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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 15:20 GMT
Computer software terms 'unfair'
Windows XP
Microsoft is one of the firms the NCC wants to see investigated
Some of the world's biggest computer firms have been accused of imposing unfair contracts on customers who buy their software.

The National Consumer Council (NCC) has accused 17 firms, including Microsoft, Adobe and Symantec, of using unfair "end user licence agreements" (EULAs).

The NCC has asked the Office of Fair Trading to launch an investigation.

The NCC said the firms' EULAs were misleading customers into "signing away legal rights".

"Software rights-holders are shifting the legal burden on to consumers who buy computer programmes, leaving them with less protection than when they buy a cheap Biro," said Carl Belgrove of the NCC.

"Consumers can't have a clue what they're signing up to when some terms and conditions run to 10 or more pages.

"There's a significant imbalance between the rights of the consumer and the rights of the holder," he added.

'Legal responsibility'

As one of the firms named by the NCC, Microsoft said it had not seen the details of the report and was unable to comment.

But it added that it was committed to dealing "fairly" with consumers and addressing any concerns they might have.

Meanwhile Symantec said it would welcome the opportunity to engage with the NCC and any other organisations in order to best serve the interests of its customers.

The NCC looked at 25 software packages and said that in 17 instances, the packaging did not tell potential buyers they would have to sign an EULA in order to use it.

While some contained the EULA inside an instruction manual, or let it be read online, this was only after the software had been bought.

"This means that consumers are unable to make informed decisions before they buy a product, yet are being forced to take on an unknown level of legal responsibility," said the NCC.

After examining the contents of the EULAs, the NCC also said that some contained potentially unfair clauses.

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