I was interested the license terms that Microsoft will ask people to agree to under its new "Communications Protocol Program". I'm not that interested yet in looking at what they're selling, I just wanted to see the terms for buying it.
The DOJ is asking people in the industry to look over the license agreements to ensure that they really are "reasonable and non-discriminitory", and being a patriotic American, I thought I'd help them out. I set off to www.microsoft.com.
Of course, there was a snag. according to http://www.microsoft.com/legal/protocols/ , I have to sign an NDA before I can see the license agreement.
That sounds funny. The DOJ wants industry input, but Microsoft doesn't want me to talk about it.
I figure, "that's alright, it's a public document, DOJ will give me a copy." So I called up the DOJ Antitrust Documents Group. They tell me first that I need to get it from MS. Then I explain, well, no, I can't. They want an NDA, which might preclude me from talking to DOJ about it.
They need to mull this over, so they say they'll call back. I never thought I would be looking forward to a phone call from John Ashcroft's Justice Department.
A DOJ attorney called me back. He's no longer on the case, but he worked on the remedy phase, and knows the right people to pass stuff along to. Furthermore, he's happy to do it, and to help address my concerns.
We discuss the NDA, and he tells me he hasn't read it, but believes it is supposed to contain an exception for talking to the DOJ. My concern is, how do I know that the terms are "reasonable and non-discriminitory" if I can't discuss the terms Microsoft gives me with others in the industry? They collect information on your company before they'll show you the license agreement. How do I know I got the same deal MegaCorp down the street got if I can't discuss the terms with them?
He says good point, and scribbles down some notes. He then tells me that there is a meeting of DOJ attorneys going on at that very moment discussing the NDA. He asks me to simply go to the Microsoft site, get the NDA, and see if there is anything in it which would cause me a problem.
So the good patriotic American trots off again. I click the link to see the NDA. What's this? Oh, I have to sign in with a Microsoft Passport first.
I don't have a Microsoft Passport. I don't want a Microsoft Passport. I want to read the NDA to see if there's anything objectionable in it so I can read the license agreement for a piece of software I may or may not use.
Call back the DOJ. The guy is still very friendly and helpful, even though I feel as if I could be annoying at this point. He assures me it's ok.
Unfortunatly, he also says he doesn't think DOJ has a problem with Microsoft requiring a Passport to view the NDA for the license for the code I might or might not use. Unless there's something specific to the Passport agreement that makes the license agreement bad.
So that's where I am now. I finally have a legal document in front of me to review. It's not the one I wanted though. It seems as if the answer to keeping the public out of your hair is to simply keep throwing up barriers, one after another, until finally people get sick of fighting and one of them sticks.