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The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act continues to attract opposition. This act, if adopted as law by the U.S. states, would give new teeth to "shrink-wrap" licenses. This article by Cem Kaner gives a good summary of the problems with this act, and is worth a read. The list of opponents to the act is impressive by itself:
"...the Attorneys-General of 24 states, the Bureaus of Competition, Consumer Protection, and Policy Planning of the United States Federal Trade Commission, the leading software developers' professional societies (such as the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Society for Quality, Software Division), software trade groups representing small developers (the Independent Computer Consultants Association, the Free software Foundation), the five main library associations, leading intellectual property experts (including the American Intellectual Property Law Association, Committee of Copyright and Literary Property of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and fifty intellectual property law professors), other copyright industry associations (such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the Newspaper Association of America), and every consumer advocacy group that has looked at the bill."
UCITA would legalize a number of unpleasant things. Often-cited examples include "shutdown code" which can be triggered remotely by the software vendor, "inside the box" contracts which can not be read before purchase, and restrictions on transferrability of software licenses - meaning that a company that acquires another must buy a whole new set of licenses for the new acquisition.
Free software advocates may be yawning about now, since they have no intention of buying software with this type of restrictions. However, another aspect of UCITA is worrisome for the open source world as well - restrictions on reverse engineering. Clear legal restrictions on reverse engineering will make it much harder to write many useful free programs. One needs look no further than the current DVD case for a graphic example of what could happen here. The DeCSS code was not written to make illegal copies of DVDs (it's not needed for that); it was written so that people could play DVDs on Linux systems. UCITA would criminalize this sort of activity.
Of course, UCITA, even when adopted by all states, would not apply beyond the borders of the U.S. Other countries more strongly defend the ability to reverse-engineer products. But remember that DeCSS came from such a country; the DVDCCA is on the attack anyway.
It is possible, on the other hand, that the future will see the passage of UCITA as the beginning of the end for proprietary software. UCITA greatly increases the risks associated with non-free programs; that, in turn, will likely lead to an increased willingness to try (and support) free alternatives. The proprietary software industry may yet regret its efforts to push this act through.
Michael Tiemann is now Red Hat's Chief Technical Officer, replacing Marc Ewing, who has held that position since the founding of the company. Marc will devote his time to the Red Hat Center for Open Source, and remains on Red Hat's board of directors. At the time that Cygnus was acquired, there were rumors (that LWN declined to publish at the time) that a member of Red Hat's management would be leaving; this looks like the move the rumors were talking about.
Mr. Tiemann looks well suited to the new position; he took Cygnus from a startup to a company that sold for almost $1 billion. He knows how to make money with free software. Further in the past, he is also the person who initially created the GNU C++ compiler. Cygnus has long been a trusted center of development for much of the code that is central to the Linux system. In his new job, Mr. Tiemann should do well at keeping Red Hat honest and in a good technical position.
It is interesting to note, though, that Red Hat is now mostly out of the hands of its founders. Bob Young stepped down from most of his management duties a while back, leaving them to Matthew Szulik. Now Marc Ewing has stepped back as well. This sort of thing tends to happen to companies as they grow, and especially as they go public. All of the bright Linux entrepreneurs out there now may well make their fortunes, but they may lose their jobs in the process.
Other Red Hat news includes the completion of its stock split. Those who were not prepared were a little surprised by the sudden apparent decline in the price of the stock... Red Hat and IEntertainment also announced a deal to launch a co-branded web site on Linux gaming. Finally, Red Hat has announced the completion of the acquisitions of Cygnus Solutions and Hell's Kitchen Software. "The acquisitions make Red Hat, Inc. the largest company in the world dedicated to providing open source technology, information and services..."
IBM moves toward Linux. IBM's plans to place more emphasis on Linux drew a lot of attention this week, but there is still not a whole lot of substance to them. Evidently IBM plans to "Linux-enable" most or all of its product line, and port more software to the system as well. Beyond that, there is not a whole lot that is known at this point. IBM has made big Linux news splashes in the past (see this LWN from last February), but the end result has proved to be less noteworthy. Time will tell if things are different this time around.
More free documentation. Last week's item on free documentation omitted one other freely-available book which came out last year: DocBook: The Definitive Guide. It is ironic that the item on free documentation neglected to list the free book on one of the more important free documentation tools... (Thanks to Christian Kirsch for setting us straight).
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January 13, 2000