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)


#2 is right. The Apple OS X license contains similar (if not exact) language and that potentially could be used to run a nuclear power plant.

Mike B

That's basically saying that iTunes is not to be considered "vital" software nor run in conjunction with "vital" software. In layman's terms "Apple is not responsible if our buggy software KILLS someone because it should never be used in any situation where it could kill someone."

It's the EULA equivalent of the CAUTION HOT warning on McDonald's coffee cups so when someone loads iTunes onto the poorly isolated network of an airliner and the flight computer crashes, Apple is insulated from liability.

There is a whole slew of legal and professional requirements for any software operating in a life critical role. Apple doesn't want to touch that morass with a 10 foot pole and those few words is a cheap way to make a longer pole.

The terrorism/illegal stuff is just CYA to ward off prosecution by an Elliot Spitzer type figure trying to nail Apple for promoting evil by accepting revenue from the Iranian nucular scientists jammin to their iPods. Apple can't realistically prevent someone from using their software so again, cheap words go into the EULA.


Joe P.

Most likely answer, in my opinion: it's a boilerplate license agreement that has any iTunes-specific clauses added on afterwards. It's a useful clause anyway, for the unlikely situation that iTunes is put on a mission-critical computer and then accidentally crashes it.

Patrick Carroll

Well, lets face it, who wants to hit the scram button for the reactor, only to see "ClassNotFoundException" on the console?

Famous last stack traces, etc.


The foregoing comments are correct. There's no good reason to leave out any kind of boilerplate disclaimer of liability from a EULA. An economic analysis might go like this:

Likelihood that software will be used to run a nuclear plant or develop WMD: very small.
Potential liability if software is used to run a nuclear plant or develop WMD: enormous.
Cost to insert disclaimer of liability in a EULA: $0.

For an investment of $0, you avoid an expected loss of enormous/very small.

Even if you accept that the risk is infinitesimal because iTunes couldn't possibly be used in these ways, it's still a costless precaution.


Just as well. Who wants DRM software in their nuclear reactor?


DRM could be useful. I know I'm against sharing nuclear material.


"You're iNuke software is out of date. Would you like to download the update now?"


"A new version of Quicktime is also available. Would you like to download the update to Quicktime now?"


"WARNING! To complete the install of these updates, you will need to restart your nuclear power plant. This may cause an interruption in power, loss of chain reaction, or meltdown. Would you like to continue with the update?"



The important thing to notice in here is this: terrorists are not allowed to listen to music playing in iTunes while developing mass destructions plans.


John Squire

Or do software lawyers know something we don't about what our computers are capable of?

Yes we do, but we include the nuke language for export (as noted above) and insurance coverage (our insurance won't cover us if the software is used for those purposes) purposes. Blame the government and insurance companies, not the software folks.


That's boilerplate to adhere to US export control laws, specifically the Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative (EPCI).


What everyone i saying makes sense, but I imagine the backlash would be 10 times worse if the program actually caused a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon problem. It seams to me the "Vital softeare" clause should cover anything Defense based.


We all know Three Mile Island wouldn't have happened if those technicians had been paying attention and not futzing with their newfangled iPods.

John F. Opie

Hi -

#4 is basically correct. This is designed to free the software from very onerous test routines designed to make sure that the software for "critical" applications works correctly. This came about after the software for an radiation therapy machine killed several people by overdosing them, sometimes killing them on the spot. Had to do with a divide overflow problem, I seem to remember...ah, yes, the Therac 25 machine. Go back to 1986...

After that unfortunate series of incidents, you could only get liability insurance if you wrote things like what have been mentioned into the EULA.

Nothing more, nothing less...


i... well i just thought that iTunes was for...ya know... to play tunes...