[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today
are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux
While the great majority of the people in the United States are not
looking, the wolf is in the hen house. The laws that govern how
consumers are treated in their dealings with computer companies are
The Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act, known as
UCITA, is very close to becoming law in Virginia. I guess it has
some significance that the part of our country that played a major
part in establishing the rights we presently enjoy should now be
the first to take away parts of those rights. There is a lot of
opposition to UCITA from individuals, trade groups and associations
and even some software publishers. But none of them can effectively
lobby against the power of the big software companies. States are
being convinced that they must pass this act if they want
technology companies to operate within their boundaries.
There are a lot of issues that concern me with UCITA. One that
stands out, as justification to oppose passage, is the loss of free
speech. By clicking on an "I ACCEPT" button or tearing open a
shrink wrapped package, I could be agreeing to give away my right
to tell anyone of any problems or defects in the program. Will I
know that I have given away that right? Think about the language
used in shrink wrap licenses today. It is very unlikely that it
will say "You agree that you will not tell anyone about problems or
defects in this program". Such terms as "non-disclosure",
"conformance" and "confidentiality" will be used instead to
describe the freedoms that I have given away.
The final draft which was approved and sent to the states is at
Pennsylvania Law School. This link is to the HTML version.
There is a link on this page to a PDF version also. It downloads as
114 pages in the PDF format. To say it is difficult to read is a
I submit that the perceived problems, which are used as
justification for UCITA, have other solutions. One primary issue is
the prevention of piracy. I do not think that UCITA will affect
this at all. People who make copies of a program today, will still
do so even with UCITA in effect. Copyright law already addresses
this issue. I see no need to treat creative works any differently
based on the media that they are delivered on or the method used to
make use of them.
I believe that the following are all workable solutions that
could be implemented without revision of current law.
Software companies can host their software on application
servers which they own and/or control. They would have complete
control of the software. The user would only see the results, never
the actual code used to obtain those results. User interfaces that
limit what can be done with the data could be provided. It would be
up to the company to decide what platforms their software is used
on and how to control access to the servers. This gives them the
ultimate protection for their works and for payment. A company
could charge for use based on each access, each user, each machine,
a time interval or combinations of these. If a user is delinquent
he could be disabled without having to access his computers.
Software could be provided on PCMCIA cards. The card could be
sealed and have an internal processor so that the input and output
pins would not have access to the operating code. With the cost of
a typical commercial program where it is today this should not pose
a major added expense for the protection of the creative work. With
this distribution, a user would buy a right of fair use. How, and
where, the user exercises this right of use would be up to the
user. If the owner of a work wishes to provide a method for
limiting the length of time the user can access the work it could
be done. But, the terms of such a limit would have to be spelled
out, in plain language, on the outside of the package. No added
restrictions or conditions could be placed in a manner that
prohibits the user from seeing them prior to purchase. In other
words no shrink wrap or click-on terms.
Software that is distributed on CD ROM, diskette or via the
Internet would receive the same copyright protection that a printed
book does. The rights to fair use would be the same as for a
It seems to me that the "high technology" companies are taking a
very low technology approach to protection with UCITA. I wonder how
many of them will be happy when these terms are applied to other
forms of creative works?
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