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Netscape Privacy Violation (2)
Id. To begin with, we find that the underlying dispute in this case-whether defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act-involves matters that are clearly collateral to the Communicator license agreement. While the SmartDownload license agreement expressly applied "to Netscape Communicator, Netscape Navigator, and Netscape SmartDownload," the Communicator license agreement expressly applied only "to Netscape Communicator and Netscape Navigator." Thus, on its face, the Communicator license agreement governed disputes concerning Netscape's browser programs only, not disputes concerning a plug-in program like SmartDownload. Moreover, Communicator's license terms included a merger or integration clause stating that "[t]his Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties concerning the subject matter hereof." SmartDownload's license terms contained the same clause. Such provisions are recognized by California courts as a means of excluding prior or contemporaneous parol evidence from the scope of a contract. See Franklin v. USX Corp., 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 11, 15 (Cal. Ct. App. 2001). Although the presence of merger clauses is not dispositive here, we note that defendants' express desire to limit the reach of the respective license agreements, combined with the absence of reference to SmartDownload in the Communicator license agreement, suggests that a dispute regarding defendants' allegedly unlawful use of SmartDownload is clearly collateral to the Communicator license agreement.
This conclusion is reinforced by the other terms of the Communicator license agreement, which include a provision describing the non-exclusive nature of the grant and permission to reproduce the software for personal and internal business purposes; restrictions on modification, decompilation, redistribution or other sale or transfer, and removal or alteration of trademarks or other intellectual property; provisions for the licensor's right to terminate and its proprietary rights; a complete disclaimer of warranties ("as is") and an entire-risk clause; a limitation of liability clause for consequential and other damages, together with a liquidated damages term; clauses regarding encryption and export; a disclaimer of warranties for high risk activities; and a miscellaneous paragraph that contains merger, choice-of-law, arbitration, and severability clauses, non-waiver and non-assignment provisions, a force majeure term, and a clause providing for reimbursement of the prevailing party in any dispute. Apart from the potential generic applicability of the warranty and liability disclaimers, a dispute concerning alleged electronic eavesdropping via transmissions from a separate plug-in program would not appear to fall within Communicator's license terms. We conclude, therefore, that this dispute concerns matters that, on their face, are clearly collateral to the Communicator license agreement.
Having determined this much, we next must test the presumption of arbitrability by asking whether plaintiffs' allegations implicate or touch on issues of contract construction or the parties' rights and obligations under the contract. Collins & Aikman, 58 F.3d at 23; Genesco, 815 F.2d at 846. That is, even though the parties' dispute concerns matters clearly collateral to the Communicator license terms, we must determine whether plaintiffs by their particular allegations have brought the dispute within the license terms. Defendants argue that plaintiffs' complaints "literally bristled with allegations that Communicator and SmartDownload operated in conjunction with one another to eavesdrop on Plaintiffs' Internet communications." We disagree. Plaintiffs' allegations nowhere collapse or blur the distinction between Communicator and SmartDownload, but instead consistently separate the two software programs and assert that SmartDownload alone is responsible for unlawful eavesdropping. Plaintiffs begin by alleging that "SmartDownload facilitates the transfer of large files over the Internet by permitting a transfer to be resumed if it is interrupted." Plaintiffs then explain that "[o]nce SmartDownload is downloaded and running on a Web user's computer, it automatically connects to Netscape's file servers and downloads the installation program for Communicator." Plaintiffs add that defendants also encourage visitors to Netscape's website "to download and install SmartDownload even if they are not installing or upgrading Communicator."
Plaintiffs go on to point out that installing Communicator "automatically creates and stores on the Web user's computer a small text file known as a `cookie.'" There follow two paragraphs essentially alleging that cookies were originally intended to perform such innocuous tasks as providing "temporary identification for purposes such as electronic commerce," and that the Netscape cookie performs this original identifying, and entirely lawful, function. Separate paragraphs then describe the "Key" or "UserID" that SmartDownload allegedly independently places on user's computers, and point out that "SmartDownload assumes from Communicator the task of downloading various files. Communicator itself could and would perform these downloading tasks if SmartDownload were not installed." "Thereafter," the complaints continue, each time a Web user downloads any file from any site on the Internet using SmartDownload, SmartDownload automatically transmits to defendants the name and Internet address of the file and the Web site from which it is being sent. Within the same transmission, SmartDownload also includes the contents of the Netscape cookie previously created by Communicator and the "Key" previously created by SmartDownload.
In the course of their description of the installation and downloading process, plaintiffs keep SmartDownload separate from Communicator and clearly indicate that it is SmartDownload that performed the allegedly unlawful eavesdropping and made use of the otherwise innocuous Communicator cookie as well as its own "Key" and "UserID" to transmit plaintiffs' information to Netscape. The complaints refer to "SmartDownload's spying" and explain that "Defendants are using SmartDownload to eavesdrop." Plaintiffs' allegations consistently distinguish and isolate the functions of SmartDownload in such a way as to make it clear that it is through SmartDownload, not Communicator, that defendants committed the abuses that are the subject of the complaints.
