The Uniform Computer Transaction Act

Every read a license agreements. Most of them boil down to this:

You are being given the right the use this software on one system. This is a license to use the software, we are not transferring the ownership.

We do not guarantee that this software will do anything. If we made any promises concerning the features or performance of this software you can forget them now.

The basic thrust of this license is that we have all the rights, you have none, and you must pay us money.

In spite of the fact that most software licenses look like this, the software industry feels that this type of license is not restrictive enough. Thus we have the Uniform Computer Transaction Act (UCTA). This is a proposed law that's consider one of the most anti-consumer pieces of legislation in existence.

First a little background. The states try to keep laws uniform from one state to another. This makes things simple and easier for people to deal with. To do this they have formed a group called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). These people design "model" legislation that's then given that's supposed to be a blue-print for laws to that are to be enacted by the state governments.

The UCTA was created with the aide of "industry experts". (Translation: Big money lobbyst employed by the software makers.) The law has some interesting provisions. For example, it is legal to put in a license agreement a clause that says:

If you are reviewing this software for a magazine, you aren't allowed to public a bad review.

The software maker may change the terms of a license by sending you E-Mail. (You don't have to receive it, they just have to send it.)

But the biggest change this law makes is to the laws the govern contracts. You see, in all states, the law says that you must know the full terms of a contract before the contract is entered into. In practical terms, that means that the entire contract, including any license agreements covered by it, be available to both parties ahead of time.

With the UCTA, this is no longer true. Now click-through and shrink-wrap license will be legal. Now be honest, how many times have you actually sat down when installing a piece of software and actually read the click-through license agreement. I did. Once.

But, I'm not the type of person to spent a lot of time yelling, screaming, and protesting about bad government. Not when I'm so much better at satire and embarrassment.

Right now I'm waiting for the UCTA to come to California. I expect it to pass the state legislature. True, there are a ton of consumer groups opposed to it, but there a lot of money in favor of it.

If it does pass I'm going to send everyone in the state legislature and the governor a program. Absolutely free. Costs nothing to purchase. Something that at least appears to be useful. Something they'll want to try out. Like a tool to track bills as they pass through the government, or something to manage donor mailing lists.

Of course it will have a click through license. A long click through license. Maybe I'll include the entire text of the UCTA in the license (all 350 pages). I'll also include one additional clause, about 90% of the way through the text:

This software costs nothing to purchase, however the user of this software agrees to sign up for a $5,000 a year maintenance contract for this program.

Also the user of this software agrees to resign from any and all public offices he current holds and to never be employed in government job (elected, appointed, or otherwise) for the rest of his life.

In case of a dispute, the user of this software waves all his rights of as a citizen of the United States.

The terms of this license are a trade secret. Discloser of them to anyone such as the press, the public, or your personal attorney is expressly prohibited. At first glance this may appear to violate the First Amendment, but the UCTA specifically grants software makers the right to put terms like this in their license agreements, so shut up!

I'll have to put in a registration card for people to send in so I'll know who's using the software and who's not. After a few months, I'm bound to catch a few suckers.

The next step is to insert a full page advertisement in the Sacramento Bee. (The main newspaper in California's capitol.) The headline would read:


I would then list the legislatures who had use the software and clicked through the license agreement.

The advertisement would then go on to explain how anti-consumer the law is and how easy it is to insert extremely bad for the consumer inside a click-through license.

The conclusion would state that I don't really expect the people to resign. But that I do have a legal contract requiring them to do so. And they can't plead ignorance of the law, they passed it.

Now for a disclaimer: I am not advocating that anyone go out there and do this. I'm not even advocating that I do it myself, at least not without consulting with a good attorney first.

Will Rogers once said of Congress, "Every time they make a law it's a joke, and every time they make a joke it's a law."

Those of you who are not laughing and want to get politically active might want to visit the Electronic Freedom Foundation at Also the new services at and frequently carry stories on these subjects.

Another bad law

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law is being used by the DVD CCA (DVD Content Control Association) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to prevent people from developing software that allows them to play DVD movies that they own and have a right to view.

Also some large software manufactures are looking at using this law as a way of stopping the open software movement. The idea is to ban "reverse engineering" to prevent tools like Samba from working with commercial systems such as Windows-2000. The would do this no by banning "reverse engineering" but by calling it "revealing trade secrets protection copyrighted data" and banning that.