Contractual Liability of Suppliers of Defective Software: A Comparison of the Law of the United Kingdom and United States
ContractualLiabilityof SuppliersofDefective Software
Contractual Liability of Suppliers of Defective Software: A Comparison of the Law of the United Kingdom and United States
Stephen E. Blythe 0
0 Thi s Article is brought to you for free and open access by Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It has been accepted for inclusion in Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business by an authorized administrator of Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons
1 th Floor , Pokfulam Road , Hong Kong
2 J. D., LL.M, Ph.D. candidate in Law , The University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Law, K.K. Leung Building
law, and the law in general, is never static. Rather, it is always dynamic,
responding and adapting to new inventions and occurrences.
Software consists of computer programs which, when written and used
properly, will enable the user to accomplish a specific objective. A contract
to purchase software is inherently different from contracts to purchase most
other items because it is debatable as to whether software is a "good" or a
"service." The purchaser of software is often unable to determine whether a
defect exists until the software is used; the defect is not easily recognizable
or easily ascertained. Software must often be custom-ordered to fit the
specifications and objectives of the purchaser; the supplier of the software
often does not have an intimate knowledge of what the purchaser really
wants to accomplish. Furthermore, the divergence of knowledge between
the supplier and the purchaser is often great; the supplier is hired as an
expert and is entrusted by the purchaser to provide a set of programs which
will hopefully enable the purchaser to realize specific objectives. Indeed,
more than in most purchases, the purchaser is at the mercy of the software
supplier's ability, expertise, and integrity.
Moreover, software is seldom perfect. Defective software frustrates
the purchaser's objectives and may cause the purchaser to incur monetary
damages. Business purchasers, government entities, and even private
individuals may pursue litigation because of defective software. In the past
decade, more and more suppliers of defective software have been sued for
damages caused by defects in the software. The United States and the
United Kingdom have experienced a significant amount of litigation
pertaining to suppliers' liability for defective software. Furthermore, the
two nations account for a significant amount of the world's production of
software. A comparison of the drawbacks and the benefits of the laws of
the two nations for contractual liability for defective software will illustrate
how the laws in both nations might be improved. This article compares
U.K. and U.S. law pertaining to the following aspects of contractual
liability for defective software: (1) reasonableness/unconscionability; (2)
express warranties; (3) implied warranties; (4) limitation of remedies; and
(5) standard form contracts (including shrink-wrap licenses). Using the
results from the comparisons, this article draws conclusions and makes
recommendations for changes to the laws of both countries.
II. OVERARCHING CONSIDERATIONS
Among the aspects of contractual liability to be discussed, the
distinction between the reasonableness test in the U.K. and the
unconscionability doctrine in the U.S. provides the backdrop for many of
the differences in the two nations' laws. It is more common for a U.K.
court to find a situation unreasonable than it is for a U.S. court to find a
situation unconscionable. It takes a more extreme situation to trigger the
ContractualLiability ofSuppliersof Defective Software
unconscionability doctrine than it does to trigger the reasonableness test.
A. United Kingdom: The Reasonableness Test
In the United Kingdom, an unreasonable contract will not be
enforced.2 The Unfair Contract Terms Act of 1977
the court to consider the following factors in making a determination of
reasonableness: whether the goods were purchased in a special order by the
customer; the relative amount of bargaining power between the parties; the
degree of the customer's understanding of the terms contained in the
standard form contract and whether he should have understood them;
whether the customer received an inducement to agree to the terms of the
contract; and, if the contract limits liability if a specific condition is not
complied with, whether it was reasonable at the time of the agreement to
expect that compliance with that condition would be practicable.
B. United States: The Unconscionability Doctrine
In the United States, an unconscionable contract will not be enforced.4
The test of unconscionability is whether the contract is so one-sided as to be
unconscionable under the circumstances existing at the time the contract
was entered into. The doctrine seeks to prevent one party from using
oppression and unfair surprise against the other.6
The doctrine does not seek to alter the parties' relative allocation of
risks created by one party's superior bargaining power; 7 this is one of the
significant differences between the U.K. and U.S. positions. Accordingly,
weak negotiating parties in the United Kingdom are better off than their
The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act ("UCITA") is a
model statute written in an attempt to achieve greater consistency in the
laws of the fifty states of the United States.8 U.K. law does not have a
comparable "computer-specific" statute. 9 UCITA is applicable to "standard
software licenses, contracts for the custom development of computer
2 Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §§ 2(2)-(3) (Eng.).
