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With Glass, Google Steals 'Control Freak' Label From Apple

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Testers may not resell or loan their Glass. Developers may not use advertisements or charge for download or use of their apps. Failure to comply will result in deactivation.

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I've been daydreaming about Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Glass since I first read about the project what seems like years ago: a pair of glasses with a computer screen in them. My mind went back to a show at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, T2 3-D: Battle Across Time. In a pre-show video for the attraction, a faux advertisement for the fictional Cyberdyne Systems (the company that unleashed Skynet) featured a contact lens with a computer in it. In the video, Shaquille O'Neal used the optic computer to help him nail a three-point shot. The news of Google Glass stirred me just as that video did when I was kid.

Consumers have been daydreaming about using the device to access Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) on the go, or to translate foreign languages instantaneously and discretely. (I'm sure there have been some more devious ideas as well.) On the other side of the tech industry, developers have been daydreaming about applications they will build, and about profits they will take. Google made news last week when the Glass Explorer Edition terms and conditions were leaked on the Internet: The device, at least in its initial Explorer phase, will put limits on both consumers and developers that will seriously alter the Glass experience.

Consumers Are Limited

On February 20, 2013, Google opened its Glass Explorer Program, stating that it was looking for "bold, creative individuals" who would be the first users of the device before its mass market launch. To apply, users had to post a message to Google+ or Twitter, explaining in 50 words or less what they would do with the device, using the hastag #ifihadglass. The program ended a week later, and those lucky chosen few were given the option to buy Glass, at the price of $1,500. For those who decided to drop the cash, Glass will be arriving on their doorsteps shortly. With a few limitations.

The following is a passage from the Explorer Edition terms of use:

You may not resell, loan, transfer, or give your devices to any other person. If you resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person without Google's authorization, Google reserves the right to deactivate the device, and neither you nor the unauthorized person using the device will be entitled to any refund, product support, or product warranty.

So, imagine you told Google you would document trends of socioeconomic upheaval in New York City, but you really just wanted to sell it on the Internet for profit. The minute you sell it, the device will be forever and irreversibly (as far as we know) shut down, and neither you nor the new owner of the device will be able to get a refund.

How can a company limit a consumer's right to use a product in any way once its been legitimately bought? As the device is a kind of prototype, it is likely the measure is just precautionary, and that the full market release of the device will not place such limits on resale or loaning.

Moreover, it is not uncommon for tech companies to limit what are commonly referred to as "sales," but are in some aspects, very long term rentals.

As John Weber, the SEO Specialist at Geek Powered Studios told Minyanville, "This question of limited use is nothing new, as iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been quietly restricting digital music purchases for years. In fact, when you 'purchase' a song from iTunes, you are not actually buying a product, but rather a license to listen to that particular song."

Can the same be said for Glass? In the case of the Explorer Edition devices, it seems that way. It remains to be seen if Google will limit a consumer's full rights to device as it enters the mainstream marketplace. If it does, the word "buy" should be substituted for "rent" or something more accurate. Otherwise, there could be legal dispute over the device and the companies limitations on consumers. On March 19, 2013, the Supreme Court decided the case of Kirstsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., issuing a decision that clarifies that "first sale" doctrine protects the resale of a legitimately purchased good, even if it is moved across national boundaries. The doctrine of first sale, part of section 109(a) of copyright law, means that the owner of a particular copy of a work may do whatever he or she wants with it after purchase.

The question is, are users of the Glass Explorer Edition buying their devices, or are they buying a license for their use, as Google sees fit?
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