Does copyright give companies the right to search your home and computer?

One reason why copyright has become so important in the digital age is that it applies to the software that many of us use routinely on our smartphones, tablets and computers. In order to run those programs, you must have a licence of some kind (unless the software is in the public domain, which rarely applies to modern code). The need for a licence is why we must agree to terms and conditions when we install new software. On Twitter, Alvar C.H. Freude noticed something interesting in the software licence agreement for Capture One: “world-class tools for editing, organizing and working with photos” according to the Danish company that makes it (found via Wolfie Christl). The licence begins by warning:

if you do not agree to the terms of this license, you may not install or use the software but should promptly return the software to the place where you obtained it for a refund.

That’s normal enough, and merely reflects the power of copyright holders to impose “take it or leave it” conditions on users. Less common is the following:

Capture One or a third-party designated by Capture One in its sole discretion has the right to verify your compliance with this License at any time upon request including without limitation to request information regarding your installation and/or use of the Software and/or to perform on-site investigations of your installation and use of the Software.

If you use Capture One, you must provide “without limitation access to your premises, IT systems on which the Software is installed”, and “Capture One or an Auditor may decide in their sole discretion to apply software search tools in accordance with audits.”

That is, thanks to copyright, a company is perfectly able to demand the right to access a user’s premises, the computer systems they use, and to run search tools on that system as part of an audit. Although this applies to business premises, there’s no reason a software licence could not demand the same right to access somebody’s home. In fact, there are really no limits on what may be required. You’re not obliged to agree to such terms, but most people do, often without even checking the details.

The fact that such requirements are possible shows how far copyright has strayed from the claimed purpose of protecting creators and promoting creativity. Copyright has mutated into a monster because it was never designed to regulate activities, as it does with software, just static objects like books and drawings.

Featured image by Nina Paley.

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