Changing Online Terms Midstream

 

Cloud service providers often want to change online terms in the middle of the product lifecycle. Amendments are typically required due to changes in the law or changes in product functionality. For example, Apple’s introduction of its iCloud service triggered changes to the iTunes terms of use. If users want access to the new functionality, they must assent to the revised terms. It amounts to a midstream unilateral change to the contract. Do these changes hold up in court? Two recent US cases suggest there is a valid way to effect such changes:

  • In Fineman v. Sony Network Entertainment (N.D. Cal.; Feb. 9, 2012), consumers objected to Sony’s amendments to the online terms governing the Sony PlayStation Network. The changes were challenged and ultimately upheld in court. 
  • In Lebowitz v. Dow Jones & Co., 06 Civ. 2198 (MGC) (S.D.N.Y.; Mar. 12, 2012), a New York court permitted unilateral changes to the terms and pricing for the WSJ Online subscription service. This turned, in part, on the terms of the original contract, which permitted the vendor to make reasonable changes to the terms as long as notice was provided to the user. For further discussion, see Eric Goldman’s post.)
  • In Canada, this issue was addressed in the leading case of Kanitz v. Rogers Cable Inc., 2002 CanLII 49415 (ON SC), in which a Canadian court upheld a change in the online terms imposed on Rogers internet customers.

Note: software vendors and cloud service providers need to be cautious about forcing users to waive class-action rights. Such amendments can conflict with local consumer-protection laws. Unilateral changes need to be managed carefully. Get advice before you attempt to impose unilateral changes to ensure the best outcome. 

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