After careful review of these allegations, we conclude that plaintiffs' claims "present no question involving construction of the [Communicator license agreement], and no questions in respect of the parties' rights and obligations under it." Collins & Aikman, 58 F.3d at 23. It follows that the claims of the five user plaintiffs are beyond the scope of the arbitration clause contained in the Communicator license agreement. Because those claims are not arbitrable under that agreement or under the SmartDownload license agreement, to which plaintiffs never assented, we affirm the district court's holding that the five user plaintiffs may not be compelled to arbitrate their claims.
V.Whether Plaintiff Specht Can Be Required To Arbitrate as a Nonparty Beneficiary
Plaintiff Specht operated a website that he claims defendants electronically spied on every time users employing SmartDownload to enhance their browser software downloaded, from his site, software files that he provided for setting up an account with a separate service called WhyWeb. Defendants counter that Specht received a "direct benefit" under the "Netscape license agreement," which they say authorized consumers to use SmartDownload and Communicator to obtain Specht's files. Defendants contend that if a user who obtained a file from Specht's site subsequently subscribed to WhyWeb's service, Specht would receive a commission from WhyWeb. Thus, according to defendants, if users employing SmartDownload accessed his site and obtained WhyWeb files, Specht would receive a direct benefit "because the software assisted in obtaining a WhyWeb file and increased the likelihood of success in the download process." Specht, however, claims that he received no commissions from providing WhyWeb software.
We note at the outset that defendants do not argue, as indeed they could not, that Specht benefited from SmartDownload license agreements entered into by the named user plaintiffs or the putative class that they represent. A contract theory of third-party benefits requires a predicate contract, and we have already determined that the user plaintiffs did not assent to the SmartDownload license agreement. We are thus asked, in effect, to imagine a class of users who, having obtained SmartDownload and/or Communicator after properly assenting to license terms, visited Specht's website by means of Communicator or a non-Netscape browser enhanced by SmartDownload and, while there, downloaded WhyWeb files which they proceeded to use to subscribe to WhyWeb, in turn triggering a commission fee from WhyWeb for Specht.
Even accepting arguendo this strained and roundabout hypothesis, we must reject defendants' legal conclusion. Typically, whether a contract benefits or accords rights to a third party (most often, the right to enforce the contract) depends significantly on the intention of the original contracting parties. See Sessions Payroll Mgmt., Inc. v. Noble Constr. Co, Inc., 101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 127, 133 (Cal. Ct. App. 2000) (explaining that a third-party beneficiary may enforce a contract made expressly for its benefit and has the burden of proving that the contracting parties actually promised the performance). Clearly, Netscape and these unknown visitors to Specht's website did not expressly confer or intend to confer any contractual benefits on Specht or website operators generally (other than defendants). Defendants therefore take a different tack, arguing that they need only show that Specht received some direct benefit, knowingly or not, under a Netscape license agreement.
To support this claim, defendants cite American Bureau of Shipping v. Tencara Shipyard S.P.A., 170 F.3d 349 (2d Cir. 1999). But the benefit at issue in American Bureau of Shipping was much more direct than that described by defendants. There, a ship classification society, which had issued an interim certification of classification (ICC) for a racing yacht that later suffered hull damage allegedly resulting from defective design, sought to compel the yacht's builder, owners, and insurers to arbitrate pursuant to arbitration clauses contained in the ICC and other contracts. The owners never signed any arbitration agreement, but this Court noted that a nonsignatory could be "estopped from denying its obligation to arbitrate when it receives a `direct benefit' from a contract containing an arbitration clause." Id. at 353 (citing Thomson-CSF, S.A. v. Am. Arbitration Ass'n, 64 F.3d 773, 778-79 (2d Cir. 1995)).20
Even if defendants' theory of Specht's SmartDownload-enhanced potential for earning commissions were more convincing, such an abstract advantage is not remotely as tangible and definite as the benefits that have led this Court to compel nonsignatories to arbitrate. Nor does the intricate, Rube Goldberg-like chain of events postulated by defendants constitute a "direct" benefit in the sense contemplated by American Bureau of Shipping and Deloitte Noraudit. Because we conclude that Specht was not a direct beneficiary under SmartDownload's license agreement or any other Netscape agreement, we affirm the district court's refusal to compel arbitration of his claims.21
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court's denial of defendants' motion to compel arbitration and to stay court proceedings.
