terms of use

Disney Case Teaches Importance of Clear Contract-Forming Language to Create Contractual Restrictions

Many companies that market products or content protected by intellectual property rights rely on “shrink-wrap” or “box top” licenses to impose licensing restrictions on their customers.  But that strategy only works if the customer is indeed bound by the terms – meaning that he or she will be deemed to have accepted the terms as a matter of contract formation.  A recent decision of a California federal court highlights the need to use language in such licenses that clearly inform the user that they are agreeing to contractual terms when using the product (by opening a box or entering a website). 

Disney Enterprises, Inc. v. Redbox Automated Retail LLC (C.D.Cal. 2018) denied Disney’s motion for a preliminary injunction based on contract and copyright claims.  A key part of the decision was the court’s finding that no contract had been created between the parties when the defendant opened a Disney “combo pack” that included codes used to download Disney movies.  The box top language was not sufficiently clear that the user opening the box was agreeing to contractual terms and restrictions.

Unlike prior cases involving “box top” licenses, Disney’s combo pack did not make clear that by opening the box, the user was entering into a contract by which it accepted restrictions on use and resale of the contents.  The combo pack merely stated that “[c]odes are not for sale and transfer” in medium print.  In very small print, they stated “Terms and Conditions apply.”  That was not enough to alert the user that he or she was agreeing to contractual terms.

The lesson: if you want contractual terms to be binding, you must make clear that the user is entering into a contract

Making “Terms of Use” Stick

A recent Second Circuit decision (Meyer v. Uber Technologies (2017)) provides important guidance on ensuring that Terms of Use contained in websites and apps bind their users as contractual agreements. Terms of Use that may be particularly important for companies may include arbitration and no-class-action clauses.

The decision is notable because it held the terms to be binding, even though they were not visible during the registration process, though they could be accessed by a hyperlink.

Companies are well advised to have legal counsel review the layout and registration process on their websites and apps that are intended to bind users to such terms, and ensure that best practices are followed to maximize enforceability. What is critical is that “the layout and language of the site give the user reasonable notice that a click will manifest assent to an agreement.”

Key lessons that can be gleaned from the decision include:

  • require affirmative assent to the terms of use;

  • there should be a clear, easily readable statement positioned next to the registration (or assent) button indicating agreement to the terms; and

  • if the terms are on a separate page connected with a hyperlink, the hyperlink label should be clearly demarcated by color and underline.

More pointers are outlined in our detailed discussion of the case