3Id. § 112; Photo Production Ltd. v. Securicor Transport Ltd.,  A.C. 827, 843
(appeal taken from Eng. C.A.).
4 U.C.C. § 2-302(1) (2003).
7 Id; RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 211 (1979).
8 NAT'L CONFERENCE OF COMM'RS ON UNIF. STATE LAWS, UNIFORM COMPUTER
INFORMATION TRANSACTIONS ACT (Proposed Official Draft 1999), available at
http://www.law.upenn.edu/bl1/ulc/ucita/citaam99.pdf [hereinafter UCITA].
9University of Strathclyde School of Law, Glasgow, Scotland (U.K.), Course: Liability
in the Information Society, Notes for Theme Two (Software Contracts and Quality), page 23.
programs, licenses to access online databases, website user agreements, and
agreements for most Internet-based information."' 0 UCITA section 803(d)
states that a disclaimer of consequential damages for personal injury in a
consumer contract for software is prima facie unconscionable; this
provision does not apply, however, to non-consumer contracts."
III. EXPRESS WARRANTIES
In both countries, if the seller promises to provide a specific
resulteither in terms of performance of the software, or its suitability to the
customer-the existence of an express warranty will be recognized. "2
promise may have been made within the agreement itself or outside of Tith.'e3
An important consideration is whether it was reasonable for the buyer of the
software to rely on the statements of the supplier.14 If it is determined that a
cwoanrtrraanctty choanstabienesnaqnueaxlipfrieesds owr adrirsacnlatyi m,tehde. 1n5ext consideration is whether the
A. United Kingdom
1. CategoriesofPromises:Result vs. Process
The case law often distinguishes result-oriented promises and
processoriented promises. 16 The former pertains to warranties concerning the
achievement of positive outcomes for the buyer of the software. 17 The latter
pertains to warranties related to how the work is to be done, e.g., the degree
of expertise of the personnel assigned to carry out the installation of the
a. Result-Oriented Promises
A classic example of a case with explicit, result-oriented warranties is
St. Albans City v. InternationalComputers, Ltd.19 The city, as the plaintiff,
10Sandy T. Wu, Comment, Uniform Computer Information TransactionsAct: Failedto
Appease Its Opponents in Light of the Newly Adopted Amendments, 33 Sw. U. L. REv. 307,
'1UCITA., supranote 8, § 803(d).
12Jeffrey C. Selman, et al., Steering the Titanic Clear of the Iceberg: Saving the Sale of
Softwarefrom the Perilsof Warranties,31 U.S.F. L. REv. 531, 542 (1997).
13Noriko Kawawa, ContractualLiabilityfor Defects in Information in ElectronicForm,
8 U. BALT. INTELL. PROP. L.J. 69, 124 (1999).
14Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §§ 112 (Eng.).
16Kawawa, supranote 13, at 125.
19St. Albans City & District Council v. Int'l Computers Ltd.,  4 All E.R. 481 (Eng.
entered into an agreement with defendant software supplier.20 The software
was required to be capable of maintaining a reliable database of the names
of the city's taxpayers, i.e., it had to be reasonably fit for its intended
purpose. 2 However, the defective software underestimated the number of
taxpayers in the community, causing the city to charge each taxpayer less
than it should have, resulting in a loss of tax revenues to the city coffers.22
Since the computer program was not fit for its intended purpose, the
software provider was held liable for the amount of the lost revenue.23
b. Process-Oriented Promises
Salvage Association v. Cap FinancialService Ltd. recognized that a
supplier's promise to use specially-trained personnel must be kept.24 Cap
Financial Service had expressly warranted that each person assigned to the
project would exercise skills appropriate to that of a competent person. 25
Cap failed to assign sufficiently competent personnel to the project and
breached its contract when it failed to deliver a proper computer system and
thus, Salvage Association was entitled to termination of the contracts.26
Disclaimer clauses are often added to contracts by negotiating parties
in an attempt to avoid or limit obligations. Express warranties are
difficult to disclaim, ho w28ever, if they pertain to the fitness of the software
for its intended purpose.
a. Statutory Controls
Several U.K. statutes limit the effect of disclaimer clauses in software
contracts; 29 U.S. law has relatively less statutory control over disclaimer
clauses. The 1977 Act requires that, where a party is a consumer or relies
on the other's written standard terms of business, the contract must satisfy
the requirement of reasonableness if it attempts to limit liability for breach
20 Id. at 686.
21 Id. at 691.
22 Id. at 686.
23 Id. at 704.
24 Salvage Association v. Cap Financial Service Ltd.,  F.S.R. 654.
25 Id. at 654.
26 Id. at 656.
27 Daniel T. Perlman, Comment, Who Pays the Priceof ComputerSoftware Failure?,24
RUTGERS COMPUTER& TECH. L.J. 383, 393 (1998).
