Terms of Service for Fusion 360 and Onshape: Comparison

Just to clarify, the concept of the benefits of CAD in the Cloud is very appealing. Unfortunately, the details of getting there and being there are somewhat less attractive right now. Those who claim the “inevitability” of CAD in the Cloud are both right and wrong. They are right in the sense that the Earth dying is inevitable, so that prediction is a bit of a no brainer, but wrong because there are a lot of conditions that must be met before we get there. I acknowledge the advantages, which continue to grow. But I’m also realistic and I don’t think being realistic makes one a “luddite”. And by the way, calling people names to push them into incorporating your ideas is something you usually don’t see outside of grade school playgrounds and politics.

In one sense, consumers tend to value convenience and novelty above almost anything else, including their own health, well being, lives, etc. Convenience is the one addiction driving the cloud. Engineers are hopefully smarter than your average chicken tender, fries and cola variety of consumer which is why it has taken us longer to fall into this trap. Hopefully we can make better decisions and at least delay the erosion of our capacity to control our own destiny until we get some questions answered to our satisfaction. We need a huge break through in one or more areas such as networking, security/encryption/multi factor, intuitive multi-physics simulation, cyber defense, etc…

Futurists be damned. The future will come, but it will come when it is ready. Steve Jobs is dead, literally and figuratively. Every little misty fart does not change the world. Change is inevitable, let’s just make sure it’s progress not chaos.


Through some will of the internet, one of the most popular posts on my blog is a post about someone elses blog. Blog Nauseam some years ago wrote  a post about Terms of Service of Autodesk cloud products. My link to his post has remained busy ever since. Whether this is intentional or accidental, I don’t pretend to know, but what I take from it is that there is at least a curiosity about what terms a cloud CAD will subject you to, and what they will have to say for themselves legally around the legal nightmare that the cloud is becoming. I kind of gave John McEleney a pass when I didn’t follow up on my question about Onshape’s ToS. Obviously these things are written in such a way as to discourage actual reading, and they certainly didn’t consult the sales and marketing people to figure out how to win people over, but if we can understand anything these documents have to say, I think they represent the best possible meaning they could intend. So this is the best news you’re going to get (aside from a sales call, of course). If you try to legally defend your rights as defined in a document like this, you are sure to find that your interpretation was optimistic and naive.

So let’s give it a go. The Fusion360 ToS a public document, and here’s a link to it. 21 pages, 10k words. The Onshape Terms of Use for comparison sake is located here. I’m not much of a legal interpreter, although I was married to a patent attorney for a brief stint. Since I’m not a legal analyst, and I’m not being paid by anyone to do this, you can look at this comparison as being for entertainment purposes only – about as useful as assurances of security that you get from either of these parties.

Before I get started, I do want to clear up a couple of things. For Fusion 360, the default Save location for your data is the cloud. But there is an option to export native data to your local drive. It seems that the implication is that they get first dibs on your data, but you can also have a copy if you think to take it. For Onshape, you cannot take native data out of the cloud because it is set up in a database format that you can’t replicate on your local computer. You can get dumb files locally, however.

Also, I pulled the network plug on my computer, and I was able to run Fusion360 because it has local executables. This is a benefit, or at least beneficial in some ways. Onshape needs the connection to execute commands, because the executables are on the cloud. This is a big distinction. Its the difference between working and not working. Granted, the Onshape concept is very elegant and extremely attractive conceptually. Let’s take a look at portions of these documents.

I would recommend that before and after any cloud CAD sales pitch, you and the decision makers in your company should read the ToS documentation. All of those friendly sales smiles turn to indifference very quickly.


 Autodesk: Your Content is Yours. You maintain ownership of and responsibility for Your Content and responsibility for Your conduct while using the Service Offering.  You agree that Your Content and Your (and Your Authorized Users) conduct in using the Service Offering will comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, the Rules of Conduct and all other Policies. 

Onshape: While Onshape will use commercially reasonable efforts to provide you with continuous access to its service, and to enable you to export your Content in Parasolid (.x_t) and/or other industry standard file formats, Onshape does not guarantee that your Content will be available or useable by you following the termination of your subscription or otherwise. Moreover, Onshape does not guarantee the security of your Content. You are encouraged to practice effective and secure content retention practices.

They assign you legal responsibility for your content without giving you any actual means for doing that except removing it from the cloud. Do misspellings void the contract?

The Onshape system enables you to export data, but not native data. So you can’t really back up your data locally, and you definitely can’t run the software locally.

