By Richard Stobbe
The answer is clearly… it depends. Consider the American case of Holdbrook Pediatric Dental, LLC, v. Pro Computer Service, LLC (PCS), a New Jersey decision which considered the enforceability of a set of terms which were linked from a paper hard-copy version of the contract. In this case, PCS sent a contract to its customer electronically. The customer printed out the paper version and signed it in hard copy. A hyperlink appeared near the signature line, pointing to a separate set of Terms and Conditions in HTML code. Of course on the paper copy these terms cannot be hyperlinked.
PCS asserted that these separate terms were incorporated into the signed paper contract, since they function as a clickable hyperlink in the electronic version. The court disagreed: “In order for there to be a proper and enforceable incorporation by reference of a separate document . . . the party to be bound by the terms must have had ‘knowledge of and assented to the incorporated terms.’” Here, there was no independent assent to the additional Terms and Conditions, and the mixed media nature of the contracting process worked against PCS. In addition to the fact that the separate terms were not easily accessible by the customer, the text was not clear. It merely said “Download Terms and Conditions”, without providing reasonable notice to the customer that assent to the main contract included assent to these additional terms. The additional terms were not binding on the customer.
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