Limits of Licenses

John Cowan jcowan at
Mon Mar 27 19:43:07 UTC 2000

"Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M." wrote:
> I do not know why, but people often think that contracts of adhesion are unlawful.

Possibly because they offend people's sense of fair play?

> > > Can a copyright license demand that I stop using a work that I
> > have acquired
> > > lawfully if I later violate the license and infringe on the
> > copyright? Can
> > > it demand that I destroy my copy?
> The short answer is yes. Shareware agreements make such demands frequently.

Shareware licenses, though, are regular use licenses like EULAs; they don't
have the special flavor of "conditional non-exclusive transfer of copyright".
> Sure, you can. You can also use self-help measures to protect your copyright.

How's that?  Do you really think the following notice printed on a book's
cover would stand up?

	"You may make a single Xerox copy of this book and give it
	to your spouse, if you have one.  If you make any other copies,
	however, you are required to burn them all, and this copy too."

I suggest that the last four words are not enforceable.  You have lawfully
acquired your copy, and you get to keep it.  Still less can the copyright
holder seize your purchased copy and burn it, just because you have violated
his copyright.

Now if you didn't acquire the book by way of outright sale, but have
mere detention of it under some (non-copyright) contract or other, the
author may be entitled to do those things, provided you (were fool enough to)
agree to his terms.


Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan at>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  ||
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           ||
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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