Karen Dearne SEPTEMBER 24, 2002 SOFTWARE vendors are using online copyright agreements to impose draconian terms - including logic bombs - that may be illegal under Australian law, legal experts have warned. A logic bomb, or time bomb, is a piece of code designed to disable software if a licensing agreement is breached. Terms and conditions added into seldom-read copyright clauses are skirting consumer rights, forcing consumer agreement to monitoring of their personal internet use and gathering personal information. Some corporations are stepping so far over the line they could be prosecuted under the Trade Practices Act for unconscionable conduct, said e-security specialist Leif Gamertsfelder of law firm Deacons. Unconscionable conduct occurs when a corporation takes advantage of its powerful position to force unjust terms on a consumer. "If a corporation provided a software program to consumers and one month later released a security patch for it, it may be unconscionable for the corporation to then impose supplementary conditions," Mr Gamertsfelder said. "These terms include things like allowing the corporation to bundle time bombs, or logic bombs - code designed to disable software if the licence conditions are breached - along with a patch. "Even if the code isn't designed with bad intent, it could be unstable in the target operating platform or may produce unexpected bugs." The warnings come as users contemplate the terms in Microsoft's Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000, and Service Pack 1 for XP, which require users to allow Microsoft to automatically check the version of the operating system in use and to automatically download upgrades and fixes to the computer. Microsoft licensing marketing manager Thomas Cablau said the licences were valid in perpetuity, but each was tied to the user's PC and the software could not be copied to any other machine. If PCs failed because of power surges or technical malfunction, customers could contact Microsoft to reactivate their licence on the upgraded or new equipment. Windows marketing manager Danny Beck said patches included a help file and a utility that provided a description of what was being installed in the patch. "Nothing's mandatory. We always offer an opt-out if there's something they don't want to download, or some licensing agreement they don't want to accept," he said. But Mr Gamertsfelder said business users had no option when it came to agreeing to updates. "It's ludicrous to talk of having a choice, because you cannot simply roll out a new platform costing millions of dollars if you don't agree with some new conditions." Mr Gamertsfelder said the Federal Government needed to address the question of whether contracts were being used to illegitimately extend the scope of copyright. But the Government appears reluctant to release the outcome of its own recent review of copyright and contract law. Attorney-General Daryl Williams asked the Copyright Law Review Committee to examine "the use of agreements that purport to modify exceptions granted under the Copyright Act" in June 2001. The report is yet to be released, despite being submitted to Mr Williams in April.