SPSS and My Outrageous Software Licensing Experience

My wife is getting her PhD in Psychology, and a few months ago she was in need of a statistics program called SPSS. There are many questionable avenues one could travel to obtain a copy of this software, which costs over $600, but being a developer myself I purchase all of my software legitimately.

I was lucky; I found a used copy of the student version on Amazon for $87. But my wife soon found that it lacked the features necessary to run the stats for her dissertation. So back to Amazon I went, but, unfortunately, the full version was nowhere to be found.

The Sale
After over an hour of searching and three phone calls, I found out that she didn’t need to pay for the full version (which runs $600), because there is something called a “Grad Pack” that would provide her with the full version for right around $200. “Piece of cake,” I thought, “I’ll buy this copy and re-sell the student version on Amazon.” Things were looking better and better by the minute. Until I posted the student version on Amazon.

Within two days I received the following email:

Hello from Amazon.com.

We are writing to let you know the following of your listings have been cancelled:

Listing ID: 0125J829025 – SPSS 14.0 Student Version for Windows

We took this action because we were notified that your listing(s) might violate the intellectual property rights of others and the Community Rules that govern our Auction, zShops and Amazon Marketplace sites.


In this case, we were notified by SPSS Inc., the rights holder, that this item was infringing and they requested that the listing be removed. If you would like more information, we encourage you to contact the copyright holder directly. They can be reached at: mwest@spss.com

Please do not relist this item. If you are unsure about whether you should list an item, please err on the side of caution and contact us before you list it. Please be aware that repeated violations of our Community Rules could result in the closure of your Amazon.com selling account.”

“Oh,” I thought, “this must be a simple misunderstanding. I’ll just email mwest@spss.com and let her know that I’m going to relist it – no hard feelings.”

So I sent her an email explaining the situation, indicating I had uninstalled the software from my computer and that I was going to re-post it to Amazon.

A day later I received the following reply:

SPSS software is not transferable. Please refer to the license agreement that accompanied the software at delivery.

The Search
Wanting to abide by the rules, I set out on my search to find a copy of the license agreement. Since I didn’t have the CD handy I went online to find it. I searched for “SPSS license”…no luck.

“SPSS license agreement”…hmm, nothing there.

“SPSS licensing agreement”…still no dice.

When I got home I looked at the back of the box…nothing.

I thumbed through the manual that came with the CD…not there, either.

Dumb-founded, I inserted the installation CD into my drive (at which point I expected my lights to shut off and the S.W.A.T. team to kick down my door). There were several PDFs on the CD, but none of them contained the licensing agreement (this is all reminiscent of Dell’s EULA SNAFU a while back).

Finally, I began installing the software and lo and behold, the license agreement appeared:

The pertinent text reads:

“SPSS Inc. grants you a non-exclusive license to use the software in accordance with the following terms. SPSS Inc. retains title and all ownership rights to the software…Failure to comply with any of these terms will terminate this agreement and your right to use the software. Upon termination of this agreement, you must immediately destroy the software and all copies of it…The software and this agreement cannot be transferred without the express written consent of SPSS…”

At least mwest knows what she’s talking about.

The Silence
I was dumbfounded. SPSS has a ridiculous license agreement that you can’t read until you’ve already paid your $87, at which point it’s too late to do anything about.

So I asked for their express written consent to sell the software. And the line went dead…no response from SPSS. After numerous emails asking for permission to sell the software I have received no reply.

It’s funny, because I’m a software developer. It seems like I should know about this kind of thing. I should know that some companies basically screw you by taking away your right to sell something that you should rightfully own (assuming you paid for it).

I’ve realized through this experience that I didn’t actually buy the software, it’s more like I’m “borrowing” it. And in SPSS’s eyes, they are the ones to say who can and can’t borrow their software.

By the way, if you’re looking for a cheap, unused copy of SPSS 14.0 Student Version, drop me a line.

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6 comments ↓

#1 kd on 05.08.07 at 5:32 am

Yes, SPSS is employs gouge pricing and draconian licencing restrictions. As a result, I’ve sworn off SPSS wherever possible. These days I tend to use JMP which my non-statistical friends tells me has a better user interface. More importantly I think it provides better facilities for not shooting yourself in the foot. When JMP doesn’t cut it for me, I use R (http://r-project.org) which despite the rather severe learning curve is an excellent piece of free software. My friends in the R community are telling me that it’s becoming the lingua franca for professional statisticians as well.

#2 http:// on 05.08.07 at 6:30 am

I just finished my first draft for my final thesis and unfortunately I had to use SPSS. I consider myself to be a pretty calm and laidback guy but I truly hate SPSS! No piece of software has ever gotten me to hate its guts, but SPSS has pulled it off. Frequent and random crashes. An utterly contemptible interface. Ugly screen refreshes. Inconsistent menus. And not to mention the license agreement. The list goes on and on.

#3 bloid on 05.08.07 at 9:02 am

If you hadn’t installed the software though, then you would not have agreed to the licence so would you then be eligible to sell it on? Surely the licence is only binding if you tick the “I agree”?

#4 Rob Walling on 05.08.07 at 4:16 pm

kd – I’ve heard of R; it’s one of the tools my wife’s professor eventually used to help with some of the stats on this project. The learning curve is steep, but it seems to be THE tool for hard-core stats people. I have not heard of JMP. bloid – An interesting thought. In my case, my wife installed it and tried it out for 30 minutes before realizing it wouldn’t do the trick. I somehow doubt that SPSS would allow me to sell it on Amazon if she had not agreed (unless I threatend to sue them or something dramatic like that). But your point is valid.

#5 http:// on 05.09.07 at 4:41 pm

While SPSS is being inept from a “customer experience” perspective, I think it should be clarified: When you buy software you are not buying the code, of course. You’re buying the right to *use* that software, either on a term basis, or in perpetuity. You don’t own the software. You maybe own the media it came on (if any). Whether or not you should then have the ability to turn around and sell your *right to use* that software to someone else, well, that’s the $64K question. Your request to transfer it (per the license terms) to someone else seems reasonable and SPSS should honor it. Maybe you should sue them in your local Small Claims court and see what happens. :)

#6 http:// on 06.29.07 at 7:38 am

Hey Rob, love your blog. What they are doing is not just wrong, it’s a violation of Federal Law, specifically the Uniform Commercial Code. The book “Bad Software” outlines your rights here. The author’s site http://badsoftware.com/chapter1.htm gives enough of an overview that you can challenge this even if you don’t want to get his book. You haven’t agreed to the license agreement and they didn’t present you with a chance to inspect the goods before paying, so this is a cut and dried case. Personally I’d recommend fighting this just to teach them they can’t violate federal law and get away with it. And if they won’t refund the money, do a chargeback.