The National Consumer Council (NCC) has referred 17 software manufacturers to the Office of Fair Trading following an investigation (PDF link) into End User Licence Agreements.

The NCC investigation bought 25 individual items of software and followed the standard installation process, while its legal team studied the terms and conditions attached to each piece of software.

In many cases, the agreements were found to encroach upon or nullify a user's legal rights under statutory consumer law. The user agreeing to a licence agreement on a given piece of software could effectively be signing away their wider legal rights, shifting the legal burden away from the software creator onto themselves.

Some consumers don't have a clue

The NCC investigation also discovered how many licence agreements are overly long in length and cloaked in impenetrable legal jargon making them virtually unreadable.

“Consumers can’t have a clue what they’re signing up to when some terms and conditions run to 10 or more pages,” explained NCC senior policy advocate Carl Belgrove.

Furthermore, the NCC survey also discovered how many manufacturers hide the requirement to sign a licence agreement from the purchaser. On 14 of the items tested there was found to be no clear warning on the outer packaging of the product that the user would have to sign a legal agreement before being allowed to install the software.

The 17 companies NCC has referred to the OFT for investigation are: Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Chief Architect, Symantec, Magix, Nero, Corel, Sega, Nova Development, Britannica, Sonic Solutions, Twelve Tone Systems, THQ, GSP,  McAfee, and Kaspersky.