For many, many years
the debate has raged on whether or not software developers should be liable for bugs in software. Plenty of companies, sick of dealing with buggy software, have felt that developers should be legally liable
, just as any other defective
product. But many argue back that, with software, that's not really reasonable, since pretty much all
software has bugs. That's the nature of software -- and making developers potentially liable for "defective" offerings, because the software has some bugs, opens up so much liability that it could cast a chill across all sorts of software development -- especially in areas where software is especially buggy
. And, of course, there's a strong argument that those unintended consequences would do significantly more harm than good
, such as driving good
developers out of the business, because the liability is just too high.
That said, software liability has been a hot topic in Europe
lately, and now Slashdot
points us to the news that the UK High Court has ruled that a software company can be liable for buggy software
. More specifically, the court found that a clause in the license agreement, which said it would not be liable for defects was found to be an unfair contract term.
Of course, it also sounds like there were some special conditions here:
The judge said that the exclusion of liability was unfounded because of the particular way in which the software sale had been conducted. The fact that a full set of operating documents for the software had not been provided and the fact that Kingsway made its purchasing decisions largely based on Red Sky's claims for the software eroded Red Sky's ability to limit its liability, the Court said.
"Red Sky's' standard terms were predicated on the fact that a prospective customer would investigate Entirety [the software] and make up its own mind whether or not to purchase based on demonstrations and the Operating Documents which Red Sky had previously supplied," said the ruling. "It did not apply to circumstances in which the customer relied on Red Sky's' advice in deciding to purchase Entirety."
"The exclusions in clause 10.2 [of the terms and conditions] only applied where the Operating Documents as defined in Clause 1.1.6 were supplied to the customer before the contract was signed," it said. "In this case such documents were not supplied by Red Sky to Kingsway. Therefore, Clause 10.2 and the exclusions derived there from did not apply."
So, as the article notes, the issue here may be more about liability arising from the sales process, rather than just general liability, so it hopefully won't have the same sorts of chilling effects that general liability for bugs might have.