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UCITA backers try again

June 3, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- UCITA wasn't adopted in any state legislative session this year, but the controversial software licensing law, while bruised, is far from dead.
Indeed, the group that drafted the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act released late last week a new series of proposals to change the complex law in an attempt to dampen opposition.
If those changes win approval at the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) annual meeting beginning July 26, UCITA will be ready for a new push for state adoption. This Chicago-based group develops uniform commercial laws for state-by-state adoption.
UCITA sets default rules for software licensing. It's supported by vendors but opposed by a diverse coalition of end users, library and consumer groups and 32 state attorneys general, who believe the law gives vendors too much power on contracts.
This active opposition has succeeded in limiting UCITA's adoption to only two states, Virginia and Maryland. Many opponents want the law scrapped and call it unnecessary.
If this opposition "remains vociferous and widespread, we will have problems with UCITA," said John McCabe, legislative director of the NCCUSL. But if the proposed changes can mollify some opponents, "then this may have some opportunities. But we have to wait and see," he said.
The most recent set of changes recommended by the UCITA drafting committee adds to a series of recommended changes made earlier this year, including banning so-called self-help -- the ability to remotely turn off a system by a vendor in the event of court dispute. Instead of an outright ban on reverse-engineering, those earlier changes to UCITA now allow such work for systems interoperability purposes.
The latest changes are in response to criticisms raised by a special nine-member committee appointed by the Chicago-based American Bar Association (ABA) to examine the law.
In a February report, the ABA committee faulted UCITA for confusing language, ambiguities and inconsistencies and said it needed to be redrafted.
The drafting committee's report is being examined by critics, but Carol Ashworth, who is heading an anti-UCITA effort at the American Library Association's office in Washington, said she saw little to convince her that law was being changed significantly.
"There is some tweaking that is going on, but substantively, there hasn't been any real changes," said Ashworth. "It was a little like they were rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
It's doubtful that the UCITA proponents will change end-user opposition. Following release of the first set of proposed changes earlier this year, the Chicago-based Society for Information Management (SIM) reaffirmed its opposition to UCITA and recently held a teleconference

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