Guile’s been reading some stuff about consumer rights, or the lack thereof, and has found some pretty disturbing stuff. There are many, many infuriating things happening in and near the courts, many of which I’ll touch on in later rants, but the worst as of late is the innocuously-named “Article 2B”.
Cursing the Darkness
Or, The Consumer Gets It In the End
Article 2B is an extension of the U.S.’s proposed Uniform Commercial Code. The UCC is set to become the bible for state laws regulating business transactions throughout the U.S. Of course, we all know that any change to U.S. laws will affect, directly or indirectly, Canada as well.
Article 2B is a well-intentioned attempt to fill a legal void regarding the buying and selling of digitized information, such as software. Unfortunately, the language of this article heavily favours vendors over consumers. It validates the concept of shrink-wrap licenses (the throw-away contracts inside the product box) and so-called click-wrap licenses (the stupor-inducing, hardly-ever-read “I Agree” contracts).
Nobody ever reads these licenses, and everyone knows it. Well, the way 2B sits now, if you don’t like the terms of the contract, you can get a refund and recover “incidental damages” such as shipping expenses. But that’s it. “So what?” you think? Well, if that brand-new SuperDuperProgram98 Version 12.0 trashes you hard drive and all it’s irreplaceable data, you’re out of luck. SDP98 v12 has a virus on the disk that wiped out your computer’s BIOS and turned it into a $3000 paperweight? Too bad.
Of course, you could always sue. But forget about small claims court. The vendor’s probably specified where and under what law you can seek redress. This usually means in their home state, leaving this option out for all but their next-door neighbours.
Here’s the best part from the average user’s standpoint. The vendor can even profit from its mistakes. Article 2B has no provision forcing them to reimburse your tech support calls.
And yes, it gets even better. There’s the possibility, if Article 2B becomes law, that anticriticism clauses could be included in the licenses. This means that if I buy a program that’s a complete waste of my time and money (like CyberMedia Oil Change, I gotta get my shots in while I can) and write about it on the site, the vendor can sue me. That’s right. Think about it. Your favourite computer magazine couldn’t write a negative product review.
Even the supposed protections for consumers are riddled with loopholes. And none of the proposals on the consumer side have been accepted by the drafters. An early draft would have held vendors responsible for viruses, but that provision was dropped due to industry opposition.
Lighting the Candle
Want to learn more about Article 2B and what you can do about it? Here are some websites:
- The 2BGuide (Just to be fair, here’s a pro-2B site first.)
- Bad Software’s UCC Index
- Consumer Project on Technology’s Protest Page
Remember, it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.