ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Coen Brothers on Studio Contracts

BartonFink I recently watched Barton Fink for the first time in more than a decade and the following scene reminded me of casebook staple Locke v. Warner Brothers, Inc., 66 Cal. Rptr. 2d 921 (Cal. Ct. App. 1997), in which the plaintiff alleged that the studio resolved not to develop any movie idea she pitched and not to hire her to direct any movie during the term of their three-year "non-exclusive first look" development and "play or pay" directorial agreement.

Lipnik: ... I had Lou read your script for me. I gotta tell you, Fink. It won't wash.

Fink: With all due respect, sir, I think it's the best work I've done.

Lipnik: Don't gas me, Fink. If you're opinion mattered, then I guess I'd resign and let you run the studio. It doesn't and you won't, and the lunatics are not going to run this particular asylum....

Fink: Yes, sir.


Lipnik: Hell, I could take you through it step by step, explain why your story stinks, but I won't insult your intelligence.  Well, all right.  First of all, this is a wrestling picture; the audience wants to see action, drama, wrestling, and plenty of it.  They don't wanna see a guy wrestling with his soul -- well, all right, a little bit, for the critics -- but you make it the carrot that wags the dog.  Too much of it and they head for exits and I don't blame 'em.  There's plenty of poetry right inside that ring, Fink.  Look at Hell Ten Feet Square....  Look at Blood, Sweat, and Canvas.  These are big movies, Fink, about big men, in tights -- both physically and mentally -- but especially physically....

Fink: I'm sorry if I let you down.

Lipnik: You didn't let me down....  You let Ben Geisler down.  He liked you.  Trusted you.  And that's why he's gone.  Fired.  That guy had a heart as big as the outdoors, and you f*cked him.  He tried to convince me to fire you too, but that would be too easy.  No, you're under contract and you're gonna stay that way.  Anything you write will be the property of Capitol Pictures; and Capitol Pictures will not produce anything you write....

[Keith A. Rowley]

June 22, 2009 in Famous Cases, Film Clips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Now in Print


Rachel S. Arnow-Richman, Employment as Transaction, 39 Seton Hall L. Rev. 447(2009).

Allen Blair, A Matter of Trust: Should No-Reliance Clauses Bar Claims for Fraudulent Inducement of Contract?, 92 Marq. L. Rev. 423 (2009).

Ian Brereton, Note, The Beginning of a New Age?: The Unconscionability of the "360-degree" Deal, 27 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 167 (2009).

Curtis Bridgeman & Karen Sandrik, Bullshit Promises, 76 Tenn. L. Rev. 379 (2009).

David Cabrelli, The Effect of Past and Subsisting Breaches on Contractual Rights, 13 Edinburgh L. Rev. 290 (2009).

Jillian R. Camarote, Comment, A Little More Contract Law with my Contract Please: The Need to Apply Unconscionability Directly to Choice-of-Law Clauses, 39 Seton Hall L. Rev. 605 (2009).

J.W. Carter, Exclusion of Liability for Consequential Loss, 25 J. Contract L. 118 (2009).

David Cheng, Interpretation of Material Adverse Change Clauses in an Adverse Economy, 2009 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 564.

Michael Furmston, Letters of Intent and Other Preliminary Agreements, 25 J. Contract L. 95 (2009).

Lauren Gaffney, Note, The Circle of Assent: How "Agreement" Can Save Mandatory Arbitration in Long-Term Care Contracts, 62 Vand. L. Rev. 1017 (2009).

Justin Gleeson & Nicholas Owens, Dissolving Fictions: What to Do with the Implied Indemnity?, 25 J. Contract L. 135 (2009).

Claire A. Hill, Bargaining in the Shadow of a Lawsuit: A Social Norms Theory of Incomplete Contracts, 34 Del. J. Corp. L. 191 (2009).

Martin Hogg, The Continuing Confused Saga of Contract and Error, 13 Edinburgh L. Rev. 286 (2009).

David Horton, Unconscionability in the Law of Trusts, 84 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1675 (2009).

Christina L. Kunz, The Definitional Hub of E-Commerce: "Record," 45 Idaho L. Rev. 399 (2009).

Christine Liyanto, Note, The Discrete, the Relational, the Selfish, and the Societal: Elements Present in All Transactions, 4 Hastings Bus. L.J. 315 (2008).

Charles E. Rounds, Jr., The Common Law is Not Just About Contracts: How Legal Education has been Short-Changing Feminism, 43 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1185 (2009).

B. Soyer, Warranties in Commercial Insurance Contracts -- Is the Time Ripe for a Reconsideration of Their Contractual Status?, 25 J. Contract L. 168 (2009).

