US legislation threatens UK users


US legislation threatens UK users

David Bicknell

UK users could be hit by legislation which began to be passed in the US last week.

The US state of Virginia has approved a bill which tilts the software licensing balance heavily in favour of suppliers and could affect users on this side of the Atlantic. Several other US states are expected to implement similar legislation.

The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (Ucita) has been heavily criticised by users, who claim it gives suppliers an overwhelming advantage in contract negotiations.

One of its most controversial provisions allows a software supplier to automatically disable software in a contract dispute.

Users gained some respite when Virginia agreed not to implement the legislation until July 2001, giving businesses time to seek legislative amendments. A Virginia commission is to examine the bill's legal impact before it is formally introduced.

UK e-minister Patricia Hewitt said she had not been made aware of the legislation on a recent visit to Virginia, but added that she would examine the bill and its potential effect on UK users.

A string of interests have banded together to oppose the Ucita legislation, notably the US film industry, the American Bar Association, and US users. But the proposed laws are backed by the powerful US software industry - AOL founder Steve Case attended the signing by Virginia governor James Gilmore - and have so far proven unsinkable.

Ucita clauses are almost certain to begin appearing in UK users' software licenses that cover the period after July 2001.

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