A few of weeks ago, as I do most days while not traveling (I am writing this article on a train from Manchester, England to Edinburgh, Scotland), I was hanging out on TeamTalk with our usual crowd of blind hackers, technology freaks and other friends who join us on occasion. That day, one of my buddies said he had heard a rumor about the JAWS license agreement but didn’t know if it was true or not.
The rumor was that, since releasing the new 90 day evaluation version of JAWS that Freedom Scientific had also changed its end user license agreement (EULA) to prohibit using the no cost 40 minute demo version for any reason other than evaluating it to decide if you would later choose to purchase the product. In brief, this means that a sighted programmer is prohibited from downloading the 40 minute version to use as an accessibility testing tool.
As with many rumors in this community and elsewhere, it’s actually partially true and partially false. The part that was incorrect is that FS added this language to its EULA after releasing the 90 day version of the program. The part that is true and, according to an article on the WebAIM site, has been true for a long time is that it is indeed a violation of its EULA to use the 40 minute demo version of JAWS as a testing tool.
To learn if the rumor was true, I got a copy of the JAWS 16 EULA and read the entire thing. It’s not very long, is written largely in plain English but contains a number of things that I found interesting. I will be quoting directly from the EULA which is also covered by the FS copyright but I will assume that the US laws on fair use of materials in journalism is acceptable under our nation’s copyright laws and will assume FS will not sue me for informing my readers because I excerpted a handful of sentences from their EULA. If they decide to sue me, I’ll ask you, my loyal readers, to help with the legal fees but I doubt it will come to that.
My Favorite Part Of The EULA
The first sentence in the JAWS EULA reads, “BY AGREEING TO THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, USING, INSTALLING OR DOWNLOADING THE SOFTWARE, YOU SIGNIFY YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF AND INTENT TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THIS EULA.”
I absolutely love this sentence as it appears in the JAWS EULA which you cannot read until you’ve downloaded JAWS. Thus, by simply downloading the software without having previously read or agreed to the terms of the EULA, you are bound to it. I searched the FS web site and did a few Google searches on terms like “JAWS End User License Agreement,” “Freedom Scientific EULA” and the sorts of things one might use to find the EULA online. If FS has it on its web site, it’s well hidden. Thus, FS asserts that you are bound by the entire remainder of the text before they gave you the opportunity to actually know to which you’ve agreed.
My Second Favorite Sentence In The EULA
In section 11.7, titled “Sever ability,” the JAWS EULA says,
“In the event that any one or more of the provisions of this Agreement are held to be invalid or otherwise unenforceable”, the enforceability of the remaining provisions shall be unimpaired and enforced to the full extent permitted by law.”
What does this sentence actually say? In brief, FS is asserting that some, maybe even all of the EULA that appears before this sentence may not even be legal, enforceable or anything more than bullshit intended to frighten its users away from doing anything that they felt like tossing into a contract into which you may have entered accidentally by just downloading JAWS to check it out. This is not an uncommon tactic in software license agreements, it’s the way most of them get around restricting their statements to things that are actually legal.
The 40 Minute Demo Clause
“The JAWS EULA says, ”The JAWS 40 Minute Mode is not intended for commercial use or extended product testing, other than use while waiting for an authorized license or key to arrive or be installed.”
Thus, this half of the rumor that provoked this article is indeed true. If you are a web or other developer who wants to ensure that your software is accessible for JAWS users, you need to buy JAWS. This, of course, if not ignored by the coders hoping to test their code for accessibility means that they need to spend some money just to make sure JAWS users can enjoy their work. In brief, Freedom Scientific is, with this clause in its EULA, making it less likely that a software developer will even bother to try to make their work better for JAWS users. Fs quite obviously cares more about squeezing extra profits out of the kind of developers, the sorts who actually want to test their software for accessibility, whom I believe we should be encouraging.
