US IT managers are up in arms about a new law proposed by the Software Publishers Association (SPA) to exempt software companies from liability if their products do not work or even cause harm.
A group of 2,700 top IT executives, dubbed the Society for Information Management (SIM), is urging its members to petition their politicans to halt or modify proposed changes in state commerce laws, which are being backed by a range of vendors including Microsoft.
SIM points out that the proposed Uniform Commercial Code (UCC Article 2B - Licenses) will make changes to UCC Article 2, which has been in place since before the days when software was unbundled from hardware.
While officials acknowledged that the existing law does have gaps such as a lack of clarity over whether shrink wrap licenses are enforceable, it attested "that the omissions of the new law far outweigh those of the old law", with the changes "overwhelmingly favoring the vendor."
For example, vendors currently need to specify any contract provisions that breach such default rules as limiting implied warranties or capping damages for liability to the user in breach of warranty.
The proposed law, on the other hand, includes a raft of vendor-friendly default provisions, which means users would need to spell out existing assumptions in their contracts.
Susan Nycum, an attorney and member of SIM, who is working to change the proposed law, said that suppliers had managed to strengthen the bill in their favour as a result of lobbying efforts.
"Vendors were represented by well-funded representatives, who got the ear of the drafting committee. They presented a unified front and this whole thing has been heavily supported by Microsoft," she explained.
She added that one "egregious" provision that SIM?s IT working group is fighting enables suppliers to turn off a software license - even if an organisation has paid for it - if they decide the licensee has behaved inappropriately.
"Licensers can be judge, jury and executioner. Unless you pay the licenser an unspecified amount of money, it cuts off your license," she claimed.
The proposed changes would also make it easier for vendors to charge extra for goods and services now included as part of the base product, and to disable or remove software if they consider that users have breached their contracts.
SIM estimates the changes could double software and services costs for large corporate customers, but will not know until next summer whether its campaign has been successful.
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