June 4, 2004

Macromedia Flash 7 licensing: The devil is in the details

Author: Joe Barr

Macromedia was trumpeting the news last week that a free version of its popular Flash 7 Internet client was now available for Linux. The new software gives Linux users greater access to multimedia content on the Internet than they would otherwise have. But careful readers of the licensing terms for Flash 7 urge caution for both end users and developers of Linux distributions.Under the terms of Macromedia's end user license agreement (EULA), you may install the player on only a single computer. If your family has multiple computers, I guess you're out of luck. The EULA specifically precludes installation on anything but Windows, Mac, Linux or Solaris desktop machines. If you're thinking of installing it on a laptop, forget it -- it's not allowed, nor are any other kinds of mobile computing devices.

If you're thinking this is silly or stupid, wait, there's more. Installing the software signals your acceptance of the terms, and those terms also include this little gem:

2. You agree that Macromedia may audit your use of the Software for compliance with these terms at any time, upon reasonable notice. In the event that such audit reveals any use of the Software by you other than in full compliance with the terms of this Agreement, you shall reimburse Macromedia for all reasonable expenses related to such audit in addition to any other liabilities you may incur as a result of such non-compliance.

Distribution problems?

NewsForge was contacted by Warren Woodford, creator of the MEPIS Linux distribution, asking if we were aware of the restrictions on redistribution of the Flash 7 player. We weren't, but we checked it out. According to the Macromedia Web site, such distribution is limited to Windows PCs. Period. There's no distribution allowed for ISVs or vendors of Linux, Mac, or Solaris versions. Warren told us:

If Macromedia stands by the current agreements as presented on its Web
site, then I'll have to create some sort of installer helper so users
can easily download and install Flash 7 for themselves with the
installer package coming from the Macromedia site. That is what I plan
to do for other players, if necessary.

If there were an opportunity to reason with Macromedia and urge an
enlightened approach to Linux, I would point out the NVIDIA EULA, which
explicitly makes an exception for Linux and allows their drivers to be
redistributed as long as the components, including written EULA, are not

The terms for distribution of the Flash 7 player currently displayed at the Macromedia Web site are very clear. They state "The free Macromedia Flash and Shockwave Players Distribution Program is designed for ISPs, enterprises, and software developers solely for the Windows PC (including Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT, ME and XP)."

Since the press release announcing the availability of the Linux version of Flash 7 contained endorsements by Novell, Red Hat, and Turbolinux, we found the situation curious, to say the least. After querying Macromedia, we received this response from company spokesperson Sandra Nakama:

We worked with the companies named in the release to enter into custom
agreements for them to distribute Flash Player 7. Now that we have released
the player we are going to revise the online licensing agreement to reflect
our support for redistribution of Flash Player on Linux desktops.

So it appears the licensing issues restricting distribution of Flash 7 on Linux are being addressed and will be removed. Still, for personal use, keep the restrictions on multiple machines and laptops in mind, because that auditing clause could bite you if you don't.


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