Category Archives: Terms of Service

Implementing Terms of Service and Other Electronic Agreements

All too frequently, Terms of Service, Terms of Use and End User License Agreements (see our post on the differences between each) are found unenforceable when challenged in court because the agreements are not properly implemented.

To simply describe the implementation process (see our post on the technical aspects):

  1.  Present the agreement to the user; then
  2.  Require the user to affirmatively agree, usually through a click, to the agreement.

In the web context, implementation typically looks like this:

[Check box] I agree to the Startup Company Terms and Conditions (linked to the terms and Conditions)

[Continue] (or similar language, such as “Purchase” etc.)

In the above implementation approach, the user cannot proceed unless they check the box and click the button at the bottom of the page.

In the mobile context, implementation is more challenging given the need to balance legal implementation and user experience.  While the above approach can work, it may not be ideal from a UI/UX perspective.

One mobile approach is to present the agreement to the user, require that they scroll through the agreement and, once scrolled through, the user is presented with the following button at the bottom of the page:

[I agree] to the Terms and Conditions.

Given the differences between each mobile application, agreement implementation on mobile takes many forms and the above approach may not work for you.

Spending the time to determine the most effective way to implement your electronic agreements is vital as the agreements are worthless if found to be unenforceable.

Incorporating Online Agreements into a Printed Contract

While many agreements are entered into online, some online companies continue to operate partially offline.  Challenges arise when offline contracts require agreement to an additional online contract, such as a Terms of Service.  This is not to say that offline contracts can’t incorporate online contracts, rather, the online contract must be properly presented to the user signing offline to be enforceable.

When integrating an online contract into the terms of an offline contract, include a clear call-to-action on the part of the signatory.  This is a statement that signing the contract indicates acceptance of the online contract OR to only sign the contract if the signatory agrees to the online contract as well.  Ultimately, you want the signatory to indicate acceptance of the online contract clearly and in an informed fashion.

What calls-to-action don’t work?  A recent U.S. court case considered a link, above the signature line, to the terms and conditions (“Download Terms and Conditions”) and determined that this was insufficient to establish acceptance of the online contract.  As such, the mere existence of a hyperlink, without anything more to draw attention to the link, does not establish acceptance of an online contract.

Admittedly, while this post is more technical than most we put online, our goal is to remind our readers that caution should be exercised when trying to incorporate online contracts into the acceptance of an offline agreement.  While not impossible, contract language is pivotal to ensure enforceability of the online contract.

 

Using the DMCA to Limit Liability for 3rd Party Copyright Infringement

Worried about lawsuits resulting from 3rd parties infringing copyright through your website or application?  The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA“) may be a solution!  The DMCA contains a safe harbour that protects online service providers from liability for copyright infringement committed by 3rd parties on/through the service.  At the outset, you should already qualify as a service provider as it is any businesses that operates a website or other Internet services (mobile applications, games connected to the Internet etc.) or facilities.

In order to take advance of the DMCA, your company will need to comply with a number of simple steps (in part):

1.  Designate a Copyright Agent to receive DMCA notices with the US Copyright Office;

2.  Post the Copyright Agent’s contact information on your website;

3.   Adopt, implement and communicate to users a policy to prevent/terminate repeat infringers; and

4.  Quickly respond to DMCA notices.

In addition to meeting a number of additional elements that are not covered in this post.

The focus of this post is on the Copyright Agent.  Frequently, companies are denied the above DMCA safe harbour simply because they have not complied with the Copyright Agent terms, a shocking result especially as compliance is relatively simple.

The first requirement is to appoint the agent.  This is done by filling out a form (http://copyright.gov/onlinesp/agent.pdf) that designates the agent and by sending it, along with payment, to the US Copyright Office.  The agent’s role is to respond to DMCA notices and, as such, needs to be a person within the company that understands the DMCA notice process or the company’s legal counsel.  Typically, the company’s legal counsel acts as the Copyright Agent barring sufficient internal DMCA expertise.

The second requirement is to post the agent’s information on your website.  Again, another simple step.  Usually the agent’s contact information is placed in the Terms of Service Agreement governing your website in a separate section concerning the DMCA, the copyright agent and the DMCA notice process.

If you are a U.S. company, check to see if you are in compliance with the DMCA so that you may take advance of the safe harbour described above.  Additionally, for certain Canadian companies, it may be a prudent business decision to comply with the DMCA (check with your legal counsel).

How to Implement Electronic Signatures

Online agreements require an electronic form of your signature, whether you click “I agree” or use a digital version of your offline signature.  Electronic signature laws in the U.S. and Canada do not address the correct signature format.  Instead, these laws focus on the correct process for creating an enforceable signature.

Three key considerations guide the electronic signature process:

1.  Identification

How do you identify the signatory?  In the case of a prospective user agreeing to a Terms of Service, identification may come in the form of an email address, first and last name and IP address.  Given the impersonal nature of online agreements, the identification challenge is establishing that signatory is, in fact, the signatory.

2.  Intention

How do you establish intention to sign?  Intention could be established through a digital version of your offline signature applied to a document or a user clicking “I agree.”  Ultimately, the user must understand what they are agreeing to and that they are, in fact, agreeing.  For example, placing the “I agree” button after the agreement provides the user an opportunity to understand the agreement before being asked to agree to it.

3. Integrity

How are electronic signature records retained to ensure originality and ease of production? Integrity may be established through a fixed user acceptance process whereby any user, in order to access a website, was required to accept certain terms.  Alternatively, in the case of a more traditional signed agreement, the agreement copy was retained in a locked file format, with date and time of signature logged.  In both cases, establish an electronic audit trail.

While there is no correct type of online signature, there is a correct process for online signatures that should be considered whenever an online agreement is required.