Downloadable software, however, is scarcely a "tangible" good, and, in part because software may be obtained, copied, or transferred effortlessly at the stroke of a computer key, licensing of such Internet products has assumed a vast importance in recent years. Recognizing that "a body of law based on images of the sale of manufactured goods ill fits licenses and other transactions in computer information," the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws has promulgated the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act ("UCITA"), a code resembling UCC Article 2 in many respects but drafted to reflect emergent practices in the sale and licensing of computer information. UCITA, prefatory note (rev. ed. Aug. 23, 2001) (available at www.ucitaonline.com/ucita.html). UCITA-originally intended as a new Article 2B to supplement Articles 2 and 2A of the UCC but later proposed as an independent code-has been adopted by two states, Maryland and Virginia. See Md. Code Ann. Com. Law §§ 22-101 et seq.; Va. Code Ann. §§ 59.1-501.1 et seq.
We need not decide today whether UCC Article 2 applies to Internet transactions in downloadable products. The district court's analysis and the parties' arguments on appeal show that, for present purposes, there is no essential difference between UCC Article 2 and the common law of contracts. We therefore apply the common law, with exceptions as noted.
(i) [on] the first screen displayed when the vendor's electronic site is accessed,
(ii) on the screen on which goods or services are first offered,
(iii) on the screen on which a buyer may place the order for goods or services,
(iv) on the screen on which the buyer may enter payment information, such as a credit card account number, or (v) for nonbrowser-based technologies, in a manner that gives the user a reasonable opportunity to review that information.
Id. § 17538(d)(2)(A). The statute's clear purpose is to ensure that consumers engaging in online transactions have relevant information before they can be bound. Although consumer fraud as such is not alleged in the present action, and § 17538 protects only California residents, we note that the statute is consistent with the principle of conspicuous notice of the existence of contract terms that is also found in California's common law of contracts.
In addition, the model code, UCITA, discussed above, generally recognizes the importance of conspicuous notice and unambiguous manifestation of assent in online sales and licensing of computer information. For example, § 112, which addresses manifestation of assent, provides that a user's opportunity to review online contract terms exists if a "record" (or electronic writing) of the contract terms is "made available in a manner that ought to call it to the attention of a reasonable person and permit review." UCITA, § 112(e)(1) (rev. ed. Aug. 23, 2001) (available at www.ucitaonline.com/ucita.html). Section 112 also provides, in pertinent part, that "[a] person manifests assent to a record or term if the person, acting with knowledge of, or after having an opportunity to review the record or term or a copy of it . . . intentionally engages in conduct or makes statements with reason to know that the other party or its electronic agent may infer from the conduct or statement that the person assents to the record or term." Id. § 112(a)(2). In the case of a "mass-market license," a party adopts the terms of the license only by manifesting assent "before or during the party's initial performance or use of or access to the information." Id. § 209(a).
UCITA § 211 sets forth a number of guidelines for "internet-type" transactions involving the supply of information or software. For example, a licensor should make standard terms "available for review" prior to delivery or obligation to pay (1) by "displaying prominently and in close proximity to a description of the computer information, or to instructions or steps for acquiring it, the standard terms or a reference to an electronic location from which they can be readily obtained," or (2) by "disclosing the availability of the standard terms in a prominent place on the site from which the computer information is offered and promptly furnishing a copy of the standard terms on request before the transfer of the computer information." Id. § 211(1)(A-B). The commentary to § 211 adds: "The intent of the close proximity standard is that the terms or the reference to them would be called to the attention of an ordinary reasonable person."
Id. § 211 cmt. 3. The commentary also approves of prominent hypertext links that draw attention to the existence of a standard agreement and allow users to view the terms of the license. Id. We hasten to point out that UCITA, which has been enacted into law only in Maryland and Virginia, does not govern the parties' transactions in the present case, but we nevertheless find that UCITA's provisions offer insight into the evolving online "circumstances" that defendants argue placed plaintiffs on inquiry notice of the existence of the SmartDownload license terms. UCITA has been controversial as a result of the perceived breadth of some of its provisions. Compare Margaret Jane Radin, Humans Computers, and Binding Commitment, 75 Ind. L.J. 1125, 1141 (2000) (arguing that "UCITA's definition of manifestation of assent stretches the ordinary concept of consent"), with Joseph H. Sommer, Against Cyberlaw, 15 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 1145, 1187 (2000) ("There are no new legal developments [in UCITA's assent provisions]. The revolution-if any-occurred with [Karl] Llewellyn's old Article 2, which abandoned most formalisms of contract formation, and sought a contract wherever it could be found."). Nonetheless, UCITA's notice and assent provisions seem to be consistent with well-established principles governing contract formation and enforcement. See Robert A. Hillman & Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, Standard-Form Contracting in the Electronic Age, 77 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 429, 491 (2002) ("[W]e contend that UCITA maintains the contextual, balanced approach to standard terms that can be found in the paper world.").
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