A model legislative act proposed for adoption by the fifty U.S. states. Despite the fact that it is opposed by twenty-three U.S. attorneys general, by every consumer-rights organization that has ever examined the issue, and by hosts of legal scholars, two states, Virginia and Maryland, have already adopted the measure. You can expect other states--hoping to cash in on lobbyists' bucks and the tax revenues they'll get by attracting software firms to their states--to adopt UCITA in short order.

Among UCITA's many odious provisions is a blow against long-established legal conceptions, namely that consumers should be protected against contracts with small-print provisions which would be "surprising" to a rational, disinterested party. Under UCITA, when you click "I Agree", you're bound. Under UCITA, for example, it's quite possible for an online vendor to attach a lifetime credit-card charge to a customer's account without calling this to the customer's attention, and there's no way the customer can escape the resulting financial obligation. If you think this is an extreme analysis of UCITA, 23 attorneys general of the United States cited this potential as one of their chief objections to the proposed legislation.

UCITA's would-be provisions also elevate the legally weak (and probably unsupportable) claim to a "trade secret," which are protected only weakly by intellectual property law, to the level of copyright, which has much stronger protection, thanks to the DMCA.

According to InfoWorld, 01/15/200, The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) is expected to make it onto the law books in at least five states in 2001. The legislation outlaws reverse engineering, turns software sales into licensing deals and makes it legal for vendors to remotely repossess software by shutting it down via 'back door' code. Maryland enacted the law with revisions last year and Virginia (home to America Online) is set to enact it this year. The District of Columbia, Delaware, and New Jersey are all expected to reintroduce the bill this year, according to the American Library Association, which opposes the act. The bill was introduced in the Arizona legislature the first week of this year and several other states looking into the legislation include Florida, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas.

UCITA applies to and affects many aspects of contract law as applied to electronic materials. With the increasing use of leased, rather than purchased, electronic materials, UCITA will be as important as, or even more important than, copyright law to information professionals, libraries, universities and public schools.

UCITA's scope is far wider than its "computer information" name might imply, especially given trends in electronic information delivery, and will apply to more and more information resources as time goes on. UCITA applies to "computer-information-only" transactions as well as "mixed" transactions that include both computer information and other matters such as services. In mixed transactions, UCITA would apply to the whole transaction, but only when computer information is the primary subject matter. This seems simple enough, but some of the most often-heard criticism of UCITA concerns its broad definition of computer information that is, "information in electronic form which is obtained through the use of a computer or which is in a form capable of being processed by a computer." As stated in the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, Section 102(a)(11), the term includes "a copy of information in that form and any documentation or packaging associated with the copy." The phrase "capable of being processed by a computer" is obviously very broad.

UCITA applies to contracts that involve licensing or purchasing computer software, contracts that entail creating computer programs or games, and contracts for accessing online database packages or distributing digital information. Also, under UCITA, it would be possible to sign a contract that would essentially take away from an author or producer substantially all the rights granted him under the copyright laws, except in very few instances, one example being music residuals. Software engineers, content providers and writers can look forward to these contracts being pushed at them by the big data barons very soon under UCITA. There's also the potential for the death of fair use rights under UCITA. Librarians also fear contract clauses that prohibit lending materials or that prohibit activities or uses that we may make in the course of preservation.

UCITA would also let companies prohibit publication of criticism of their product by inserting a clause in the licensing agreement to the effect that "The customer will not publish reviews of the product without prior consent from ABC Software Company." Clearly writers, coders and librarians need to be legally permitted to write product reviews. Trade associations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and the American Library Association (ALA) have all come out against the law. Publishers of software and electronic-based materials are the primary supporters of UCITA. Aggressively advocating passage of the law are the Software Industry Information Association (http://www.siia.net) and the Business Software Alliance (http://bsa.org).
References and Sources:
  • UCITA Fact Sheet (http://www.cpsr.org/program/UCITA/ucita-fact.html): Developed by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the UCITA Fact Sheet covers the definition and brief history of UCITA, and links to the promoters (only one, the Software & Information Industry Association, is listed) and opponents of the law. A sub page attempts to track activity at the state level.
  • UCITA: State Contract Law Intersects Federal Copyright Law (http://www.ala.org/washoff/ucita.html): The American Library Association's Washington Office offers this explanation of UCITA from the perspective of its effect on libraries and provides links to other informative Web sites. ALA also has a sample letter to be sent to state legislators considering UCITA legislation. Print one off and send it!!!!!
  • Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) (http://www.arl.org/info/frn/copy/ucitapg.html): The Association of Research Libraries weighs in with its take on UCITA, including links to letters, statements, and testimony.
  • 4Cite (http://www.4cite.org): Clearly anti-UCITA, 4Cite "For a Competitive Information and Technology Economy" not only provides information on UCITA and a list of organizations, individuals, associations, and companies that oppose UCITA, but also gives advice to activists fighting the legislation.
  • The UCITA Page (http://www.infoworld.com/ucita/): InfoWorld has published a large number of articles by Ed Foster castigating UCITA. This Web site updates his commentary and gives links to other UCITA resources.
  • IEEE Position Paper (http://www.ieeeusa.org/forum/POSITIONS/ucita.html): The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers - United States of America, representing 240,000 members, took the position that UCITA should not be adopted by the states. Their position paper outlines their objections to UCITA.

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