Click-through Contract Caution: Why You Need to Read the Small Print

Wednesday, 16 June, 2021

Let’s face it; most of us don’t read the fine print in click-through contracts. We often find ourselves clicking ‘Accept’ without a second thought. Especially when it comes to accepting licensing terms to download software. And sometimes, that can have consequences. These consequences can range from the seemingly harmless (a nosy neighbor or coworker being suggested as a new Facebook friend or Instagram follow to you after entering their contact information in your phone – since, after all, Instagram and Facebook both state in their fine print that they will access your contacts and use that information to suggest follows and friends) to the truly disastrous (signing away important privacy provisions that could get you or your organization in trouble). 

The stakes are high for the click-through contracts vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe, and Oracle are frequently presenting to clients. But given the informal feel – scroll through and click – it can feel inconsequential. “It’s easy to be lulled into complacency,” warns Arthur Beeman, attorney at Beeman & Muchmore, LLP, a law firm based in San Francisco that partners with LicenseFortress. 

And the truth is that click-through contracts are anything but inconsequential, as many companies learned during the pandemic. With so many employees working remotely, many who had never previously added remote access to their phones, tablets, or personal computers did. Realizing this, some vendors changed the wording of their contracts to ask that licenses be counted by devices, not users, leaving the organizations served by these vendors in for a nasty surprise. It was in the fine print – but who reads the fine print?

Problems with Accepting Licensing Terms to Download Software

Your agreement with Oracle (or any other vendor) is predicated on an overarching master agreement. This agreement can last 20 years or longer. Pursuant to that, you would have to order documents that apply to the products you use. On a lower tier, there are technical service agreements, which you typically renew annually. When you’re accepting licensing terms to download software, you’re essentially entering into a contract that dictates how you can use that software.

Why Every Word Counts

Skimming through the licensing terms is a common habit. However, recognizing the nuances can shield you from unexpected legal challenges:

  • Usage Boundaries: The terms will clearly outline how and where you can use the software. Does it allow for a single machine installation or multiple?
  • License Longevity: Is the software yours to use forever, or is it a ticking clock waiting to expire?
  • Portability: Can you pass on the software rights to someone else?
  • End of Agreement Conditions: What conditions might prompt the software provider to end your usage rights?

This is where Oracle and third-party vendors will likely try to snag you. According to Joel Muchmore, also an attorney at Beeman & Muchmore, LLP, it’s not unheard of for vendors to send along a link with these to a completely new master agreement that is typically in a complete click-through form. Additionally, these are frequently “intentionally Byzantine,” says Muchmore — and are not designed to be a fun read.

“We have absolutely had clients that have wandered into new master agreements and had no idea that they had done so,” says Muchmore. “Bam, they’re being controlled by a new document for the first time in 20 years.” 

These most frequently appear when either ordering new products or renewing technical support agreements. Less reputable vendors may insert provisions that would require your organization to run scripts that you might find intrusive – and legally, if you signed off on it using a click-through contract, a court of law would likely find in the vendor’s favor.

The Financial Side of Things

Neglecting to adhere to licensing terms can come with a financial sting. For businesses, in particular, it’s vital to stay compliant to dodge substantial monetary penalties.

Support and Upgrades

By accepting the licensing terms, you’re often securing your access to software updates and technical support. Not staying compliant? You risk missing out on vital security patches or assistance.

The Simplicity of Online Acceptance

The digital approach to accepting licensing terms to download software is both efficient and environmentally friendly. It ensures users globally get consistent experiences and can be updated swiftly to keep terms current.

How to Respond to Click-Through Contracts

Luckily, contracts from reputable vendors (which, unfortunately, isn’t all of them) usually don’t just randomly appear like in the case of cookies – they won’t pop up on your screen and demand you fill them out before going about your business. Instead, they’ll be sent over by your Oracle or Microsoft rep under the guise of reviewing your contract. 

Recognize the gravity of the situation

Both because it’s a click-through contract (which many people tend to take less seriously) and due to the longstanding nature of the relationship your organization has with these vendors, it can be easy to forget that the ERP systems involved are worth millions of dollars. But they are – don’t forget that and fail to recognize the gravity of the situation. 

Respond smartly

Read the contract and assert yourself. “Hey, don’t like this provision,” suggests Muchmore for a response. “Can’t we keep the old contract?” Let your rep know that you see the difference and don’t accept it.

Get a lawyer

 Engage Beeman & Muchmore or a software license management company (such as LicenseFortress) to help guide you. The language in the contract will intentionally be confusing – it’s a good idea to pull in someone with lots of experience to review it with you. 

Damage Control

Let’s say you had a big day and signed a click-through contract on autopilot. Oooops. If it’s the same day or soon after, reach out to your Oracle rep and let them know that you made a mistake. “I bet you could, with a bit of adamance, pull something back in 24-to-36 hours,” says Muchmore. But don’t dally – after a week, it’ll be very hard, if not impossible, to backtrack, so act quickly!

In general, use caution when reviewing any contract, click-through or otherwise. And remember — these contracts are complex and intentionally confusing. It never hurts to have a competent and experienced consultant like LicenseFortress on your side. Given the value of these transactions, taking extra time and putting extra resources into verifying that the contract is important. Make sure it is the contract your team negotiated previously is worth it.