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Online contracts/agreements  for products- What methodes do you recommend?

Posted on 2004-11-27
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2012-05-05

I have a question regarding legal contracts on websites. I want to implement a contract system for products in a webshop. In order to buy/use a product, a customer has to sign a contract first.

The contracts should meet the following requirements:
- Must be "signed" by the user before it can be submited. (I'm thinking something along a random generated code like you see it in networksolutions.com 's whois interface)
- A copy of the signed contract must be saved in a file for further reference
- The contract must contain clearly identifiable user and product information
- Should be based on HTML or XHTML (no fancy document formats or PDF)

Now the questions:

- Do you guys know of any standard solution/products to process online contracts/agreements?
- Has anyone experience with such a system or do you have such a system online?

Thanks for your fast and competent answer.
Question by:littleBuddha512
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LVL 29

Expert Comment

ID: 12686479
Would a check box that states you agree to XXX not be sufficient?  This is what most companies use and even some have them type in their initials as well


Expert Comment

ID: 12686610
you will have to know (and comply with) the legal situation on the company your customer comes from.
Legislation on thsi can vary from being able to have any any contract being valid is agreed to by the
customer by mouse-click to complcated consumer-rights-laws that you have to comply with. There may
be laws dealing with the right of a customer to return goods at your expense within a given time without
giving any reason or laws governing what kind of restrictions you can put into a general contract you
propose to an end-customer. In a lot of cases it will not be legally binding if you try to circumvent consumer
rights by contract and can even invalidate the whole contract.
I fear these problems are far more worth considering than the question of presentation of the cantrct you

Author Comment

ID: 12686877
Hello, thanks for the fast answer.

It's not about circumventing the customers rights by making him sign a special contract. Almost all products are  services the customer can subscribe too. The contracts are as waterproof and as compatible with international law as they can get. Also, they are delivered from the service vendor whose services the shop will sell, so it's not THAT much of a concern for the shop owner.

And to answer Coreys question: Theoretically a simple checkbox would be enough, but that would mean the customer could go like:"I didn't really sign it, I accidentaly clicked it." We had a lot of cases like these in the past which was very frustrating. The people buy the service but later insist on having not signed the contract. So letting them type their initials or a code would at least solve that problem.

I'm looking more for information from people who actually have a similar system working or have knowledge of such systems. It would be interesting to hear how they have solved such issues and where they still have problem.

Thank you again for your time

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LVL 29

Expert Comment

ID: 12686914
Well you can also disable the submit button as well until that is checked.  You are always going to run into something / someone with an excuse.  I mean, how many times have you even heard - I signed in under duress or I did not read the fine print?

LVL 31

Accepted Solution

moorhouselondon earned 900 total points
ID: 12687265
How do you know that the web page that you present to the user is the same as what he/she sees?  Different browsers render things in different ways for starters, then if their font/colour settings are different (for example) there is no guarantee that one important word may not be shown correctly by the recipient's browser (it may drop off the end and not be visible even by scrolling).  Sometimes the version of the web page being shown to the user may be different from the version you intended due to cacheing, they haven't Reloaded the page.  Then there is the problem of the Date and Time.  Some Web Designers will stick this on the page and reckon that this is good enough - well what happens if I change the date on my pc, will that retain the actual date that the page was presented to the user?  In many cases, No.  Then we have the problem that the ISP may have a selective crash, go back to a backup of your website without informing you, and use that instead of the correct version.  How can you PROVE that the person has seen all words of the contract, and the correct version  as you intended them to be seen?  This btw is also true of html emails too.  I feel that this whole issue is overlooked, and one day someone is going to challenge it.  

Sorry to be spreading doom and gloom, particularly as the only answer I can see is to have a copy button on the screen, which  copies the text that constitutes the contract onto the clipboard.  They then paste that into their email system and send it back to you.  Long-winded yes, but "I accidentally pressed the button?"  No way.  You need to run a text compare on what you receive to make sure that the version you receive has not had words omitted or added (this presumably is similar to someone amending a paper set of T's & C's - they can send it to you amended, but it is a counter-offer which you can reject if you wish).  This solution gets over the accidental clicking problem, and they have sent it by email, which is, as I understand it, legally binding.

(P.S. I am NOT a lawyer. so don't take this as gospel)

Author Comment

ID: 12687568

Excelent suggestions. I will take them into account.
I do agree with you, that the whole contract issue indeed is overlooked. If it were for me, every internet user who wants to send email, sign up a service or buy a product should be identifiable with a digital certificate. Only that way you can address the issue and even then it is critical (identity theft and fraud come to mind). And although there is no de jure standard for internet contracts, the de facto standard of HTML form seem to be accepted by most of the courts around the globe.

The idea of letting the customer send you back the whole email seems to be too complicated. I could however imagine the use of an activation link, that is send over email along with a copy of the contract.

Assisted Solution

SMartinHamburg earned 600 total points
ID: 12690170
I did not intend to say taht you were trying to circumvent customer rights - sorry if it sounded like that.
Whar i wanted to express was that legislation for buying on the internet and agreeing to contract online
will differ a lot from country to country and taht it will never by binding if it is not in written form due to
some consumer protection laws.
I clicked Ok to a lot of contracts and EULAs knowing
a) they would not be legally bindung in my country
b) I will not by able/willing to enforce any legal rights against anyone sitting in another country.
So perhaps these click-to-agree things are not so important as they seem.

In most cases when people really wanted me to agrre to somthing, they requred me to give an e-mail
address an send me an e-mail and asked for a confirmation reply.

Or, if anything substantial was involved they had some form I had to print and sign and send back
either by fax or snail mail.

Kind regards
LVL 31

Expert Comment

ID: 12700146
I am not sure what is meant by activation link.  If you are sending across an email which does not have the full text embedded inline then there is a problem from the signatory's point of view.  If they return that email to you in agreement then there is nothing to say that the text held on the website can be changed at any time (was it changed before or after they 'signed' it?).  An expert witness in a court of law would immediately be able to point out that the text is not in-line in the email and therefore you are not properly defining what has been 'signed'.  

As I implied earlier, plain-text emails are better than html because there is more chance that the recipient will see it in the way it was intended to be viewed (even this is not guaranteed though, looking at the way you can change the visual appearance of plain-text emails).  If you use HTML you may find someone could find a situation whereby the text is not properly rendered.  There is, admittedly, less chance of this happening because the Headers of the confirmation email reveal a bit about the Sender's email configuration - what email client they use, what version.
LVL 31

Expert Comment

ID: 12700166
That should read:-

If you are sending across an email which does not have the full text embedded inline (i.e., contains a 'link' to the text)...

Author Comment

ID: 12703590

The way I meant it was, to include a short "thank you note", a copy of the contract and an additional link to actually activate the product. HTML E-Mail isn't an option for my client, since they want to have it as simple as possible.

It is similar to registering on a forum. You enter your data, accept the Terms of Use and then you get a text mail with a link to activate your account. If you don't click that link you will not be able to use your account. I thought maybe that would work for a product too. The only problem I see here, is that the user has already payed for the product/service. So if he forgets to click or he doesn't want to click, he kinda gets screwed over.

To all of you:

Thank you  for your competent answers. You provided a lot of good ideas and I think I will be able to splitt the points fair enough for everyone. I will leave this question open until 30.11.04 / 17:00 GMT+1 after that I reward the points.

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