There is an easy workaround for this problem: use NVDA to do your testing. NVDA is more compliant with standards and the various accessibility API used on Windows so, the results of your testing will more accurately reflect how your code is compliant with the standards. This may mean that JAWS users will have a less pleasant experience as the testing will not account for any of the more advanced techniques used in JAWS to work around poor accessibility but you can use NVDA for free, forever. If you are working on a web based project, you might also test on a Macintosh or iOS product where where VoiceOver, the Apple screen reader, is shipped at no extra cost to anyone who purchases an Apple device. Even Android, a system that any regular reader of this blog would know I dislike at this point, can be used to test your web based projects using the FireFox browser (Chrome is too buggy in how it delivers accessibility information to TalkBack, hence, is a poor testing tool).
The Standard Home Edition Restrictions
Quoting from the JAWS EULA again, “The Standard Home Edition License is limited to use by a single End User only and is limited to Your personal and non-commercial use.”
This simple sentence says a real lot. First, it says, “a single user” and not, “a single user at a time.” This means if one of your blind friends comes to your house and asks you if she can use your computer to check their email or perform some other minimal task, you are in violation of the JAWS EULA. So, if you want to follow the letter of the agreement, an agreement you didn’t get the chance to read before you downloaded the software and were already bound to follow, you can’t let your friends or family members or dog or space alien or any other entity who might want to share your computer for a little while. It also means that a blind couple living together must purchase two JAWS licenses as married people are never described as “single” in the US dialect of English.
This also seems to mean that you need to buy two copies of JAWS to use the JAWS Tandem feature. Read the sentence, you can only use it on one computer at a time so you can’t even use it to control another computer that you own. You can install JAWS on as many computers as you like, you just can’t use JAWS to allow them to communicate with each other.
Lastly, this means you need to plunk down a few hundred more dollars if you hope to use JAWS in any professional capacity. This could mean sending an email to a friend saying, “yes, I can babysit for your kid today,” as that would be professional communication, hence, prohibited by the JAWS EULA for the standard edition.
NVDA and Window-Eyes Licenses
NVDA is covered by the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. This means you can use it in any way you choose, at no cost, forever. You even have the right to get the NVDA source code and, if you have Python programming skills and the desire to do so, you can even make changes to NVDA itself. GPL was written by Eben Moglen at Columbia University under direction of the Free Software Foundation. It is designed to protect your freedoms and I find it a bit ironic that FS has the word “Freedom” in its name as anyone reading its EULA can tell you, that freedom, with a lower case f, isn’t part of their agenda.
In preparation for this piece, I took a look at the Window-Eyes license. While WE is not “free as in freedom,” it can be had for no cost if you also own Microsoft Office, which can be had for roughly $10 per month, profoundly less than the cost of buying JAWS. While I didn’t spend a lot of time with the WE agreement (this article is about JAWS after all), I did check and there’s no restriction against using the no cost version. I personally get confused when using WE as I use NVDA and the differences between the two and my poor level of familiarity with WE makes it a real pain for me to even test. If you need a no cost Windows screen reader and for some reason don’t like NVDA, give Window-Eyes a try before you even download JAWS as downloading JAWS committed you to a bunch of stuff that, as you can read above, you may not actually agree with. I didn’t mention WE in the section discussing using a screen reader as a testing tool mostly because of its relatively poor level of standards compliance on the web. I’m told this is getting better and will revise this opinion when and if WE catches up with JAWS, NVDA and the iOS version of VoiceOver.
If you want a screen reader and do not absolutely need the ever shrinking handful of features that only JAWS provides, you should switch over to NVDA. It’s a terrific screen reader, you cannot beat the price and it is incredibly standards compliant.
You might also take a little time to read the EULA on software you use. All of us with a smartphone, including me, just hit “Agree” and move on. The Apple EULA is incredibly long and I doubt any of us know to what we agreed when we accepted the license in order to actually use the product we purchased.
Freedom Scientific is a notoriously litigious company. On nine separate occasions, I’ve received letters from their attorneys regarding legal action they would either actually take or just threaten about articles I’ve written on my blog. Defending oneself against even a frivolous lawsuit is a costly endeavor and, as FS admits in its EULA, some of it may not even be legal but it will cost you a lot to find an attorney to help sort out what parts of the EULA are even enforceable. They can put anything in their EULA and it’s up to you to pay the legal fees to sort it all out.