Consumer ‘rights’ in a digital world

This morning’s Observer column.

You go to Waterstone’s, buy a copy of Orwell’s 1984 and take it home. Two days later you get up and find that agents of Waterstone's have entered the house during the night and removed the offending volume. They’ve left a terse note explaining what they’ve done and enclosing a credit note for the cost of the book. Enraged, you phone the manager of Waterstone's, who explains that everything is in accordance with the service agreement you accepted when you bought the book.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that this would not be tolerated in the real world of physical objects.Yet it's commonplace – indeed universal – in the world of information goods. And what makes it possible is the ‘End User Licence Agreement’ (EULA) that most of us click to accept when we first use hardware, software or online services.

The Kindle EULA is a good example…