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end user license agreementEULAs, or End-User License Agreements, are one of the evils of modern life. These are endlessly wordy agreements, usually written in tiny print. These are the things you blindly scroll down, looking for that darn “I agree” button, whenever you install an application (or, in Apple’s case, an update to an application). Well, that thing you’re clicking yourself into is actually a binding legal contract (at least in most cases).

Look For The Printer-Friendly Version

Here’s the Google Chrome end user license agreement, for example:

end user license agreement

See how you need to scroll through that whole agreement just to read it? This is particularly dumb in this case, because the agreement is shown in a large, white, empty browser window. Here’s what the whole window looks like on my monitor:

end user licensing

Amazing, isn’t it? Fortunately, the link for the printer-friendly version transforms it into something that doesn’t require quite that much scrolling to read:

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end user licensing

That’s the same window as above, on the same monitor. Still daunting, but at least we’re getting somewhere now. Let’s continue on to the other tips and see if we can get this any simpler.

Scan For Bold Or Colored Sections

Just about every legal agreement has bold section titles. This is very useful – you can just scan these titles for one that looks relevant to what you want to know, and then zoom in on that. For example, many people who read EULAs want to know what the software vendor does with their personal data. Let’s take another look at the Chrome one, this time closer up:

end user licensing

You see how the Privacy section just pops out at you? This isn’t just because it’s in the middle of the screenshot, but also because it’s bold.

Now, when speaking of “colored sections”, this can be either your own coloring, or the vendor’s. For example, here’s what Chrome does when I search (Ctrl+F) for Privacy on the page:

what is an end user license agreement eula?

See how scannable that is? I can just rapidly scroll through the end user license agreement, and the information I want to read will pop out at me, even if it says something about privacy in some other section. Some vendors are extra-nice and color their own licenses for you, to make important parts stand out. Check out the Terms of Service for WordPress.com:

what is an end user license agreement eula?

Automattic (makers of WordPress) are really serious about not hosting any spam blogs, and make this abundantly clear in their terms. Of course, looking for sections colored by the vendor only shows what the vendor cares about, not necessarily what you care about. But it still works to quickly answer some of the questions you may have (such as “may I host my automated article-scraping spam blog on WordPress.com?” which is hopefully not a question you really have).

Make it More Readable

Sometimes it can feel like vendors actually try to make EULAs difficult to read. I mean the physical action of reading here – what you have to do before you can try to understand the text. Check out Blizzard’s EULA for World of Warcraft:

what is an end user license agreement eula?

Okay, nice work on those bold titles. But otherwise, this is tiny white text on a dark background. How is that readable? Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered quite 4 Tools To Make Web Pages Easier To Read For People With Poor Eyesight (Firefox) 4 Tools To Make Web Pages Easier To Read For People With Poor Eyesight (Firefox) Read More a few 4 Tools To Make Web Pages Easier To Read For People With Poor Eyesight (Firefox) 4 Tools To Make Web Pages Easier To Read For People With Poor Eyesight (Firefox) Read More tools for making webpages more readable. Let’s try applying one of my favorites, called Readability The New Readability Addon Converts Pages To Read-Friendly Format The New Readability Addon Converts Pages To Read-Friendly Format Read More , to this EULA.

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How much saner is that? Readability lets you control just about every possible formatting parameter, so you can tweak the page until it’s just right for you, grab a mug of tea and just sit there and read the agreement without feeling like your eyes are getting bloodshot after a while.

Look Up Words You Don’t Understand

Legal agreements often contain legalese – difficult English meant at lawyers rather than ordinary people. When you come across a word that makes no sense (but is important for what you’re trying to understand), just take a moment and look it up in a dictionary. My personal favorite is the OneLook dictionary search engine. We’ve spoken of its Reverse Dictionary Use A Definition To Find The Word With OneLook's Reverse Dictionary Use A Definition To Find The Word With OneLook's Reverse Dictionary Read More feature before, but OneLook is a very capable search engine which works with a huge range of dictionaries. Just type in the word you want to find, and get it defined in a huge number of dictionaries around the Web:

end user license agreement

What tricks do you use when you actually want to understand whatever it is you’re agreeing to? Did I miss anything important? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Michael
    October 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I had a freeware product before my last desktop packed it in,but couldn't remember the name.I just googled for it and found it: http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/eulalyzer.html
    Works pretty well for highlighting sections worth a closer look.

  2. Martin Fjellhøy
    October 14, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I don't read much of the EULA, but for people who do - and want to understand more of what it says, I recommend trying out these two apps:
    License Analyzer: http://www.spywareguide.com/analyze/analyzer.php (Webapp)
    EULAlyzer: http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/eulalyzer.html (Stand-alone client)
    They will analyze the EULA for you, and highlight the important parts.

  3. MrBill
    October 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

    I read the EULA, especially if it a Microsoft license. I scroll to the part that says, you may return the software for a full refund. I quickly print the document, hilight that section and in the case of a new computer, I return it to the store and ask for a refund. In all cases it was a Windows EULA. Why would I want a refund? I don't agree with the license, that simple. Of course I then install Linux since the only thing I want refunded is the cost of the OS not the PC.

  4. I eat EULAs for breakfast
    October 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I take the licence to apply my own rules to EULAs:

    "EULAs should not be embedded in executables, delivered in potentially dangerous formats (e.g. DOC), or require installation of additional software beyond plain text viewers or web browsers (e.g. PDF).

    EULAs should not be presented or formatted in a deliberately inconvenient manner, e.g. tiny font size which cannot be increased, lengthy text in a small window that requires excessive scrolling, or excessive capitalization. Unfavorable terms should not be buried in lengthy irrelevant text, obfuscated by deliberately confusing legalese, or obscured in any other way. Any terms that may restrict my rights or compromise my privacy should be displayed clearly and prominently.

    I reserve the right to ignore any EULA that does not meet these availability and readability standards, and install and use the software on my terms instead."

  5. R Ze
    October 13, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    I do the same thing by either scrolling to the bottom in order to check the box or just check the box if you don't have to scroll. I do sometimes read the things but that would be rarely when I do.

    • Erez Zukerman
      October 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      I think most people are like that, and might be surprised by what they find if they took the time to read an EULA sometime.

  6. Joshua Clarke
    October 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I never read these things...

    *scrolls to bottom* "I accept" *click*

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