28 Id. at 389.
29 E.g., Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §§ 112 (Eng.).
Northwestern Journal of
International Law &Business
The purpose of an integration clause is to invalidate any
representations made outside of the written contract. 3' In Mackenzie Patten
& Co. v. British Olivetti Ltd., an integration clause excluded all other
liabilities, obligations, warranties, and conditions. 32 Applying the
reasonableness test, the court held that it was not reasonable to allow the
supplier to exclude liability for breach of contract.33 The reasonableness
test trumped the supplier's attempted disclaimer using an integration
B. United States
American law does not require express warranties to be contained
within the "four comers" of the contract; they may be oral.35 Express
warranties may be created by any affirmation of fact, a promise, or a
description of goods which becomes part of the bargain; this may include
affirmations made in brochures or in demonstrations.
1. Case Law RecognizingExpress Warranties
In USM v. Arthur D. Little Systems, Inc., the supplier of a computer
system made an express warranty that the system would have no design
defects and would have acceptable response time.37 The actual response
time, however, was substantially greater than the time promised by the
supplier and the express warranty was held to have been breached.3 8
2. DisclaimerofExpress Warranties
a. Relevant Statutes
It is an "uphill battle" to disclaim an express warranty because it is
31Perlman, supranote 27.
32Mackenzie Patten & Co. v. British Olivetti Ltd., (Q.B. 11 Jan. 1984) unreported, 1
C.L.&P. 92 (1984); 48 M.L.R. 344 (1985).
31 U.C.C. § 2-313 (2003). See generally Joel R. Wolfson, Express Warranties and
PublishedInformation Content Under Article 2B: Does the Shoe Fit?, 16 J. MARSHALL J.
COMPUTER & INFO. L. 337 (1997).
36 U.C.C. § 2-313.
37 USM v. Arthur D. Little Systems, Inc., 546 N.E.2d 888, 890 (Mass. App. Ct. 1989).
38 Id. at 895.
ordinarily considered to incorporate the "essence of the bargain., 39 Section
2-316 of the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") states that "words or
conduct relevant to the creation of an express warranty and words or
conduct tending to negate or limit warr4a0nty shall be construed whenever
reasonable as consistent with each other.
Inconsistency between the express warranty and the disclaimer clause
often leads courts to rule against the applicability of the disclaimer. 4I In
ConsolidatedData Terminals v. Applied Digital Data Systems, Inc.,42 the
court held that very specific language contained in an express warranty
prevailed over a general disclaimer of warranty liability.43 The computer
equipment manufacturer made an express warranty in its brochure that the
computer terminals would operate at high speed and were reliable.44 The
court held that the express warranty was breached because the terminals
were not high-speed and were unreliable. The disclaimer clause had stated:
"cTovheerrien gis mnoatweraiarrlsanatnyd, ewxoprrkemssaonrshimipp.l'ie5d, other than a ninety-day guarantee
c. Integration Clauses
U.S. courts sometimes find that a written contract was not meant to be
a complete statement of the terms of the agreement. In these cases, the
written contract may be supplemented by the parties' course of dealing,
usage of trade, course of performance, or evidence of consistent additional
terms.46 Some courts have stated that a written disclaimer clause combined
with a written integration clause may be enough to override the existence of
an express warranty not based on the writing within the contract.47
Before considering anything outside the written contract, the threshold
question is whether the parties intended the writing to be the complete
statement of their agreement.4 8 All of the documents must be considered by
" U.C.C. § 2-316.
41Kawawa, supra note 13, at 133.
42 Consolidated Data Terminals v. Applied Digital Data Systems, Inc., 708 F.2d 385 (9th
43Id. at 398.
4 Id.at 388.
41Id. at 396.
46 U.C.C. § 2-202 (2003).
47E.g., Jaskey Fin. & Leasing v. Display Data Corp., 564 F. Supp. 160, 163 (E.D. Pa.
