Free Speech for Software Critics?

A national group of lawyers pushing for uniform state laws has approved
amendments to a set of proposed rules for e-commerce, including new
provisions limiting the ability of tech companies to remotely disable their
software on a consumer’s computer.


But the measures face a lot of opposition and would have to be adopted on a
state-by-state basis, which means it’s unlikely that software licensing
procedures are about to be revolutionized soon.


The group, called the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State
Laws (NCCUSL), approved
changes to something called the Uniform Computer Information Transactions
Act, known as UCITA.


The organization is comprised of more than 300 lawyers, judges and law
professors, appointed by the states as well as the District of Columbia,
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to draft proposals for uniform and
model laws on subjects “where uniformity is desirable and practicable…”


UCITA, among other things, involves those licensing agreements that software
makers require you to accept before using their programs. The changes in the
recommendations permit customers to criticize software companies without the
risk that companies could revoke the license to operate their products.


The changes also allow consumers to conduct reverse engineering to study how
the software is made to ensure that it works with other technology, according
to an Associated Press report.


UCITA has been roundly criticized by consumer organizations. They contend
that UCITA would strip people of legal protections they enjoy under current
state law. Proponents include Microsoft , America Online
and the Business Software Alliance.


Early versions of the act have languished in most state legislatures.
Virginia and Maryland approved versions of UCITA shortly after it was first
proposed, but elsewhere it has died in committee.


Affected are software updates — Microsoft, for example, reportedly has said
that a forthcoming update for its Windows XP operating system will not load
on some illegal copies and once identified, it will block these customers
from downloading future security and reliability updates.


Whatever happens, the next stage is likely to be drawn out and fiercely
fought.


The head of one supporter group, Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce
Transactions,
said even the amended rules would allow technology companies to disable
software on a customer’s computer for “perceived misuse” of a product, if the
company gives reasonable notice.

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