Sounds like this could be our future. What happens if a software company decides to yank their software that runs a 911 system? How about traffic light software? The list could be endless.

Giant Robot Imprisons Parked Cars

The robot that parks cars at the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, trapped hundreds of its wards last week for several days. But it wasn’t the technology car owners had to curse, it was the terms of a software license.

The garage is owned by the city; the software, by Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida.

In the course of a contract dispute, the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises just a few days before the contract between both parties was set to expire. What the city didn’t understand or perhaps concern itself with, is that they sent the company packing with its manuals and the intellectual property rights to the software that made the giant robotic parking structure work.

“It’s more of a problem than people imagine,” says Bill Coats, Partner at White & Case. More complex licensing schemes are becoming common, from term licenses like those offered by Robotic to “Self Help Features” that allow venders into their software after the sale, and “time bombs,” where the term in the license is backed up by code in the program which simply stops it working after a certain date.

With ever more specialized software, companies and governments increasingly find themselves in situations they didn’t anticipate. “More and more the (vendors) are realizing this gives them phenomenal leverage,” said Coates.



  1. Milo says:

    Another ad for open source.

  2. James Hill says:

    Another ad for common sense: Don’t license mission critical software, buy it.

    And if a private company pulls this shit, trapping peoples’ private property? Throw their employees in jail until they come to their senses.

  3. Gig says:

    Can eminent domain be extended to software?

  4. Improbus says:

    Sounds like the city was trying to screw’m. Good for the software company. You can’t trust the government whether it be local, state or federal. Does anyone remember the INSLAW scandal?

  5. ECA says:

    dont ya love the idea…
    That MANY companies LEASE software rather then BUY IT.
    But, purchasing Software is getting EXPENCIVE, for little or NO reason.

  6. Ballenger says:

    Another good example of why the clueless shouldn’t do business with vendors that have no interest in protecting the end user. How hard would it have been to simply disable the parking function, while letting customers still pick up their vehicles. Not very. Without getting into rather the city or the vendor was at fault, there should have been a lease exit prenup to protect the customer. If for no other reason than to not expose both to lawsuits. The only thing that might have made this more fun to watch is if Mel Gibson’s Ferrari, or whatever, had gotten locked in the garage.

  7. BobH says:

    Here’s a true story and why software with a “lock” of sorts can be beneficial.

    Vertical market development is high risk. At best, even if a product is a success, there are only a finite number of buyers. The cost of code remains constant whether a potential million seller or a niche program. The last thing needed is a pirate; i.e.: someone with sufficient audacity to steal the use of the software.

    Surprisingly, in 20 years, more than a few DOCTORS have revealed themselves as feeling entitled to use specialty programs without paying — even though they can easily afford the fee.

    So what is the best solution in this situation? Permit unfettered use for a finite time but make sure the code flips to a read-only version unless currently licensed or removed. All the information remains accessible, of course, but the individuals who opted to help themselves to the programmer’s handiwork sans compensation are reduced to look but don’t touch mode.

    It’s amazing how many fat medical practices then decide the programmer’s stipend is more than fair.

  8. Rob N says:

    I live in Hoboken and this saga has been playing out since the early nineties. It took about 6 years to build this garage and sort out all the contract breeches so the garage could open. There were problems with the contractors, sub contractors, city corruption, software (demonstrations would go laughably wrong in the tradition of the funniest Mocrosoft demo moments) etc. There were far too many cooks and no competent oversight. The city wanted to know all their options before renewing the contract but they had given up their options long ago. Sheesh…

  9. Gibson says:

    Hey, if I was being escorted out by police due to a contract dispute, then SCREW the people who’s cars are in the garage. It’s old men like James Hill with his “respect my authority” attitude that lead to this situation.

    And throw them in jail on what charge? They were escorted from the building…they don’t work there anymore. If the City of Hoboken wants to run things, let them run it then. Yeah, “come to their senses” indeed.

    Give me a break.

  10. Anon says:

    Imagine a world held hostage by their dependency on an inferior O/S for PCs – oh wait.

  11. James Hill says:

    Hey, if I was being escorted out by police due to a contract dispute, then SCREW the people who’s cars are in the garage. It’s old men like James Hill with his “respect my authority” attitude that lead to this situation.

    So you’re saying that a business is justified in screwing its customers? Really intelligent.

    Also, I’m 27 years old. I’m glad you see me as an authority figure and all, but no, I won’t pay child support. No matter how much your mother begs and pleads.

    And throw them in jail on what charge?

    Theft.

    They were escorted from the building…they don’t work there anymore.

    You have them remove the cars from the building before they leave, smarty. Wait a second, you can’t be my kid. Smartalix on the other hand…

    If the City of Hoboken wants to run things, let them run it then. Yeah, “come to their senses” indeed.

    So you’re saying it’s OK for the city to take over private property? Really intelligent.

  12. Gibson says:

    So you’re saying that a business is justified in screwing its customers? Really intelligent.

    They weren’t their customers anymore…are you blind or something? Are you missing the part where it says “In the course of a contract dispute, the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises just a few days before the contract between both parties was set to expire.” Really intelligent.

