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UCITA in Oregon: A Status Report

Apr 30, 2001, 23:30 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Geoff Burling)

Sorry about the awkward beginning ...

With the adoption of UCITA as law in the United States apparently having dropped out of sight & without resolution, I thought the following account of a hearing on this proposed law would be of interest. This hearing of the Judiciary Commitee of the state of Oregon House of Representatives took place on 18 April, 2001 at the state Capitol building, from 3:40p to 5:00p.

Prior to attending this hearing, I felt I would be one of a very small group to speak against this measure: at best, it would be me & some librarians against computer industry lobbyists who were trying to sneak this law under the radar & into enactment.

First to give testimony was Rep. Phil Barnhart. Rep. Barnhart has been the point man against this legislation, & his aide, Damon Clay Elder, was indirectly responsible for my knowledge of this hearing. Barnhart announced that he had introduced a ``dash one" amendment to the measure, which would in effect gut HB 3910 and replace it with a provision to shelter Oregonians from UCITA until 2006.

Next were the trio apparently responsible for getting HB 3910 introduced in Oregon: Jim Craven of AEA, John Woodard a corporate lawyer for Intel, & Ray Nimmer, who was the scribe maintaining the proposed UCITA legislation during its gestation. Nimmer provided most of the testimony, stating that UCITA is a misunderstood piece of legislation, making law where there was neither law or useful precedent, by simply writing down what the current practice is. This current practice he stated was that software is & always has been released as to the users as a licensed item. He also stated that the section on ``electronic self help" is misunderstood, & that the section that deals with actually limits its use by prohibiting it's use in mass market versions.

Another participant in this hearing, Gary Miller, felt that Craven & Woodard's support of this measure was less than enthusiastic: `` The AEA guys testimony was so lukewarm he had to return to the mike to say `Oh, by the way, we are for this'. Similar lack of enthusiasm from Intel."

From this point on, the testimony was less friendly to this bill. The entire meeting can be heard on the Web at http://www.leg.state.or.us/listn/archive/archive.2001s/HJUDCV-200104181527.ram

Paula Holm Jensen & Peter Bragdon spoke next. Jensen spoke for the Computer and Electronic Information workgroup of the Oregon State Bar, & stated that the workgroup had not expected UCITA to be introduced this session, & had instead devoted their energies to HB 2112, which concerns electronic signatures. The workgroup's position was that they were leaning against passage of this bill, & needed more time to study it.

After this, the testimony can be divided into ``concerned citizens" (into which group fell your faithful narrator, & Gary Miller a feelance computer consultant from Bend, OR), & the establishment players. These latter types were the ones who recognized each other as they entered the hearing room, & either shook each other's hands or introduced their associates to each other. What was even more amazing to watch than this networking was how they, to a man, spoke against the proposed law.

One such group was the spokespeople for public libraries. Although Cindy Gibbon of the Multnomah County Central Library spoke, my notes focussed on what Deb Carver, who is a librarian at U of O. She elaborated on the fact that this bill would cost more money, because it would take more work to negotatiate a license & contract with HB 3910, than without it. She explained how books with floppies or CDROMs would restrict the libraries' right under copyright to share the material with their patrons & other libraries.

People for several private corporations spoke against the measure. Todd Thacker spoke for Prudential Insturance. He focussed on the shrinkwrap license, & stated that UCITA would cost his company an additional $20 million dollars. Lenon Johnson, in charge of the MIS department at Boeing's Gresham branch likewise was against the bill, & stated that he understood Weyerhaueser (a major Oregon corporation) was also. While Boeing was in favor of a uniform law involving software, UCITA would increase the cost of doing business not only for Boeing, but for their 500 vendors in Oregon. Steve Tefler represented some professional association of insurance companies, whose name I did not catch. He merely mentioned that his association had sent a letter opposing UCITA to the House Judiciary committe, & mentioned an article in the magazine _Business Insurance_ that raised a number of questions about UCITA.

What is worth noting is who did not appear at this hearing. First was the sponsor of this bill, which is usually taken as a sign that the bill will not get passed. My feeling is that all of the groups involved have pushed this bill as far as they can towards getting it accepted as law, but it is not far enough: too many other major corporations who do business in the state of Oregon have figured out that this will cut into their profit margin, & clearly want it to die. What their response might be, had this only affected non-business consumers, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Two groups I was surprised that did not appear were the EFF & IEEE. While the EFF have only been mildly against this, the IEEE have devoted some resources to fighting this measure. However, when I attempted to reach the president of the Oregon chapter of the IEEE & ask for help to talk with other members who were against this measure, I failed to get any sort of response. I can't help but wonder if both groups, by seeing how many of their members were working for corporations that would benefit from this bill, decided to duck the ethics of this ``model law".

My thanks to Gary Miller <gem@rellim.com> for sharing his version of this hearing, & to Russell Senior <seniorr@aracnet.com>, for the link to the Real Audio file on the Oregon Legislature Web page.

Geoff Burling

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