Issue #198, October 6, 1999  

Resellers And Users Beware:
Big Brother Is After You

By Stephen Lawton

     Resellers watch out. Big Brother is after you, and your very livelihood could be at stake. The attack is in the form of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), a nasty proposal that Washington Watch columnist Chris Barnett discusses in depth this issue. A key to UCITA is how it modifies an element of today's business world that has become more of an albatross for small and midsize businesses than a shield for software developers. That element is, of course, the software license.
     As a corporate or individual user, you don't own the software you buy. All you usually get is the right to use it. If a new version of the software is released and you're forced to upgrade, what do you do with all of your old versions? Eat them! I've never heard of Microsoft, Novell, Corel or any other company telling a user, "Sure, we'll buy back your software. After all, you're not using it anymore." What you do hear is, "This is the latest version. It might not be fully compatible with the last version, but if you want it, you'll have to pay."
     If UCITA passes, who will get hurt the worst? Resellers won't be able to dispose of excess stock, and smaller integrators won't get access to the software they need. And if the big software companies get the right to delete unlicensed or used software from your systems without due process, just look out. Can you spell
      Recently I needed to buy an older copy of QuarkXPress. MicroTimes uses V.3.32 because V.4 does not meet the art director's quality standards.
     Quark doesn't carry the older version. Just because users want or need an earlier version doesn't mean the vendor wants to sell it to them. That service is for the secondary market to provide. I was able to find what I needed at Software & More, a hole-in-the-wall reseller in Citrus Heights outside Sacramento. The company's shelves are filled with copies of software for long-discontinued hardware. If it weren't for companies like Software & More, a lot of people would be unable to find the software they need.
     My answer to this issue: Licensing is obsolete. When users buy software, they should really buy the software and the right to use it, just as they buy a car or book. A software publisher can still protect its intellectual property. But users should be able to sell, trade or otherwise dispose of software freely and without fear of the software police zapping programs on their hard disk or searching their disk without a warrant.
     Resellers and OEMs should be allowed to buy and sell software as they do any commodity, such as memory. And in return, users will still be addicted to buying new versions of software. It's time for software vendors to open their eyes to the '90s and free-market economics before the '90s pass them by.

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