Whether you are an independent contractor or a software development company, you should have a software development agreement with any customer for whom you are developing custom software. There are specific don’ts you should include to make sure your IP is protected and your liability is limited.
If you are forming an LLC with your bestie—and you want your bestie to stay your bestie—you need an operating agreement. People tend to think of legal agreements as an indication that they don’t trust their business partners. That really isn’t the point of an operating agreement. You probably think you’re on the same page. How do you know for sure? An operating agreement. How are you going to handle differences in opinion later on? You create strategies to break ties…in your operating agreement. How do you protect yourself from default LLC provisions that run counter to the way you want your business to operate? Again, an operating agreement.
Throughout law school, I heard my classmates say they chose to become attorneys because they don’t like (or aren’t good at) math or science. I find that interesting because writing a contract (at least, a good one) requires the same thought processes, analysis, and structure as writing software code.
One of the fundamental principles of software design is abstraction. As much as possible, a good developer tries to find commonly used code and abstract it out to prevent repetition. In turn, this abstraction leads to software with fewer errors that is also much easier to maintain. Good attorneys also use this abstraction principle to create robust contracts.
If you are confused by legal mumbo jumbo, you certainly aren’t alone. Sometimes, the way attorneys write is confusing even to other lawyers. Even though there is a shift in the law toward writing contracts in more “human-friendly” ways, capitalized common words that aren’t usually capitalized, WORDS IN ALL CAPS, and specific words and phrases (known as terms of art) are there because of their legal significance. Some things cannot be de-legalesed. I hope after you read this, you will understand contracts a little bit better.
You got that, right? When you are using a mobile app, you are “signing” a contract with the app provider.
So, what is a double-sided marketplace (or, a two-sided marketplace)? We use these marketplaces every day but most people have never heard this term. A double-sided marketplace is essentially a marketplace that brings together two categories of users who need each other to be successful. One of the most familiar examples is Uber®. Uber requires both drivers and passengers; otherwise it would not be a business. Other examples include matchmaking businesses such as Match®, business review platforms such as Yelp®, and sites like eBay® that bring together buyers and sellers.
These double-sided marketplaces are especially prevalent in the mobile app world but these marketplaces have an unusual legal risk associated with them. This risk revolves around the lack of control over the users.
Software as a Service, or SaaS, as it is more commonly known, is a method for delivering software through an internet browser. The user simply types in a URL and then enters a username and password to access the program. This delivery model is very different from a licensing scheme where the user downloads the software from the internet or goes to Best Buy® and buys it off the shelf before installing it onto her own personal computer or company server. There are many benefits to SaaS, such as access from any internet-enabled device, scalability to many users, and automatic upgrades, but along with these conveniences comes a unique set of liability and content ownership issues. Most of the issues stem from the fact that because the software is not installed on the user’s own server, it is not within the user’s direct control.
There are all kinds of do-it-yourself legal services out there today. Many people use LegalZoom and Google to create legal agreements to memorialize business deals with their customers and clients. (See "Top 10 reasons why a contract should not be a DIY project".) However, one thing internet tools can’t do is review the contracts you receive from service providers. This review is necessary to make sure you are not agreeing to provisions that can potentially cost you thousands of dollars and major legal headaches in the future. For that, you must hire a real live attorney.
We live in a DIY society. The incredible success of Pinterest® is based on this DIY mindset. In addition, there is a plethora of legal advice and information online these days. Because of this, even the smartest of people—actually, mainly the smartest of people—decide they don’t need to hire an attorney to write contracts for them. If you are one of these smart people, you probably think you can DIY legal matters such as starting your business, hiring an independent contractor, forming a joint venture, licensing the cool new app you developed, or transacting a multitude of other business arrangements simply by using Google® or going to LegalZoom® to find fill-in-the-blank forms.
These forms are typically legally sound. The companies that provide these forms are reputable and well known in the community. So, why shouldn’t you use these forms to enter into business arrangements with others?