Software licenses are often complex documents comprised of multiple exhibits, schedules, and terms and conditions, co-authored by lawyers, sales people and engineers. And when disputes over the use of software arise, it is, accordingly, often not simple to sort out what the agreement says. I have written a post over at my law firm’s blog about a recent software copyright infringement case where although software’s end user license agreement (“EULA”) said it was the entire agreement, the court held that it could consider evidence outside the agreement about the term of the license (how long it was for). It’s a noteworthy read to remind us that clear drafting in software and technology agreements (and any kind of agreement for that matter) is crucial.
The Compliance Store v. Greenpoint Mortgage Funding, — F.3d —, 2010 WL 4056112 (5th Cir. October 18, 2010)
A federal court in Texas has decided a case that could have notable implications for both providers and users of software. The court took a narrow view of the rights that licensees of software have to authorize third parties (i.e., independent contractors) to use software on behalf of the licensee.
Plaintiff software provider sued its customer for breach of the software license agreement after plaintiff learned that the customer allowed its attorneys to input data using the software. Plaintiff claimed that the use was not permitted by the terms of the license agreement.
Customer moved for summary judgment on the breach of software license claim and the district court granted the motion. Plaintiff software provider sought review with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court reversed.
The appellate court held that the license agreement should not be read to permit use of the software by a third party not expressly provided for in the agreement, even though such third party’s use of the software was on behalf of or for the benefit of the licensee.
The district court had relied on two earlier Fifth Circuit cases — Geoscan v. Geotrace Technologies and Hogan Systems v. Cybresource International — to look beyond the express language of the license agreement and hold that use of the software by defendant’s attorneys was permitted. The district court found such use to be permitted because it was done on behalf of or for the benefit of defendant.
But the appellate court distinguished Geoscan and Hogan Systems, finding that neither case stands for such an expansive proposition. Unlike the agreements in those cases, the license in this case contained no provision that permitted use by third parties on behalf of the licensee. Moreover, among other things, defendant was expressly prohibited from transferring or sublicensing the technology and was prohibited from assigning its rights under the license agreement. The software license agreement also contained a provision that served to excluse all third party beneficiaries to the agreement.