Following Mr. Option's write-up I thought it would be
beneficial to discuss specific cases that have come before the courts.
The courts have yet to have a clear policy on shrink-wrap
licenses but have generally looked at each case on an individual basis.
The fundamental question of if a contract can be
entered into whether the software company can impose its terms when it is not a
party to the contract between the software vendor and the purchaser (the law of
In ProCD Inv v Zeidenberg1 the court found the shrink-wrap license
was valid because the software could not be used until the user had viewed and
accepted the license terms which showed every time the software was launched.
While the packaging did not contain the license text it stated that special terms must be agreed
to before the software could be used.
The court found that a contract had been formed between the
purchaser and the software vendor.
'Shrink-wrap licenses are enforceable unless their terms are
objectionable on grounds applicable to contracts in general (for example, if they violate a rule of positive law, or if they are unconscionable).'
In a second case, Hill v Gateway 2000 Inc2, Hill ordered a PC
over the phone and it arrived in a box containing license terms. The terms
stated that unless the PC was returned within 30 days the terms were accepted
(no notification was required by the customer to show that the terms were
accepted.) The court found that by not returning the computer a contract was
formed (acceptance by conduct).
The case however was influenced by the fact that Hill was
seeking to take advantage of the warranty clause in the same contract he was
Gateway was involved in another case, this time vs.
Klockek3. This time the court found Klockek to be the offeror and Gateway the
vendor and therefore the contract was complete when Klockek received the PC. As
the contract was formed before the license agreement was read the purchaser was
not bound the license.
Neither of these cases considered privity.
In the Scottish case Beta Computers Europe
ltd v Adobe Systems Europe Ltd4, Adobe ordered software
(Informix) from Beta Computers over the phone. The terms and conditions were
not discussed on the phone. When the software arrived it contained a partially visible
EULA stating that opening the package indicated acceptance of the license terms.
Adobe attempted to return the software for a full refund.
The court found in Adobe's favor on the basis that there was no completed
contract until the license terms were known accepted by both parties and the
purchaser should be able to accept the license terms before becoming bound to
86F 1447 (7th Circuit 1996)
105F 1147 (7th Circuit 1997)
104F F Supp 2d 1332
Simpson Greierson's x-tech group :A Guide to E-Commerce Law (Brookers:Wellington)