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ABA to Vote on UCITA Next Year

Recommendation of the group could impact law's future

December 9, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON—The American Bar Association is expected to vote early next year on whether the controversial UCITA software licensing law is fit for state adoption, an action that may help determine the law's fate.

The ABA vote, expected at the association's meeting in early February in Seattle, comes at the request of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), the Chicago-based organization that authored the law.


The Chicago-based ABA has no legal standing with state legislatures considering the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). But in this hotly contested dispute, the ABA's recommendation will likely be a turning point in the ongoing lobbying war.


The debate by the ABA's 550-member House of Delegates is expected to be intense, because the body has members representing businesses that both support and oppose the measure. The ABA hasn't officially put UCITA on its agenda, but it's expected to do so in the next two weeks, an ABA spokeswoman said.


Both sides are being cautious about putting too much weight on an ABA vote but acknowledged its significance.


Miriam Nisbet, head of the board of directors of Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions, a Washington-based opposition organization, said she hopes the ABA follows a recommendation made by an ABA committee earlier this year. That group criticized the law and said it needs to be rewritten.


If the ABA rejects UCITA, "I'd like to think it would push it over the brink," said Nisbet. "It's only one piece of the big picture. But it is a significant piece."


Potential Ammunition


John McCabe, legislative director of the NCCUSL, said the ABA vote won't determine UCITA's fate.


"The ABA doesn't represent anything but itself," he said. Moreover, state bar associations may not follow the national organization's lead.


The state bar groups "are not necessarily persuaded by what the ABA says," said McCabe. Still, he acknowledged that if the ABA doesn't back UCITA, it would give the opposition ammunition.


That ABA report earlier this year prompted the NCCUSL to amend the law and change some of its more controversial provisions, such as removal of the so-called self-help provision that gives vendors the right to shut down systems in a dispute . Opponents were unappeased and vowed to continue fighting it .


UCITA, which sets default terms and conditions in software and online licensing agreements, has to be adopted by a significant number of key states to become a de facto national law. But the law has alienated vendors from corporate customers and library and consumer groups, which say its default provisions give questionable rights to software publishers.


After UCITA was quickly adopted by Virginia and Maryland in 2000, opponents succeeded in blocking it in other states.




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