Autodesk: By creating, submitting, posting or otherwise making Your Content available to Autodesk and/or others, You acknowledge and agree that: (1) You will evaluate and bear all risks associated with Your Content…

This sounds like by putting data into their system, you keep ownership, but they (and unspecified “others”) have rights to it. Plus, you have responsibility to “evaluate…risk”, but do they provide a mechanism for you to learn the truth about their service? How vulnerable is it? Is there a 3rd party risk analysis that the vendor can hand out to potential customers? Is the data encrypted?  Where is it physically located? Who has physical access to the servers? What backup and redundancy do you have in place? If I were to set up my own network, these are questions I would make sure my staff had answers to. Much moreso if I’m going to hire a bunch of people I don’t know to do it for me. Answers, CAD industry, answers. If you allow speculation, you’re going to lose. Skeptics value transparency. Those who have drunk the kool-aid are not the ones you have to win over.

Autodesk: …under no circumstances will Autodesk Parties be liable in any way for Your Content as You upload or submit it, including, but not limited to any errors or omissions.

Onshape: …you will evaluate and bear all risks associated with your Content, and (3) under no circumstances will Onshape and/or its affiliates, agents and licensors and each of their respective officers, directors, and employees be liable in any way for your Content as you transmit or otherwise use it, including but not limited to any errors or omissions.

Ok, so no one is liable if their servers crash, or if someone steals your stuff from them. They offer a service that makes your data vulnerable to hack, but they don’t guarantee that it will work. I have a feeling this is just as silly as the TOS for regular software, but no one takes the time to read that either. You can’t sue them if their software crashes.

Autodesk: Autodesk personnel will not access Your Content except (a) as part of providing, maintaining, securing or modifying Services, (b) at Your request or with Your consent as part of addressing or preventing a service, support or technical issue, or (c) in connection with legal obligations or proceedings in accordance with Section 2.4 below.

Onshape binding arbitration: Applicability of Arbitration Agreement: All claims and disputes (excluding claims for injunctive or other equitable relief as set forth below) in connection with this Agreement or the use of any product or service provided by Onshape that cannot be resolved informally or in small claims court shall be resolved by binding arbitration on an individual basis under the terms of this Arbitration Agreement.


If you get a free Onshape account, all of your documents will be public. This info is on the Pricing page, not the Privacy or Terms of Use. Based solely on reading the legal documents from Onshape, I would not do any work of consequence in this software. They may have some great ideas, and may have done a nice job of taking a first crack at cloud CAD, but you don’t have any control, and can’t have any real confidence in the security of your data.

Of course this all sounds so bellicose, but the value of words like this can only be tested in court after something goes badly wrong, and who wants that? The words may in the end have no value at all. You can write anything you like in these documents, but that doesn’t make them legally defendable.

In general, the Autodesk documents sound more friendly and appear to have a more customer-centered tone. Not that that matters.

Next I’ll have a look at some simple functionality.

2 Replies to “Terms of Service for Fusion 360 and Onshape: Comparison”

  1. My first point is that if people really cared about terms of service then the MSoft EULA word have dissuaded 99% of Windows users not to use it. If people really cared about TOS practically, nobody would use Android with Google embedded in it. People, like lemmings, think to themselves what could possibly go wrong as they run along with thousands of their friends.

    The free account that OnShape originally had did offer privacy for documents but during a hiatus where I didn’t use it for a while they changed the policy. While my previous work was still private the minute I touched it and edited it it became public. So todays guarantee is no promise forbthe future. What happens in OnShape doesn’t always stay in OnShape.

    Obviously Onshape can’t in anyway give native data because everyone’s data resides in one big database not in separate files. It takes their software on their servers to reconstitute that data into a visual representation (2D or 3D). The software they use to reconstitute the data is constantly changing and is impractical to give to a customer. These are in fact their selling points which I have reworded a bit.

    That’s all well and good as long as, a) their servers keep running and are accesible, b) their servers aren’t compromised, c) they aren’t bought out by another company like SW was, d) they don’t start social engineering content, e) the government or law enforcement doesn’t take them down.

    I don’t think the last two should be under estimated.

    Other cloud based services restrict certain kinds of content like say eBay or Facebook or Quora. The minute some knuckle head starts designing parts that could be used for something like the Las Vegas shootings, sex toys of an illegal nature, printing presses for illegal money, or WMD from anywhere in the world what do you think law enforcement will do? And because it’s cloud what jurisdiction would you limit the TOS to? It’s all pretty murky. Either they will have to monitor content and restrict it and unlike written content or products, engineering works frequently give no clue in and of themselves to their intended use.

    These are the troubling thoughts that rattle about in the back of my head while I draw musical instruments on the cloud from my smart phone while sitting in a coffee shop connected to the “cloud”.

  2. One of the reasons why I have not availed my business to Onshape is the fact that they will not guarantee the provisions outlined in the ITAR documentation. Any company that does business by government contract and/or with foreign governments must comply with the ITAR requirements or you don’t do business…and Onshape will not submit to complying with those requirements. Case closed…for now! I have been a SolidWorks user since it’s (virtual) inception…1996…(and Pro/E several years before that) and it looks like I’ll continue to be a SW user for the foreseeable future!

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