May 2011

Monthly Archives

  • FTC’s Negative Option Rule

    FTC’s Negative Option Rule & Online Offers-Renewals. What You Should Know!

    Negative Option Logo - Aber Law Firm








    The Federal Trade Commission (aka FTC) has a rule called the Negative Option Rule, which I really think every SaaS and software company should know about. 

    The definition.

    Negative Option meanswhen someone ‘fails to act’ (= silence) means they accepted a contract. 

    Q: Why Does the FTC Care?

    A: Well, some companies use this concept to trick consumers into paying for something, without knowing the financial and cancelation terms (nothing you would do, of course).

    Here are the FTC’s 5 Principles:

    1) Disclose the Material Terms of the Offer in an Understandable Manner.

    2) The Appearance of the Disclosure Should be Clear and Conspicuous.

    3) Disclose the Material Terms BEFORE the Consumer Pays for or Incurs the Financial Obligation.

    4) Obtain the Consumer’s AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT to the Offer.

    5) Don’t Impede the Cancelation Procedure.

    Let’s Look at Some Examples: 

    • bundle one service/product, with another service/product which auto-renews each month with a charge.
    • trial, which converts to a paid service.
    • service that auto-renews, without notice (your SaaS service or support renewal?).

    Here is a screenshot from the FTC.

    1) This version looks compliant (you have a choice to accept it or not).  

    Cart with Online Offers - Aber Law Firm

    2) This version does not look compliant (where is that specific consent to it, and it is kinda hidden over there on the right side?)


    Cart with Online Offers - Aber Law Firm


    So think about this issue, …

  • RFP Responses Included in SaaS Contracts. WHAT?

    RFPs Suck - Aber Law Firm

    The simple answer is no, don’t do it. Ok, let me explain.

    Background: Where is this whole idea even coming from in the SaaS law or software law regime? Many customers are counseled or taught (BTW, there are lots of companies teaching your customers how to negotiate and buy from you) to send out long RFPs that ask for the world (lots of detailed questions about your solution . . . more information than they probably need), and then when it comes to the contract stage they too often demand that your whole RFP response should become part of the final contract. Well, I think that is a really bad idea, and here are 3 reasons why.

    1) RFP Responses = Marketing Material. These responses were not written or intended to be inserted into contracts. If you really think about it, when you wrote the response you had your marketing hat on; you were telling them how great your product was. But were you thinking you were writing the contract? Probably not. Marketing material has a purpose, and that purpose is not contractual (it is more about education and inspiration).

    2) Contracts  = Rights, Duties, Etc. ≠Marketing Material. If you said in your RFP response that “…this software is the best software that does x…” should that become part of the contract? Absolutely not. Have you ever heard of the legal term ‘puffery‘?  Well it is a legal term that describes those vague …

  • Can an IM Conversation Change a Written Contract?

    Aber Law FirmThe answer is, yes.

    A very recent case ruled that the parties conversation on only IM changed the contract, even though there was nothing actually signed to reflect the change (as a software licensing lawyer, I am always looking for cases like this for you). Does this sound like a crazy result? Actually not, so let’s run through the actual IM conversation, the legal logic, and what you can learn from this case.

    1) Here is the Conversation (that changed the volume commitment under the contract).

    IM Conversation - Aber Law Firm

    That is it. ‘Awesome’ was interpreted as yes I agree to ‘No Limi’t on volume.

    2) Here is the Legal Logic.

    The court essentially said that the parties went through an ‘offer and acceptance process’ and changed the volume commitment. Where is the signed document you say? Well, there is none, but there is an offer (by typing ‘NO LIMIT’) and an acceptance (by typing ‘awesome’).

    3) Here is What You Should Remember.

    The courts in the US are now starting to get more and more comfortable with contracting via electronic means (email or IM), so don’t assume anymore that you have to have a written signed document to change a contract. How do you avoid entering into contract (offer and acceptance) via email or IM?

    1. Don’t commit to things in a email/IM, and use more non-commital language (i.e. “that is interesting,” “let me talk to my boss,” “let me think about it,” or “not sure … let me get back