UCITA pushes ahead without lawyer group

The drafters of the much-debated Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) will fight to push it to state...

The drafters of the much-debated Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) will fight to push it to state legislatures across the US even though the American Bar Association (ABA) failed to approve of the prototype software licensing law during its annual meeting this week.

On Monday, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) withdrew a resolution approving UCITA before the ABA's House of Delegates after six sections of the ABA failed to approve the proposed law. UCITA opponent the American Library Association then questioned whether state legislators would brave the controversy that surrounds UCITA if the ABA could not.

UCITA's goal is to standardise software licence agreements across the US by providing a "model" law for states to adopt. UCITA spells out default terms and conditions for licences with shrink-wrapped or downloaded software. 

Several software companies and groups, including Microsoft and IBM, support UCITA, arguing that differing state software licensing laws drive up the cost of selling software. But opponents, including the Free Software Foundation and the Association for Computing Machinery, argue that UCITA would allow corporations to force customers to agree to software licences that take away consumer rights, with no room for negotiation.

John McCabe, legal counsel and legislative director of NCCUSL, said yesterday that his group will again recommend UCITA to state legislatures this year, as it has since debuted the proposed law in 1999. Only two states, Maryland and Virginia, have passed versions of UCITA since then.

When asked if the lack of ABA approval would hurt UCITA with state legislators, McCabe said he doubted the ABA's decision would change anyone's mind. "It's not particularly persuasive in the state legislatures, necessarily," he said. "The ABA, in light of all the controversy (over UCITA) out there, is a very small thing."

McCabe declined to make predictions about UCITA beyond this year's legislative sessions. The goal of NCCUSL, a group of lawyers, judges and law professors appointed by the US states, is to get as many states as possible to adopt the law, but he admitted that at some point, UCITA's usefulness becomes questionable if more states do not pass the law.

"If we don't get a lot of states, that certainly doesn't weigh in the favour of a uniform law," he said.

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