Group Attacks Planned Software Licensing Law

AN ALLIANCE of businesses, trade coalitions, and other organizations mobilized last week to fight the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), a proposed law that the group says will give software vendors many powerful -- and alarming -- licensing rights.

The coalition -- dubbed "For a Competitive Information and Technology Economy," or 4CITE -- announced its formation in Virginia, the first state to consider UCITA guidelines as state law.

"We plan to put a minicoalition in every state that introduces UCITA," said Skip Lockwood at the Digital Future Coalition, who is 4CITE's coordinator.

"Every member of our group ... has a national presence, and we face threats in all 50 states."

UCITA has drawn the ire of many since the 107-page proposal was approved last year by the state attorney organization known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

Among other things, UCITA would allow vendors to repossess software by disabling it remotely and prevent the transfer of licenses; ban reverse engineering; make the terms of shrink-wrapped licenses more enforceable; and allow vendors to disclaim warrantees.

"Prudential has serious concerns about UCITA and how it would affect our ability to provide continuous quality service to our policyholders," said Laurita Warner, a spokeswoman for Prudential Insurance Co. of America, in Newark, N.J. "Because of it's extremely broad scope, UCITA would impose uncertainty regarding our right to use licensed software that is critical to many of our operations."

According to UCITA's supporters, mainly software vendors, the measure is needed to bring uniformity to software license regulations. They also say vendors will not be unfair to their customers, who can buy elsewhere if they feel they are being mistreated.

However, 4CITE contends that UCITA goes too far.

"This is dramatically shifting the balance of contract law in favor of the vendor and away from the traditional give-and-take of a level playing field," Lockwood said. "This totally unlevels the playing field. Users will be asked to accept some really abusive contract terms because you don't really have a choice."

Companies in the coalition include Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Caterpillar, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, McLane, Satisfice, and Principal Financial Group. InfoWorld is also a member of 4CITE.

Others participating in 4CITE include the organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Digital Future Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the International Communications Association, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Special Libraries Association.

The Digital Future Coalition, in Washington, D.C., can be reached at www.dfc.org. More information on the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act can be found at www.infoworld.com/ucita.

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