GNU/Linux.

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