A few months ago, a small company called Psystar introduced a fairly generic Intel-based PC which they were offering pre-installed with Apple’s Mac OS X. Apple’s official End-User License Agreement (EULA) for the Mac OS indicates that it is not permitted to run it on hardware that isn’t made by Apple. From the start, it appeared to me that this company probably existed largely to provoke a lawsuit. Not surprisingly, Apple did file suit against them claiming copyright violations and the news came out today that Psystar is counter-suing with a claim of anti-trust violations.
In a cnet.com article reporting the counter-suit, Psystar outlined their case as follows:
Psystar argues that its OpenComputer product is shipped with a fully licensed, unmodified copy of Mac OS X, and that the company has simply "leveraged open source-licensed code including Apple’s OS" to enable a PC to run the Mac operating system.
I’m pretty unsure of how strong Psystar’s position really is, but I think this could be a fascinating and fairly ground-breaking test case, assuming that Psystar has the financial backing to go the distance on this case. This could end up having a substantial impact on the strength of EULAs and the degree to which they can restrict how a customer uses a piece of software after purchase.
Although they appear to be citing a number of different issues in their defense/counter-claim, the two main items that Psystar’s case appears to hinge on are the fact that Apple sells boxed-copies of OS X in stores separate from the hardware and whether or not the EULA’s restrictions that the software only be installed on Apple hardware are really legitimate.
While I’m uncertain of what the legal finding will be, my own view is that Psystar’s argument represents the way that the situation should work. Basically, if a customer goes into a store and purchases a piece of software, I believe that he/she should be free to install and use it as the purchaser sees fit.
That isn’t to say that I don’t think Apple should be required to make it readily available or easy for customers to run the software on non-Apple hardware. I’m perfectly fine with them putting technological barriers in place that are designed to prevent unintended use. I just don’t think that there should be any legal restrictions that will prevent the legal purchaser of the product from bypassing those restrictions, assuming he/she can find a way to do so. Along the same lines, I also don’t think there should be any legal restrictions against someone publishing, or even selling, that solution or offering to perform that service for the customer.
My view is that this is how it should work in a free-market system. I essentially see this as a matter that is between Apple and their customers and I believe that the legal system should essentially stay out of their way.