48 E.g., L.S. Heath & Son, Inc. v. A.T. & T. Info. Sys., Inc., 9 F.3d 561 (7th Cir. 1993).
the court. 49 In SierraDieselInjection Service v. Burroughs Corp., the court
determined the validity of the integration clause.5 The Burroughs
Corporation ("Burroughs") sent a letter to Sierra Diesel Injection Service
("Sierra") containing an express warranty regarding computer
performance. 5' Sierra was not knowledgeable about computers and relied
upon Burroughs' representations.5 2 The sales contract was on a pre-printed
form prepared by the seller and presented to the buyer without
negotiations. 3 The contract contained an integration clause but the court
ruled it was invalid because it was overridden by the express warranty in
the letter. 4
d. Parole Evidence Rule
The parole evidence rule may prevent the admission of any of the
supplier's representations made in a prior agreement or in a
contemporaneous oral agreement." In Jaskey Finance & Leasing v.
Display Data Corp., the defendant sold a computer to the plaintiff.56 The
seller had orally represented in advertisements that the computer and
software would only require routine maintenance and was suitable for
plaintiffs type of business.57 The written sales contract, however, did not
make these representations. At trial, the court ruled that the oral evidence
was inadmissible, holding that admitting the evidence would violate the
parole evidence rule.5 9
3. UCITA's Treatment ofExpress Warranties
UCITA allows a licensor to create an express warranty to a licensee
with an affirmation or a promise which may be part of an advertisement.60
Samples, models, or demonstrations may also become the basis of express
warranties. 6' Language pertaining to an express warranty and language
attempting to disclaim an express warranty must be construed, whenever
'9 Id. at 164.
50 Sierra Diesel Injection Service v. Burroughs Corp., 656 F. Supp. 426 (D. Nev. 1987),
aff'd, 874 F.2d 653 (9th Cir. 1989), amended by 890 F.2d 108 (9th Cir. 1989).
51Sierra, 890 F.2d at 110.
52 Id. at Ill.
51 Id. at 112.
55 Kawawa, supra note 13, at 136.
56Jaskey, 564 F. Supp. at 161.
7 Id.at 163.
18 Id. at 162.
" Id. at 164
60 UCITA, supra note 8, § 402.
61Id. § 402(a)(3).
reasonable, as consistent with each other.62
IV. IMPLIED WARRANTIES
Warranties may be express or implied. Express warranties, as
discussed above, are relatively more straightforward and explicit. On the
other hand, implied warranties are relatively more subtle and less
straightforward. The natural result is that implied warranties are more
likely to lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and potential litigation
between the parties.
1. Reasonable Care & Skill Required
Section 13 of the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982 ("1982
Act") provides that a business supplying a service must do so "with
reasonable care and skill. ''63 This is an implied warranty, but it is subject to
a reasonableness test. In Salvage Association, the court found that the
supplier had the obligation to carry out its service with reasonable care and
2. Software Quality Must Be "Satisfactory"
In 1994, the Sales of Goods Act of 1979 and the 1982 Act
amended to require the quality of software provided to be "satisfactoryw.e,r6e5
The following factors should be taken into account when determining the
quality of goods: fitness for purposes for which the goods are commonly
supplied, appearance and finish, freedom from minor defects, safety, and
In St. Albans City, the court held that, in the contract, there was an
implied term that a software program would be reasonably fit for its
intended purpose because the supplier knew of the necessity of the program
to achieve a specific function. ° In Saphena Computing Ltd. v. Allied
62 Id. § 406(a).
63 Supply of Goods and Services Act, 1982, c. 29, § 13 (1994) (Eng.).
' Salvage,  F.S.R. at 655.
65 Sale of Goods Act, 1979, c. 54, § 14(2) (1994) (Eng.); Supply of Goods and Services
Act, 1982, c. 29, § 4(2) (1994) (Eng.).
