Opponents blast proposed software law

By Dorte Toft, Computer World |  Business

U.S. state legislatures may soon pass the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA), a proposed law that opponents characterize as a gift to information technology vendors, a threat to software buyers and a legal mess.

The draft statute has been proposed by an organization of more than 300 lawyers, judges and law professors. The organization -- the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) -- assists in making laws uniform across state borders in the U.S. Traditionally, most or all U.S. states pass the organization's recommendations into law.

The members will meet in Denver July 23-30 to vote on the IT statute and other issues.

The NCCUSL previously participated in drawing up a law on the sale of goods, which today provides a minimum level of protection for U.S. consumers.

The UCITA proposal also relates to transactions between buyers and sellers but in relation to intangible goods such as software. The act further regulates the licensing of a product. The proposed law covers software, multimedia interactive products, data and databases, the Internet and online information.

According to the NCCUSL, software users should welcome the new law. "UCITA provides [consumers] protections equal to or more than current law," said Carlyle "Connie" Ring, chairman of the NCCUSL committee that worked on the statute, in a written statement recently sent to all NCCUSL members. He also stated that there is an unquestioned need for uniform rules in this area.

Not true, opponents of UCITA have said during several years of heated debate. They claim that users are better protected by using existing laws, such as the one on the sale of goods. They also say it is far too early to create special laws in this area. Not enough cases have been tried in court yet, and many in the legal community lack understanding of the subject, UCITA opponents say.

Law Professor Jean Braucher at the University of Arizona is among the opponents. "The draft statute will make it very easy for software publishers to disclaim all liability for the quality of their product and to provide no meaningful remedy," Braucher wrote in an article published in the July issue of the "UCC Bulletin," a legal newsletter.

The UCITA relies on detailed regulation to protect vendors and is both premature and unsound in its policy tilt, according to Braucher. For example, the law will make it possible for vendors to give disclaimers, to reduce their potential liability, which buyers cannot see until the product is paid for. Braucher referred to shrink-wrapped software and the "click during installation" model of assent adopted in the UCITA.

Braucher also criticized the proposed act for making it legal for a vendor to cut off a buyer's transfer rights.

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