Benjamin Taibleson, Note, Forgiving Breach: Understanding the Preference for Damages Over Specific Performance, 27 QLR 541 (2009).

David F. Tavella, Are Insurance Policies Still Contracts?, 42 Creighton L. Rev. 157 (2009).

Bret Walker, The Fourth Category of Masters v. Cameron, 25 J. Contract L. 108 (2009).

Jovita T. Wang, Article 14 of China's New Labor Contract Law: Using Open-Term Contracts to Appropriately Balance Worker Protection and Employer Flexibility, 18 Pac. Rim L. & Pol'y J. 431 (2009).

Emma Wilson, Comment, Douglas v. Talk America: Making the Case for Proper Notice, 45 Idaho L. Rev. 479 (2009).

Jeremy L. Zell, Discerning the Validity of Arbitration Agreements Containing Heightened Judicial Review Clauses After Hall Street Associates, L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 40 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 959 (2009).

[Keith A. Rowley]

June 19, 2009 in Recent Scholarship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

ALI Principles of the Law of Software Contracts

Speaking of the recently-approved Principles of the Law of Software Contracts (the subject of our sister section's call for proposals below), here's an overview and remarks from Reporter Bob Hillman for the benefit of those who have not already read them on Concurring Opinions:

Maureen O’Rourke, the Associate Reporter on the Principles of the Law of Software Contracts, and I are posting the following to acquaint readers with the Principles and also to respond to some criticism of one section of the Principles that creates, under certain circumstances, an implied warranty of no known material hidden defects in the software.

On May 19, the membership of the American Law Institute unanimously approved the final draft of the Principles of the Law of Software Contracts. As the Introduction to the project states, the Principles “seek to clarify and unify the law of software transactions.” The Principles address issues including contract formation, the relationship between federal intellectual property law and private contracts governed by state law, the enforcement of contract terms governing quality and remedies, the meaning of breach, indemnification against infringement, automated disablement, and contract interpretation.

The Introduction to the Principles explains further that “[b]ecause of its burgeoning importance, perhaps no other commercial subject matter is in greater need of harmonization and clarification. . . . [T]he law governing the transfer of hard goods is inadequate to govern software transactions because, unlike hard goods, software is characterized by novel speed, copying, and storage capabilities, and new inspection, monitoring, and quality challenges.” Many of the rules of Article 2 of the UCC therefore apply poorly to software transactions or not at all, and the Principles are intended to fill the void.

The Principles are not “law,” of course, unless a court adopts a provision. Courts can also apply the Principles as a “gloss” on the common law, UCC Article 2, or other statutes. Nor do the Principles attempt to set forth the law for all aspects of a transaction, but instead rely on sources external to the Principles in many areas.

The Principles apply to agreements for the transfer of software or access to software for a consideration, i.e., software contracts. These include licenses, sales, leases, and access agreements. The project does not apply to the exchange of digital media or digital databases. It applies a predominant purpose test to determine applicability to transactions involving embedded software or software combined in one transfer with digital media, digital databases, and/or services.

We are the Reporter and Associate Reporter of the software principles. We have been greatly aided by our advisors, consultative group members, ALI Council members, liaisons from the National Commissioners on Uniform State Law, Business Software Alliance, and the American Bar Association, and many additional lawyers from industry and other groups who, over the last five and one-half years, have met with us, talked with us on the phone, and exchanged e-mails with us. We believe the project moved along smoothly largely because of the efforts of all of these groups and individuals.

Nevertheless, in the two weeks leading up to approval in May, we received communications from a few software providers evidencing concern largely with one section of the Principles. Section 3.05(b) creates a non-excludable implied warranty that the software “contains no material hidden defects of which the transferor was aware at the time of the transfer.” The section only applies if the transferor receives “money or a right to payment of a monetary obligation in exchange for the software.” Because the section may be the most controversial provision, we devote the rest of this post to the issue.

Despite concerns that section 3.05(b) creates “new law,” it simply memorializes contract law’s disclosure duties and tort’s fraudulent concealment law. The section makes clear that these rules apply to software transfers in order to allocate the risk to the party best able to accommodate or avoid the costs of materially defective software. Obviously this is the transferor in situations where only it knows of the material defect and the transferee cannot protect itself. The section requires that the transferor knows of the defect at the time of the transfer (negligence in not knowing is not enough to trigger liability), the defect is material, and it is hidden.

A few software providers have concerns that the concepts of “hidden,” and “material defect” are obtuse and will “increase litigation” or require a flood of “detailed notices” to prospective users. These concepts, however, are hardly unknown to the law. A comment to section 3.05(b) says that a “hidden” defect occurs if the “defect would not surface upon any testing that was or should have been performed by the transferee.” This is nothing new. See, e.g., UCC 2-316(3)(b) (”there is no implied warranty with regard to defects which an examination ought in the circumstances to have revealed to [the buyer]“).

