Clauses from controversial US legislation that can allow vendors to switch off software remotely and without a court order may appear in UK software licences, according to the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast).
The Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (Ucita) has been agreed at federal level and is now been adopted by US state legislatures.
The Act is designed to bring computer software licensing legislation into the age of ebusiness, clarify the law for transactions across the internet and create a consistent body of US law concerning software licensing.
However, provisions in the Act allow a licensor to switch off software remotely and without a court order if it suspected that licensing agreements have been broken.
The Act also prevents licence transfers from one party to another without vendor approval, allows suppliers to disclaim warranties and makes so-called shrink-wrap licensors' terms more enforceable.
Fast is urging UK companies buying US software to study the Act in conjunction with any licensing agreement. The group also said that since the US tends to lead the way in intellectual property law, the UK is likely to apply similar legislation.
Laurie Westwood, a Fast regional investigator, said: "The effects of Ucita are wide ranging and allow the possibility of publishers switching off software remotely.
"European law is very different and these measures may be in conflict with existing UK laws prohibiting unfair contract term."
Westwood said these "pulling the plug" measures have provoked privacy concerns. "Where a contract exists, the Act essentially gives the licensor freedom to access a person's hard drive to search for and disable any software been used illegally," he said.
Support for this legislation comes from the Business Software Alliance, a US-based coalition of software manufacturers, including Computer Associates, Lotus and Microsoft.
Bloor Research said the impact of withdrawing users' software will be out of proportion to the damage allegedly being suffered by the software vendor.
Dale Vile, a senior analyst at Bloor Research, said vendors such as Microsoft would have to create a database of users if the model is going to work, and that the legislation would create pressure on consumers and resellers to change the current model where registration is optional.
It would be relatively straightforward to turn off software remotely if it were delivered through the application service provider model, said Vile. But shrink-wrapped software would need to be fitted with a timebomb to make it possible for a vendor to remotely turn it off.
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