66 Sale of Goods Act, 1979, c. 54, § 14(2)(b) (1994) (Eng.).
67 St. Albans City,  4 All E.R. at 691.
Collection Agencies Ltd.,68 the court held that the contracts contained a term
of implied fitness for the intended puTose because the buyer had
communicated the purpose to the seller. 9 However, the court also
recognized that it is not a breach of warranty per se to deliver software with
defects; rather, a reasonable period of time must be given to cure the
4. DisclaimerofImplied Warranties
Compared to the United States, the reasonableness test makes it more
difficult to exclude implied warranties in the United Kingdom.7 '
In a sale to a consumer, the implied conformity of goods with a
description or sample, or to their quality of fitness for a purpose, cannot be
overridden by reference to a disclaimer. 72 In a sale to a non-consumer, any
attempt to override the same implied warranties is subject to the
The Sale of Goods Act of 1979 states that an implied obligation can be
"negatived or varied by express agreement. ' '74 It also states that "wanithexpirt.e"s7s5
term does not negative an implied term unless inconsistent
Likewise, the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982 allows an implied
term to be overridden or changed by express agreement.7 6
In Salvage Association, the court ruled that the seller had successfully
disclaimed implied terms of merchantability and fitness for purpose, but not
the implied term pertaining to reasonable care and skill.7 7 The court found
contract to carry out the service with reasonawbliethcatrheeanexdpsrkeislsl. 7t8erms in the
that the latter term was not inconsistent
68Saphena Computing Ltd. v. Allied Collection Agencies Ltd.,  F.S.R. 616 (Eng.
1. Implied Warranty ofMerchantability
If a seller is a merchant in goods of a particular kind, there is a
mandatory implied warranty of merchantability. 79 The UCC establishes
standards for determining whether goods are merchantable; for example, if
the goods will: 1) pass without objection in the trade; 2) be fit for ordinary
purposes; 3) be of a certain kind, quality and quantity per unit; 4) be
adequately packaged and labeled; 5) be in conformity with the label's
specifications; and 6) as fungible goods, be of fair average quality.8 ° In
Neilson Business Equipment Center v. Monteleone,81 the court found an
implied warranty that the computer system be "merchantable" and held that
the warranty was breached because the computer system was not fit for the
ordinary purpose for which it was intended.
2. Implied WarrantyofFitnessfor a ParticularPurpose
This warranty attaches at the time of sale if the seller has reason to
know of any particular purpose intended for the goods and the buyer relies
on the seller's expertise to provide suitable goods.83 In Neilson Business,
the court found such a warranty because the buyer depended on the seller to
provide a suitable computer.84 This case is comparable to the U.K. cases of
St. Albans City85 and Saphena Computing8.6
3. Exclusion ofImplied Warranties
warraCntoimespabreecdautsoeUth. Ker.elaiswn,oitreisaseoansiaebrlefnoersas Ute.Sst..8s7eller to disclaim implied
a. Relevant Statutes
In order to exclude the implied warranty of merchantability, the UCC
mandates that the word "merchantability" must be mentioned, and, if in
writing, it must be conspicuous, so that an oral exclusion will be allowed.88
Exclusion of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose
must be in writing and it must be conspicuous. 89 The Jaskey court found
the following clause sufficient to exclude all implied warranties of fitness:
"There are no warranties which extend beyond the description on the face
4. Treatment of Implied WarrantiesUnder the UCITA
UCITA provides that a licensor merchant of a particular kind of
software supply a product which is "fit for the ordinary purposes for which
such computer programs are used." 91 The software is not required to be
completely free of defects, but it must meet average standards for programs
having a particular type of use.92 UCITA also recognizes an implied
warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.93 The requirements for
disclaiming warranties are comparable to those of the UCC and facilitate
easy disclaimer.9 4
V. LIMITATION OF REMEDIES
There are four methods of limiting remedies: 1) limitation of the
situations in which a seller's obligation will be incurred; 2) limitation of the
cures to which the buyer is entitled; 3) limitation of the types of damage for
which compensation is payable; and 4) limitation of the total amount
payable upon breach. 95
A. United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, if suppliers attempt to limit damages to a fixed
maximum, the court will determine whether that amount is reasonable. 96 In
evaluating the validity of monetary damages, U.K. courts take various
factors into account, such as insurance coverage of the parties 97 and relative
degree of bargaining power. 98 Ordinarily, courts award damages based on
88U.C.C. § 2-316.
90Jaskey, 564 F. Supp. at 162.
91UCITA, supranote 8, § 403.
9' Id. § 405.
94 Id. § 406.
95 Kawawa, supranote 13, at 154.
96 Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §1 12 (Eng.).
97 St. Albans City,  4 All E.R. at 687-88.
what was foreseeable when the contract was created. 99
In Salvage Association , the contract restricted the cure, the damage for
which compensation was payable, and the total amount payable upon
breach. 10 0 The court held that the limitation of damages to £25,000 was
unacceptable under the reasonableness test.' 0'
In the United Kingdom, lost profits are not considered a part of
consequential damages, but rather they are treated as a loss flowing directly
and naturally from a brea10c3h. 10 2 This differs from U.S. law, which treats lost
profits as consequential.
