LWN first reported
on UCC-2B, a
proposal for a uniform law on software licensing (and other intellectual
property issues), over five years ago. UCC-2B proposed to legitimize
"shrink-wrap" licenses - even if the license is hidden within the box and
unavailable to the customer until after the product is purchased. Some of
the worst abuses of software licensing, such as prohibitions on the
publication of benchmark results or "unauthorized" product reviews and bans
on reverse engineering, would
have, in theory, been legalized by UCC-2B.
Things got more interesting in 1999, when UCC-2B evolved into UCITA. At
the drafting committee added nice features like the (legal) ability to disable
software remotely, non-transferability of licenses, and more. UCITA was
eventually passed (in modified form) in two U.S. states, but appeared to
stall otherwise. It was, after all, not a very good law.
In 2002, the UCITA folks tried
again with a series of amendments to the law. Remote shutdowns were
taken out, and the provisions allowing the prohibition of public criticism
of the software were watered down slightly. But the new version also
changed the terms on warranties, to the point that it would be impossible
for a free software product to ship with a warranty disclaimer. UCITA
remained a bad law.
Things took a turn for the worse (from the point of view of those backing
UCITA) in early 2003, when the American Bar Association (the professional
association for lawyers in the U.S.) refused to endorse UCITA.
Versions of the law were introduced into several state legislatures, but
made no real progress. UCITA, it seemed, wasn't going anywhere.
This week, it would appear that UCITA has hit the end of the road: the
National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws has voted to shut down the UCITA
committee. UCITA has ceased to be an active effort in the U.S.
There is a worthwhile lesson in this development: it is possible to
defeat bad laws, at least some of the time. We should not forget another,
hard-learned lesson, however: this sort of proposal tends to come back,
over and over again. Consider the words of the NCCUSL president:
Clearly our efforts to find consensus and to bring all of the
interested parties together has been extraordinary. Unfortunately
in the real world, sometimes doing the right thing at the right
time is not enough.
The clearest thing here is that the people behind UCITA have learned little
from its defeat; UCITA is "the right thing at the right time." UCITA is
gone for now, but it shall certainly be back.
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