What Should A "Lifetime License" To Software Really Include?

C. was an early adopter of PlayOn, a video streaming service that lets users stream all sorts of free video content from Windows PCs to a variety of devices. PlayOn recently changed their pricing structure, and C. tells Consumerist that they’re upset that the “Lifetime License” that cost $40 at launch had a rather short lifetime. Or did it?

PlayOn is a streaming media service which streams popular video sites via proprietary server software. Initially, when they came out, they offered a one time lifetime license to buy for $40 and you get all features of PlayOn for LIFE! That’s a great deal which I’m sure many people (including me) took advantage of.

Then, a few months ago, PlayOn revealed that they have no idea what “Lifetime” means by doing away with the Lifetime License. People who had it would be known now as “PlayOn Basic” users with only access the old stuff. Nothing new any longer (even though that was what was originally promised). Instead, we can pay for PlayOn Premium! Now we can get the new features we were originally promised with our original lifetime license, and for that we only need pay the low low price of $20 a year!

And now, as if to add insult to injury, PlayOn has sent us the following announcement:

[snip]

Get your 1st year of PlayOn Premium for only $4.99.*
Each additional year will be $19.99

OR

Get a lifetime license for PlayOn Premium for a one-time charge of $39.99.*

These deep discounts are available exclusively to founding members. Even more exciting content channels are launching soon and iPhone support for PlayOn Premium members is right around the corner. Just click on the upgrade button to get your copy today.

Cheers,
The PlayOn Team

*Offer expires September 30th, 2010. Customers purchasing a PlayOn Premium subscription can cancel at any time and return to their PlayOn Basic license. The full term of your paid subscription will be honored.

That’s right, we can buy the lifetime license AGAIN to get a lifetime-we-really-mean-it-this-time license. At least, until they decide to change the terms once more and offer us that THIRD lifetime-we-really-REALLY-mean-it-this-time-seriously! license.

Just how legal is this?

We checked with PlayOn to see what they had to say. According to Jeff Lawrence, CEO of MediaMall, C. misunderstood their marketing: the company never promised users access to all future upgrades to the service, and PlayOn Premium is a new product, not what C. already paid for.

He wrote:

The readers comments are incorrect. From the first day PlayOn was offered, we indicated that the license purchased would be good for the content/functionality that was available when they bought it, but that a major upgrade would come out in the future that would require additional fees if they want to access the new goodies. If the customer was under the impression they were entitled to receive access to every new product/offering we developed and released for the life of the company, they came to that conclusion on their own without any statement or promise to that effect coming from us. I would recommend asking the customer to provide some indication of where/when we “originally promised” what they are claiming. It is patently false.

This customer bought a license to a product which they still have full access to, and which we still provide support for. We have since released a new product which they have the option of upgrading to, or not.

Fellow PlayOn customers, did you understand the concept of “Lifetime” the same way that C. did?