EULAs That Users Can Appreciate

By Vasken Sayre

No one these days seems to read a EULA (End User License Agreement). It’s as important to a software release as compiled code, but the dense content of a EULA is not relevant to all but a few users. Even software publishers suspect how meaningless a EULA is to the average user, considering the tricks they employ to force users into scrolling down and pressing “Accept”. So why is it that, instead of remaining behind the walls with the rest of the duct work and wiring, a EULA is shoved to the forefront of the UX through a ragged hole in the intended experience? We all know that legal teams are just trying to cover their assets, but there is a more sensible solution for accomplishing this, and without devaluating the very software experience that the EULA is trying to serve. Consider the following …

© Copyright Means I Can Copy That, Right?

Actually, “no” you can’t. And as a user you know this because everyone intuitively understands the legal precedent behind the © Copyright symbol; all 350 pages of it. And so the entirety of this text is no longer foisted upon users before they’re permitted to read a book, watch a film or use software. The © Copyright symbol, accompanied by no more than the date and identity of the copyright holder, is completely sufficient.

The Difference Between The ® And ™ Symbols

Most users can’t accurately define the differences between these two symbols, but that doesn’t matter because users still get to use the software, and the trademarks are still protected whether they’re registered ® or not . There’s no need for users to read 256 pages of legal text to be subject to trademark laws or protected by them; the symbols alone are sufficient.

Actions Speak Louder Than Legal Text

To use closed captioning, users don’t need to get embroiled in the brouhaha between CC services and copyright holders. The fact that the CC option is available in an explicit way implies that users are granted permission by the software developer to turn ON closed captioning, and to use them responsibly.

Integrating with Facebook requires a user to do little more than log in. Agreement to all of the cross-shared licenses, restrictions, etc. is implicit in the action itself. ‘Nuff said.

Subscribing to RSS feeds, posting to Pinterest, embedding links—all of these features enable users to implicitly agree to legal licenses through the actions they take.

I’m Starting To See A Pattern Here

That’s because patterns are “a good thing,” enabling us to design usability improvements that will be readily understood and adopted by everyone. As we can see from the patterns in the previous examples, there is no need to dump an overwhelming volume of legal text upon users in order for them to agree to a license. All that’s needed is some combination of:

  1. Symbolic representations of key concepts.
  2. Delineation of only the essential exceptions (such as date, location, or owner).
  3. Explicit actions that imply agreement through their use.

I suspect there is a legion of visual designers who could suggest better iconography than a UX generalist such as myself. However, it really shouldn’t take a legion of legal experts to create a EULA more complex than the above, considering that if any litigation did arise there would be no difference in the scope of legal maneuvering by the parties involved. So let’s seize the initiative and transform the ubiquitous EULA experience into something that users might actually comprehend and appreciate. Or, we could continue turning a blind eye to this unlovable warthog as it relentlessly tramples first impressions of our software… because first impressions don’t matter to prospective users, right?