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Chronicle: UCITA, The Law Against Sharing Knowledge

Liblicense-l readers:  we've reproduced a few paragraphs from this
improtant article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Please read
all of it... The moderators.

This article is available online at this address:


              - The text of the article is below -

  The Law Against Sharing Knowledge

  I  remember the days when the only licenses that mattered
  were the ones that allowed you to drive, fish and hunt, or get
  married. Today it seems that licensing is taking over the
  world of academic libraries, and putting scholars' ability to
  exchange information at risk. Stories of draconian contract
  terms in licenses from software vendors and the publishers of
  electronic databases and periodical indexes circulate like
  tall tales -- but they are usually true. We will hear even
  more such stories if the state legislatures that are
  considering the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act,
  or Ucita, adopt it this spring.
  Ucita is a model law, proposed by the National Conference of
  Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, that would set new rules
  in all states for licensing software and every other form of
  digital information. So far, more than 20 states have
  considered it, but only Maryland and Virginia have adopted it.
  Most of the states' attorneys general are on record as
  opposing the law because of its potential for adverse effects
  on consumers: Ucita would enable vendors to restrict
  consumers' rights to read license agreements before accepting
  them, to sue vendors if their products were defective, or to
  donate a product to charity. But the conference amended the
  act last year, and its revised version will probably be
  introduced in many legislatures this year, including those
  that rejected the original version.
  What librarians object to most about Ucita is that it would
  permit software vendors and publishers to impose a wide range
  of terms on academics' use of electronic information -- terms
  that conflict with institutional policies and regulations --
  and that the act would tie our hands in negotiating fair
  licensing agreements. It might even undermine prevailing
  federal copyright laws: While the act's authors insist that it
  would not overturn copyright, they have rejected a proposal
  from several library associations to add wording that clearly
  asserts the pre-eminence of federal copyright law in
  "shrink-wrap licenses."
  Ucita would replace the public law of copyright with the
  private law of contracts. Under copyright law, a vendor that
  sells copies of information has only limited power to control
  the subsequent use of that information. But a contract under
  Ucita could prevent the user from reading the license in
  advance, reinforcing the vendors' view that opening the
  software box or breaking the shrink-wrap constitutes consent
  to the license's terms. It would extend that view to the
  online environment, making clicking on a virtual button the
  equivalent of opening a physical box.
  Edward R. Johnson is dean of libraries at Oklahoma State

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Copyright 2003 by The Chronicle of Higher Education