|Cem Kaner, Ph.D., J.D.||Dept. of Computer Sciences, Florida Tech|
|Law Office of Cem Kaner||150 West University Blvd.|
|firstname.lastname@example.org||Melbourne, FL 32904|
Cem Kaner and David Pels
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As you read this, a little known but influential legislative drafting organization is finishing its work on a 350-page proposal called the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). Backed primarily by computer software and hardware companies, UCITA will slash customers' rights.
The organization is the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). NCCUSL was formed by the States shortly after the Civil War, to write laws that all (or most) of the States could agree to. If NCCUSL approves UCITA at the end of this month, UCITA will probably become law in a few states by the end of 1999.
Here are examples of the rules under UCITA:
Backers of UCITA insist that it leaves consumers and small businesses with our existing rights, and gives us new ones. But it doesn't. That's why every consumer advocate we know (including Consumers Union and Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology) has called for termination of the UCITA project. A July 9, 1999 analysis by the Federal Trade Commission points out that UCITA allows software companies to place "restrictions on a consumers right to sue for a product defect, to use the product, or even to publicly discuss or criticize the product." The analysis concludes, "we question whether it is appropriate to depart from these consumer protection and competition policy principles in a state commercial law statute."
NCCUSL is a well-respected legislative drafting organization. Having worked in the software industry (usually as managers) for most of our adult lives, we appreciate NCCUSL's enthusiasm for protecting America's fastest growing industry. But NCCUSL's drafting committee has let itself be too heavily influenced by software companies' lawyers, who dominate the committee's open-to-the-public meetings.
Until recently UCITA was a proposed amendment to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) called Article 2B. The American Law Institute co-authors all amendments to the UCC with NCCUSL. The ALI called for "fundamental revisions" in Article 2B because of its treatment of customer rights. Recently, the ALI withdrew from the Article 2B process, killing it as a UCC amendment. NCCUSL renamed 2B UCITA and is now carrying UCITA on its own.
NCCUSL is having its annual meeting in Denver will vote on UCITA on July 30, 1999. Without more opposition, UCITA will pass. We urge you to record your opposition by writing to the NCCUSL commissioners from your State. You can find the names of your commissioners at our web site, www.badsoftware.com.
Cem Kaner is a Silicon Valley-based attorney and software development consultant. He wrote Testing Computer Software, which is the best selling book in the field's history. David Pels heads customer operations and support for the high-technology division of a leading automotive diagnostics company. Kaner & Pels are the authors of Bad Software: What To Do When Software Fails (John Wiley & Sons, 1998). They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.