B. United States
U.S. suppliers can limit remedies more easily because they need not
contend with the reasonableness test. 10 4 American courts tend to accept the
amount of liquidated damages agreed to by the parties. 10 5 A plaintiff may
pursue all available remedies whenever circumstances cause an exclusive
remedy to fail in its essential purpose. 0 6 Contractual limitations on
consequential damages are acceptable, unless the limitation is
unconscionable. 10 7 UCITA
their respective UCC provisiosnesc.t1i0o8ns 803(b) and 803(d) are comparable to
In Fargo Machine & Tool Co. v. Kearney & Trecker Corp.,'0 9 the
contract limited the buyer's remedy to either repair or replacement of
defective parts and excluded consequential damages. The court held that
the remedy was invalid because it failed in its essential purpose since the
repairs would not cure all defects. The court awarded the buyer damages. 10
99 Hadley v. Baxendale, 9 Ex. 341 (1854).
10 Salvage,  F.S.R. at 657.
102 Kawawa, supra note 13, at 158; British Sugar Plc. v. NEI Power Projects Ltd., 14
Const. L.J. 365 (Eng. C.A. 1998).
103 Kawawa, supra note 13, at 158 (treating lost profits as consequential makes them
relatively more difficult to win in the U.S.); see, e.g., Consol. Data Terminals v. Applied
Digital Data Sys., 708 F.2d 385 (9th Cir. 1983).
104 Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §112 (Eng.).
105 See, e.g., Colonial Life Ins. Co. v. Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 817 F. Supp. 235 (D.N.H.
106 U.C.C. § 2-719(2) (2003).
107 Id. § 2-719(3).
10 Id. § 2-719(2)-(3).
109 Fargo Machine & Tool Co. v. Kearney & Trecker Corp., 428 F. Supp. 364 (E.D.
VI. STANDARD FORM CONTRACTS
Both countries have statutes designed to offer protection for
contracting parties who are offered a standard form contract on a "take it or
leave it" basis.111 Such situations are often characterized by unequal
bargaining power between the parties. 12 Both nations resolve any
ambiguity in the contract against the party who wrote it.113 This rule is
especially important for standard form contracts. 14
1. Unfair ContractTerms Act of 1977
The 1977 Act protects both consumers and any business that is not
computer-related." 5 The seller's implied warranties pertaining to
conformity of goods, or to their quality of fitness for a particular purpose,
cannot be disclaimed in a standard form contract. 16 The reasonableness
requirement applies to every situation involving a standard form contract,
even if both parties are business firms.17
This act implemented the Council Directive on Unfair Terms in
Consumer Contracts."' Unlike the 1977 Act, the 1999 Regulations only
apply to consumers, not to firms making business purchases." 9 Standard
form contracts are "unfair" if they are not written in good faith, but instead
"cause a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising
under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer.' 20
B. United States
Unlike the 1977 Act, the UCC and the Magnuson-Moss Act' 2' allow
implied warranties to be disclaimed in consumer transactions in some
situations. However, the Magnuson-Moss Act restricts disclaimers in
contracts for the purchase of "consumer products," defined as "any tangible
personal property that is distributed in commerce'22and which is normally
used for personal, family, or household purposes."'
VII. A SPECIAL TYPE OF STANDARD FORM CONTRACT: THE
The shrink-wrap license is a standard form contract that may be
delivered with software. Its purpose is to protect the intellectual property
rights of the owner of the software. 123 Typically, the agreement is on the
outside of the software's package, and its purpose is to achieve implied
acceptance of the agreement if the package is opened. 124 The license terms
may limit liability, use, the warranty, or designate the law which governs
the contract. 125 Since it is a standard form contract offered on a "take it or
leave it" basis, it is debatable whether the person opening the package has
entered into a contract. 126 In both the United Kingdom and the United
States, all terms in a shrink-wrap license are enforceable if the terms are
clearly re2a7dable, and the person accepted them before buying the
A. United Kingdom
Warranty disclaimers in shrink-wrap licenses are subject to the
statutory control of the 1977 Act. 128 The terms of the agreement must pass
the reasonableness test. 129
license after the date of its creAantiyonatwteimllpotrdtoinalraitleyr fcahila.n'3ge the terms of the
B. United States
Case law exists to support the notion that opening a shrink-wrap
package is usually considered to imply acceptance of the license
122 Id. § 2301(1).
123 Batya Goodman, Note, Honey, I Shrink-Wrapped the Consumer: The Shrink-Wrap as
an Adhesion Contract,21 CARDOzO L. REv. 319, 320 (1999).