    Theft of what? They didn’t work there. It’s not their problem anymore. As they were escorted off the premises, at what point did the City of Hoboken stop and say “hey, before we kick these guys out of here we should have them open the garage up”. They didn’t. They were more concerned with just pushing around their weight and thinking they were outsmarting the developers. If you’re being escorted out of a building, you really don’t have time to just say “sorry, I’m going to have to finish this up before we leave”. You don’t, they come to your desk, tell you to pack up your things and get the hell out. That’s it.

    This is all on the City of Hoboken’s shoulders.

  13. Mr. H. Fusion says:

    Gibson, I’m agreeing with you, but hearing James. (Don’t worry, he’s old for his age)

    If the Software had a poison pill installed that enacted without fair warning to anyone, then the software company might be partially responsible. Even if you are asked to pack up and leave, you can’t sabotage the the project. If the city were using the software illegally, then their recourse should have been to get a cease and desist order. They were aware of what the result of their action would be and did not warn or try to prevent it. Because of their actions, they held the uninvolved third parties vehicles hostage. Sounds like Mischief and Extortion to me.

  14. Uncle Dave says:

    “And throw them in jail on what charge?
    Theft”

    You’re kidding , right? We’re talking about software. If you know anything about the business you know no one purchases software, they simply license it. How could the owners of the software (Robotic) steal it from themselves?

    However, both parties were wrong. The Robotic people should have told the city what would happen if the new contract wasn’t signed. They shouldn’t have shut things down the day they left because there were still a couple of days left on the old contract, according to the story. If it was the last day of the contract, they had every right to pull out their program, regardless of the consequences. The city no longer had any rights to it without paying for it.

    The city was wrong in that they were clueless about the contract they already had and what would happen at the end of it if they didn’t renew. That they expected to keep using the software after the end meant they were intent on stealing the software. The “contract” the city had with the car owners (what, you never read the back of a car park ticket?) would make it the city’s fault for not being able to get their cars.

  15. James Hill says:

    Christ. You guys must be drinking what Britney’s drinking.

    When I talk about theft I’m talking about the people’s cars. The same people the business is supposed to serve, and the same people the city government is supposed to work for. As far as I’m concerned, since neither are doing their job, fuck both of ’em. What I originally said, and properly defended, was in line with the city helping the people to at least get their cars back. In that guise the city using its “bully power” to force the company to release the cars from robo-garage would have been justified.

    Dave, if you know the software business, you know that not all software licenses have an expiration date (despite M$’s best efforts a few years ago).

    After much public wrangling and court dates in Hoboken, the two acrimonious parties came to a settlement: the city would pay $5,500 a month for a three-year software license; Robotic would continue to provide technical support. And neither party would talk about the whole business anymore.

    But the city of Hoboken doesn’t appear to know this, and they’ve signed a deal that could put them in the same situation as described in this story three years from now.

    You don’t lease mission critical software: You make it yourself, you use open source, or you buy it. Period.

  16. Mr H. Fusion says:

    James, Theft is the taking of another’s property for your own use. That didn’t happen here. Neither the city or software company took the cars. What happened, through negligence, was to prevent the true owners of the cars from accessing their vehicles. That is not theft. It sounds more like Mischief to me. Then the refusing to part with the correct code until the city paid would be extortion. While the Mischief is usually a misdemeanor, Extortion is usually a felony.

    The contract expired August 01, the passcodes were changed remotely on July 29.
    Says Dennis Clarke, general manager of Robotics, “If you own the copyright, you have a right to use it. They are not entitled to our source codes. This is very critical proprietary information covered under contract law and intellectual properties.”

    Dennis Clarke denies that they tampered with the garage but says, “I prayed on the beach this morning and (the codes) all changed.”

    It might be proprietary, but when the city has leased the code, the rules can’t just be changed willy nilly. That is where Robotics just might end up having their butts sued off. Not by the city, but by the car owners.
    http://robotgossip.blogspot.com/ (partway down the page)

  17. Uncle Dave says:

    “Dave, if you know the software business, you know that not all software licenses have an expiration date (despite M$’s best efforts a few years ago).”

    Quite true. My point was you are buying a license to use the software, not the software itself.

  18. doug says:

    15. I go with James on this one – this software company is holding these peoples’ cars hostage (maybe its extortion and not theft, but still criminal), and I would send the cops around to arrest the executives.

  19. James Hill says:

    James, Theft is the taking of another’s property for your own use.

    Theft is the unrequested posession of someone elses property, regardless of use. If I take a hose from your garage and don’t use it the act is still theft. Neglegence, in this case, lead to theft. If it was not theft then the people would have been able to walk into the garage, put their keys in their cars, and drive away.

    The car owners should sue them, but they should sue the city as well: The city didn’t protect them, and that’s their job.

    Quite true. My point was you are buying a license to use the software, not the software itself.

    Fair enough: What’s the city going to do with source code anyway, since they have to hire another company to run a f’n garage to begin with?


0

Bad Behavior has blocked 5306 access attempts in the last 7 days.