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Valley Perspective

Microsoft Posts Sentry to Gates of Its Kingdom

A little something called the Uniform Computer Transactions Act would crack down autocratically on deadbeats.

March 26, 2000|KIMIT A. MUSTON | Kimit A. Muston is a North Hollywood playwright

I suppose it is easy for a king to lose his sense of perspective. A starving peasant sneaks into the woods and shoots one of the king's deer and an unstable monarch is likely to assume that a revolution is about to take place, that all social order is falling apart and that the head that wears the crown is in danger of being separated from the body that wears the head. So the king not only hangs the peasant but his family as well. And then goes on to level his entire village. That is the kind of behavior that can make people rise up and overthrow a king.

When it comes to modern-day kings, nobody fits the job description quite like Bill Gates. We don't bow before him but we all pay him tribute. And because some of his subjects have fallen behind in paying their bills and are sharing programs with friends, the Microsoft kingdom has decided that a revolution has broken out.

So Bill and his friends have decided what is called for here is something called the Uniform Computer Transactions Act, and rather than parade this sledgehammer before the national press in Washington, Microsoft and a number of other software companies (like Intuit) are slipping it through the 50 state legislatures.

The act would let Microsoft and its friends reach directly into a delinquent

Microsoft, richest company in the world, run by the richest man in the world, feels so threatened by its nasty customers that it needs special laws and protections from them.

customer's computer and shut off programs. And who will decide which customers are deadbeats? Why, the always correct billing department at Microsoft, that's who. No court order needed, no chance that Microsoft would shut down other programs, no chance they missed a check or provided lousy service, forcing a customer to withhold payment to get attention and contract compliance from Microsoft.

Microsoft and friends would be legally assumed to be always correct. Does that mean it would take a court order to force Microsoft to turn your computer back on? In which state would such an order be issued? Your state? Or Microsoft's? And where will it be enforced? And how?

The UCTA would require Microsoft to notify a customer before such drastic action were taken. But it would also allow notification by e-mail, without verification that such a message was received. And the UCTA goes even further. The fine print on the back of the box of software you just bought would be redefined not as "terms of sale" but as a licensing contract. That means you are no longer a customer, you are a licensee and subject to different rules. Should you donate your computer to a school or tax-exempt charity, you would first have to wipe off all software. And should you buy a program and then say something unpleasant about it on the Internet, you would also be in violation and big daddy could then reach into your machine and shut you down.

Nonpayment or late payment of a bill is a practice as old as bills. And it has always been assumed that when you buy a car you can resell to anybody you choose to at any price you want. But Microsoft, richest company in the world, run by the richest man in the world, feels so threatened by its nasty customers that it needs special laws and protections from them.

The UCTA is coming to California. It is already close to passing in Maryland. And I have to hand it to the brain trust at Microsoft. They have convinced me that no matter what a federal judge may say, Microsoft is not a monopoly. It is a second government that wants to be first. And we are in need of a little revolution. Off with their corporate heads.

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