125 David L. Hayes, ShrinkwrapLicense Agreements: New Light on a Vexing Problem, 9
No. 9 COMPUTER LAW. 1, 2 (1992).
126 Garry L. Founds, Note, Shrinkwrap and Clickwrap Agreements: 2B or Not 2B?, 52
FED. COMM. L.J. 99, 101 (1999).
127 Clive Gringas, The Validity of Shrink-Wrap Licenses, 4 INT'L J.L. & INFO. TECH. 77
128 Kawawa, supra note 13, at 172 (citing Unfair Contract Terms Act, 1977, c. 50, §§ 3,
129 Id. (citing Thorton v. Shoe Lane Parking Ltd.,  2 Q.B. 163, 169).
agreement.13' Pursuant to the UCC, a purchaser must agree to any proposed
changes to an existing contract.132 UCITA differs from the UCC on this
point, however. UCITA allows new, modified terms proposed after the
commencement of performance to become enforceable, if the party had
reason to know at the time of purchase that such new terms might be
proposed and later assents to them. 133 In the case of massm-moraerksettrinligceennts.e1s3,4
however, the requirements imposed for later changes are
A number of commentators have severely criticized UCITA for allowing
later mo3d6ifications to the agreement. 11 Only a few have defended
The two nations take different approaches in statutory control of
contractual terms. U.K. law has the more potent reasonableness test; U.S.
law has the less stringent unconscionability doctrine. U.K. courts offer
more automatic statutory protection when the buyer has significantly less
bargaining power than the supplier. By contrast, U.S. law does not accept
disparity in bargaining power as a default and does not attempt to protect a
weak party. U.S. law is more seller-oriented and focuses on whether the
buyer had sufficient sophistication to understand the terms of the contract
and to evaluate the quality of the software. If the buyer had an
understanding of the terms of the agreement and the degree of the
software's quality, the buyer will be held accountable for the bargain
entered into, regardless of the lack of bargaining power the buyer had when
entering into the purchase agreement.
Suppliers often make express warranties regarding the suitability of the
software for the buyer's needs. Under U.K. law, any terms in the contract
that seek to disclaim express warranties are subject to the reasonableness
131ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir. 1996); see also Joseph C. Wang,
ContractualLiability ofSuppliers of Defective Software
test, making it more difficult to disclaim an express warranty. Moreover, an
express warranty of fitness for the buyer's intended purpose is especially
difficult to disclaim. In the United States, express warranties are also
difficult to disclaim, since the express warranty and the disclaimer must be
construed as being consistent with each other. However, U.S. law does not
subject disclaimers to a reasonableness test and is therefore more
Both countries have statutes that create implied warranties for the
quality of the software and its fitness for the buyer's purpose. The actual
impact of implied warranties, however, depends upon whether the law
allows them to be disclaimed by agreement of the parties. U.K. law offers
more protection for the buyer of the software because the reasonableness
test applies to any attempt by the supplier to disclaim implied warranties.
On the other hand, U.S. law under both the UCC and UCITA ordinarily
permits easy disclaimer of implied warranties, so long as the specific
language and format requirements are met.
The two countries also differ in terms of limitation of remedies. In the
United Kingdom, the reasonableness test is used to assess the
appropriateness of the limitation. If monetary damages are to be restricted,
a relevant factor is whether the user of the software could have obtained
insurance coverage. In some cases, limitation of damages to the amount of
the contract price has been considered reasonable. In the United States,
liquidated damages clauses are generally held to be valid if the language
and conspicuousness requirements are met. However, courts may rule that
the limitation of remedies is invalid if the remedy fails in its essential
purpose or is unconscionable.
The United Kingdom is relatively less tolerant of standard form
contracts and has more statutory control of contractual terms. By
comparison, the United States is more accepting of standard form contracts,
provided that the buyer had an opportunity to attain an understanding of the
agreement and that the contract terms were conspicuous and noticeable.
Similarly, U.K. shrink-wrap license law provides more protections for the
buyer of the software by making it more difficult for suppliers to disclaim
express or implied warranties, or limit remedies. By comparison, UCITA
allows a shrink-wrap license to be modified by the supplier during the
middle of the contract period.
