Music of Mass Destruction

From the department of curious legal precautions: Apple’s iTunes licensing agreement — which you have already agreed to if you’ve installed the latest version of the popular music software — contains a clause which prohibits anyone from using the program …

… for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear missiles or chemical or biological weapons.

So Apple has got the WMD angle covered. But say you’re interested in using iTunes to run your new nuclear reactor?

Not so fast. A separate version of the iTunes license agreement warns that:

The Apple software is not intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation or communication systems, life support machines, or other equipment in which the failure of the Apple software could lead to death, personal injury, or severe physical or environmental damage.

It turns out that this “nuclear clause” shows up in all sorts of unlikely places, from virus scanners to desktop weather readers.

Is this language as useful as a no-parking sign in front of a broken fire hydrant? Or do software lawyers know something we don’t about what our computers are capable of?

(Hat tip: New Scientist)

Jeff Lutz

Is the ability to control a nuke plant or produce weapons by iTunes under the Advanced Settings?


I see a PR campaign for Zune here.

"Zune, so safe you can run your Nuclear Reactor on it*, unlike the iPod"

* offer only applies to Iranian reactors


The MacBook Pro User's Manual has in Appendix B on Safety, etc. the following:

High-Risk Activities Warning

This computer system is not intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities,
aircraft navigation or communications systems, or air traffic control machines, or for
any other uses where the failure of the computer system could lead to death, personal
injury, or severe environmental damage.


Don't mess around with a computer in a nuclear facility, you don't know what it is attached to. Here is a recent story about a technican who, by rebooting a data monitoring system after a software upgrade, caused an emergency shutdown of the whole facility because of a design flaw:

You don't know either, what installing iTunes does. Maybe it replaces a system library (which happens with the installation of software on windows), thereby breaking existing software. Maybe running it allocates to much of a resource (IO/CPU/network), thus breaking the requirements of an exisiting applications and so forth. For most people and applications the risk is negligible, but as Mark said, you don't want to multiply small risk and immense damage.


Bloody hell, if I wanna use my copy of iTunes to make biological weapons, I will. Fascistische ApfelNaZischweinhunden.

Ron Paul 2008!

dan p

I think in an episode of CSI: NY (or some other cop/crime tv show) a criminal reprogrammed an iPod (or 'generic' mp3 player) to take control of a subway system or something... clearly he didn't read his EULA.


I work at a software company that includes such a clause, but we have enterprise-class software that could run such applications--it's just not subject to such rigorous testing and fail-safe measures.

On a funnier note, a colleague got a markup of one of our agreements today whereby the customer asked for a license to use the software "anywhere in the universe." We told him he should push back that we would cover the Milky Way, but that negotiations were still under way with Andromeda.


I am told it would be possible to use an iphone to control a missile, which could be equipped with nuclear etc to create a dirty WMD. not sure if this relates to itunes, but maybe the clause is not such a silly idea after all.

Kevin in McLean

Isn't this kind of like the warning that they attach to the strings of miniblinds warning you not to wrap them around your neck?


"Had to do with a divide overflow problem, I seem to remember...ah, yes, the Therac 25 machine. Go back to 1986..."

THERAC was a race condition, not a floating point error. Perhaps you're thinking of the ARIENE overflow error?


As a couple people have mentioned, this is pretty much standard boilerplate. But when I used to work at a software company that made accounting software, we had a similar one.

I imagine if you took a look at EULA, you'll see almost everybody has a clause like that. But it makes for some amusing mental pictures when you try to picture under what circumstances someone would use stuff like this to run a nuclear reactor or an air-traffic controller system...


So you can use it to develop nuclear bombs as long as they are not attached to missiles and they still will be liable(the lawyers missed that one) -kevin

Mister Snitch

Hmm. All this will give me pause when I see a "launch program" button appear.


What john Squire said.

Though, I think it is a bit of a stretch that apple's lawyers think that iTunes could be considered a dual use item. Adding language to a license agreement is a pretty cheap cya though.


The bad news is Microsoft probably doesn't have a limit on using their software to run nuclear reactors. . . .:(


Software that runs nuclear safety systems in nuclear power plants have very tight NRC quality control rules. These rules protect Apple from being placed on some banned supplier list for all kinds of companies that deal with the nuclear energy supply chain. Employees of all the companies involved are also put on notice by those clauses. Whether anyone pays any attention to them or not is another matter.


Ha!! It doesn't say anything about fusion reactors so I can still use it to control my reactor...


this is necessary- MacGuyver could start a nuclear reactor with itunes software and 3 paper clips


This clearly has to do with the fact that if I'm rocking out to Slayer and Converge on my iPod while operating a nuclear reactor, I am much more likely to cause Chernobyl II. I love metal.


The bigger problem, which no one seems to have pointed out, is that these insanely long EULAs means that no one reads them. So, when a company sneaks nasty stuff in (like violation of your privacy, selling your info to some company, installing spyware on your machine, etc), no finds it among all the boilerplate nonsense.
It seems to me that they should be allowed to add a "yada, yada, yada" hyperlink to that common stuff, so the actual content could be easily read.