A few software providers also worry about the meaning of “material defect.” The comments to section 3.05(b) point out that the section simply captures the principle of material breach: Does the defect mean that the transferee will not get substantially what it bargained for and reasonably expected under the contract? The criticism that “materiality” is too vague, if accurate, would mean that contract law would have to abolish its material breach doctrine too.

Putting together the requirements of actual knowledge of the defect at the time of the transfer, that the transferee reasonably does not know of the defect, and that the defect constitutes a material breach means that a transferor would be insulated from liability in situations identified by the concerned software providers as problematic. These include where the transferor has received reports of problems but reasonably has not hadtime to investigate them, where the transferee’s problems are caused by uses of which the transferor is unaware, where the transferor learns of problems only after the transfer, and where the problems are benign or require reasonable workarounds to achieve functionality. The best example of when section 3.05(b) would apply is, as comment b to the section says, where the transferor already knows at the time of the transfer that the software will require “major workarounds . . . and cause[] long periods of downtime or never [will] achieve[] promised functionality,” the transferee cannot discover this for itself, and the transferor chooses not to disclose the defect.

As we have already said, the section simply memorializes existing law. Under the common law, a contracting party must disclose material facts if they are under the party’s control and the other party cannot reasonably be expected to learn of the facts. Failure to disclose in such circumstances may amount to a representation that the facts do not exist and may be fraudulent. See, e.g., Shapiro v. Sutherland, 76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 101, 107 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998) (”Generally, where one party to a transaction has sole knowledge or access to material facts and knows that such facts are not known or reasonably discoverable by the other party, then a duty to disclose exists.”); Hill v. Jones, 725 P.2d 1115, 1118-19 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1986) (”[U]nder certain circumstances there may be a ‘duty to speak.’ . . .  [N]ondisclosure of a fact known to one party may be equivalent to the assertion that the fact does not exist. . . . Thus, nondisclosure may be equated with and given the same legal effect as fraud and misrepresentation.”). The Restatement (Second) of Contracts section 161(b) states that “[a] person’s non-disclosure of a fact known to him is equivalent to an assertion that the fact does not exist . . . where he knows that disclosure of the fact would correct a mistake of the other party as to a basic assumption on which that party is making the contract and if non-disclosure of the fact amounts to a failure to act in good faith and in accordance with reasonable standards of fair dealing.” Section 161, comment d of the Restatement (Second) adds “In many situations, if one party knows that the other is mistaken as to a basic assumption, he is expected to disclose the fact that would correct the mistake. A seller of real or personal property is, for example, ordinarily expected to disclose a known latent defect of quality or title that is of such character as would probably prevent the buyer from buying at the contract price.”

One concern of a commentator is that fraudulent concealment is a tort, implying that it has no place in the Principles. But the principle appears prominently in the Restatement (Second) of Contracts section 161. And why not memorialize a principle that discourages a party in a contract setting from hiding material facts that the other party reasonably does not know? The commentator notes that fraudulent concealment requires intent to deceive, but wouldn’t that be the usual inference if a transferor licenses software it knows is materially defective and knows the transferee cannot discover it?

A few organizations also are concerned that section 3.05(b) cannot be disclaimed. But there are plenty of cases that do not allow a party to contract away liability for concealment. One critic wonders why a statement such as “I am not giving any assurances about there being no defects in this software,” should not insulate a transferor from liability. A reasonable licensee, assuming the good faith of the licensor, would believe that this licensor does not intend to make any express warranties or implied warranties of merchantability or fitness, not that the licensor knows that the software is materially defective so that the software will be largely worthless to the licensee. A transferor playing this game is surely in bad faith and, frankly, engaging in reprehensible conduct. But there is a way to ensure no liability under this section, namely to disclose material hidden defects. In effect, disclosure is the disclaimer.

Bob Hillman and Maureen O’Rourke
June 2, 2009

The Concurring Opinions post -- which Bob asked me to re-post, with the blessings of the Concurring Opinions folks -- has provoked several comments and has been the subject of a follow-up post by David Hoffman, one of Concurring Opinions's thirteen regular contributors.  Dave's post has generated its own comments.  While we here at ContractsProf might have a vested interest in generating site traffic, it may be more efficient to funnel feedback through a single conduit.  Because Concurring Opinions got the ball rolling, feel free to comment, or to respond to existing comments, there.

[Keith A. Rowley]

June 19, 2009 in E-commerce, In the News, Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)