A. United States: Needs More Consumer Protections
The United States can learn from the United Kingdom's greater
protections for consumer rights. As a long-time supporter of consumer
empowerment, this author finds that U.S. law is deficient in its consumer
protections. Shrink-wrap agreements are too one-sided in favor of the
supplier. 137 For example, to protect buyers, UCITA could be amended by
adding a clause comparable to one found in the U.S. Restatement (Second)
of Contracts, which provides that: "Where the other party has reason to
believe that the party manifesting such assent would not do so if he knew
that the writing contained a particular term, the term is not part of the
agreement."' 138 This would provide additional protection for the buyer who
hurriedly purchases software online
lengthy agreement containing legalese. w139ithout bothering to read an often
B. United Kingdom: Should Consider a UCITA-style Statute
Perhaps the United Kingdom should consider adopting a
computerspecific statute comparable to UCITA, but modified to incorporate more
consumer rights and protections. UCITA is flawed in its present form, but
it is a work-in-progress that is still being amended. Over time, more U.S.
states are expected to embrace it. We have entered the digital millennium;
contract law needs to be modified to accommodate the unique aspects of
electronic contracting and the sale and lease of software. Adoption of a
UCITA-style statute would be a good first step for the United Kingdom to
update its laws to the contract law challenges of the digital millennium.
137 One commentator has described shrink-wrap agreements grounded in state contract
law as "unconscionable" and has called for their preemption by federal copyright law. See
Nathan Smith, Comment, The ShrinkwrapSnafu: Untanglingthe "ExtraElement" in Breach
of Contract Claims Based on Shrinkwrap Licenses, 2003 B.Y.U.L. REv. 1373, 1406-07,
1410-18 (2003) (arguing that copyright law would better preserve the rights ofboth software
sellers and purchasers, affording copyright protections for the sellers and the related rights of
fair use for the purchasers).
138 RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 211(3) (1979).
139This portion of the Restatement was used by Nathan Smith as one argument for the
federal preemption of shrink-wrap agreements by copyright law. Citing Section 211(3),
Smith states that "[i]t is reasonable to believe that prospective licensees would not enter into
shrink-wrap agreements if they understood that entering into such constituted a waiver of
their federal rights." Smith, supra note 137, at 1405; but see Founds, supra note 126, at 107
(opining that shrink-wrap agreements are enforceable under contract law, notwithstanding
the impact of Section 211(3) and adhesive qualities, after considering the entirety of Section
211 because "contracts of adhesion usually are enforced as an implied agreement between
79 U.C.C. § 2- 314 ( 2003 ). See generally Robert W. Gomulkiewicz, The Implied Warranty of Merchantability in Software Contracts:A Warranty No One Dares to Give and How to Change That, 16 J. MARSHALL J. COMPUTER & INFO L. 393 ( 1997 ).
81Neilson Business Equipment Center v . Monteleone, 524 A.2d 1172 (Del . 1987 ).
83 U.C.C. § 2- 3 15.
84 Neilson, 524 A.2d at 1173.
85 St. Albans City , [ 1996 ] 4 All E .R. at 691.
86 Saphena,  F.S.R. at 643.
87 Unfair Contract Terms Act , 1977 , c. 50 , § 6 ( 3 ) (Eng.). 2. Unfair Terms in Consumer ContractsRegulations of 1999 Note, ProCD,Inc. v. Zeidenberg and Article 2B: Finally, the Validation of Shrink-Wrap Licenses , 16 J. MARSHALL J. COMPUTER & INFO. L. 439 ( 1997 ).
132 U.C.C. § 2- 209 ( 2 ) ( 2003 ).
133 UCITA, supranote 8 , § 208 ( 2 ).
114 Id. § 209 ( a) & cmt . 2a ( 2001 ) (if the licenses are for a "mass-market," the licensee must be told the potential terms, to be modified no later than the initial use of the information, and the licensee is given a right of refund if he/she refuses to accept).
13 E.g., Roger C . Bern, "Terms Later" Contracting:Bad Economics, Bad Morals, anda Bad Idea for a Uniform Law , Judge Easterbrook Notwithstanding, 12 J.L. & POL'Y 641 ( 2004 ) ; Jean Braucher, Amended Article 2 and the Decision to Trust the Courts: The Case Against Enforcing Mass-Market Terms , Especiallyfor Software, 2004 WiS. L. REV. 753 ( 2004 ); Ajay Ayyappan, Note, UCITA: Uniformity at the Priceof Fairness?,69 FORDHAM L. REV. 2471 ( 2001 ).
13 E.g., Erika E. Schinler , Comment, Trouble at the Sausage Factory:Has the Uniform Computer Information TransactionsAct Been Unjustly Stigmatized?, 75 TUL. L. REv. 507 ( 2000 ).