The Gripe Line

Anti-UCITA coalition is forming to help fight the software licensing lawTHE UNIFORM COMPUTER Information Transactions Act (UCITA) will be difficult to stop, but not impossible if its opponents can get organized fast. And we are finally ready to take the first steps.

The forces behind UCITA have many advantages. Through the Business Software Alliance, other software industry groups, and the big software companies that fund them, all the lawyers and all the lobbying power required to push for UCITA's passage in the states is ready and available.

Last week's InfoWorld carried the news of the first concerted effort by the various interest groups opposing UCITA to forge an alliance of their own.

4CITE, "For a Competitive Information and Technology Economy," includes a broad mix of corporate and nonprofit entities such as John Hancock, Caterpillar, Principal Financial Group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Society for Information Management, the American Library Association, and InfoWorld.

4CITE, of course, has little funding and has only just begun identifying individuals with the political know-how and connections to carry on this fight on a state-by-state basis. For now, it has to focus on recruiting more organizations that can lend their name, their political influence, and perhaps even a few dollars to the coalition so that state legislators will understand just how widespread the opposition to this legislation is.

Not in our wildest dreams, however, is 4CITE ever going to be able to outlobby or outspend the software industry in this effort. Any IT organization that takes the time to study UCITA will soon recognize the extra costs and legal hassles it will bring to the software procurement process, but IT organizations don't generally have a legal fund. And although their corporation may, it's obviously not easy to persuade corporate management on a law that does not affect their primary business. Big software companies and online services can anticipate that every dollar they spend on UCITA will pay them back many times over through the law's enforcement of their warranty disclaimers, sneakwrap modifications to terms, and so on.

With the handicaps that the anti-UCITA forces face, is there any chance we can succeed? Yes, I think there is. I don't know if it's possible to stop it in every state. (The last word I had, it's still sailing through the prelegislative process in Virginia, and 4CITE's organizers are preparing to fight it in the legislature if it is introduced there.) But I think there's a very good chance of stopping it in its tracks in most states. UCITA simply won't stand up to any serious in-depth scrutiny by lawmakers -- it's a bad law clearly slanted to the supposed interests of one industry, an industry that is prospering quite well without it.

The way to beat UCITA is with education. If you need to learn more about UCITA, you can start at our background Web page, www.infoworld.com/ucita. (I apologize to those who tried to access it during the relaunch of InfoWorld.com, but the link is now back up and we will try to update the pages more frequently in the next few weeks.) If you already are familiar with the issues that UCITA raises, make sure that others in your company are, as well. One of the frustrations for the 4CITE organizers has been the lack of knowledge about UCITA in companies outside of IT.

"There is often a huge disconnect between the IT people who know about UCITA and the same corporation's general counsel and government relations people, who know nothing about it," says Skip Lockwood, the coordinator for 4CITE. "It's important those in IT make it clear to others how much UCITA will cost the company."

Readers interested in learning how their organization could join 4CITE should contact Lockwood, who is also the coordinator of the Digital Future Coalition, at dfc@dfc.org. 4CITE is just getting off the ground and does not yet have a Web site. So, for our part, InfoWorld is going to try to make it easier for anyone who wants to fight UCITA in his or her state to do so.

Starting this week, we are launching a forum on InfoWorld.com that we're going to leave up on a full-time basis for all UCITA-related communications.

You can ask questions, make comments, and, perhaps most importantly, share news about what's happening with UCITA in your state. Feel free to log on and "sign up" to be part of the opposition to UCITA in your state.

If you prefer not to post, send us an e-mail at ucita@infoworld.com, letting us know what state you live and/or work in so we can inform you of any organizing efforts in your area.

Beyond that, we'll play it by ear. However, I have no doubt that a little bit of organization is going to go a long way in defeating UCITA. So come sign up, and let's see what we can do.

Got a complaint about how a vendor is treating you? Write to InfoWorld's reader advocate, Ed Foster, at gripe@infoworld.com.

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