US plans for standard software licences receive setback

Plans to standardise software licensing agreements across the US have received a setback after a leading legal association failed to approve them.

Several software companies and groups, including the Business Software Alliance, Microsoft and IBM, have urged state legislators to introduce uniform legislation on software licensing, ending the different state approaches to licensing across the US. Existing software licensing laws drive up the cost of selling software, critics argue.

However, a proposed law that would standardise software licensing agreements across the US appeared to be in doubt after the American Bar Association (ABA) failed to approve it at its national meeting last week.

The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) approved a series of changes to the proposed law last August in an effort to answer critics' complaints that UCITA would force restrictive licences for shrink-wrapped or downloaded software on customers. However, six sections of the ABA failed to approve UCITA before the ABA's mid-year meeting in Seattle last week.

An approval from the ABA is a customary step in the process of passing proposed uniform laws such as UCITA.

Only two states, Maryland and Virginia, have passed versions of the law since 1999.

Opponents of a uniform software licensing law have argued that it would allow corporations to force customers to agree to licences for shrink-wrapped or downloaded software that take away consumer rights, including fair use rights under copyright law.

The software licences that may result from UCITA wouldn't allow customers such as businesses or libraries to negotiate licences, opponents added.

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