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Several commercial database vendors include an end-user license agreement provision, known as the DeWitt Clause, that prohibits researchers and scientists from explicitly using the names of their systems in academic papers.

Has the DeWitt Clause ever been successfully defended in court?

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Several users have suggested People of the State of New York vs. Network Associates as an instance of a DeWitt Clause being challenged, and struck down, in court. However, this case is hugely misunderstood by the media, and so these answers have been very misleading.

This case was an instance of a DeWitt Clause being challenged in court. However, the court's ruling did not directly address the issue of whether such a clause is enforceable. The court ruled on the basis of the specific wording of the Network Associates clause, and so did not generally rule on the enforceability of all such clauses.

Arguments of the Attorney General

Source: Attorney General's Argument in People v. Network Associates

Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, mentions two claims in his preliminary statement for this case. The first relates to the general enforceability of a DeWitt Clause, and the second does not.

  1. Violation of free speech and fair use:

    Under New York law, a restriction that broadly chills or restricts important rights -- here, of free speech and fair use -- without a legitimate purpose, will be struck down. This Censorship Clause restricts consumers and the media alike from reviewing the software or disclosing important design or product flaws. Yet it serves no legitimate purpose, such as protecting trade secrets or confidential material.

  2. Deception:

    Specifically, it misinforms consumers that the company’s prohibition against publication of reviews or benchmark tests (itself an illegal restriction) reflects existing “rules and regulations.” Of course, no “rules and regulations” actually exist, under federal or state law -- a fact that most attorneys, including those who drafted the Censorship Clause, surely know.

    ...

    Finally, the Censorship Clause is also void and deceptive because it conflicts with the License Agreement contained with the company’s boxed software. The boxed License Agreement, which is by its own terms the “entire Agreement between the parties,” omits the Censorship Clause. Yet the company then places that very Clause on the face of the software diskette -- even though it is by the very terms of the License Agreement void and unenforceable.

I'll elaborate a little bit on the latter point, regarding deception. The specific text that is the subject of the lawsuit is:

Installing this software constitutes acceptance of the terms and conditions of the license agreement in the box. Please read the license agreement before installation. Other rules and regulations of installing the software are:

a. The product can not be rented, loaned, or leased—you are the sole owner of this product.

b. The customer shall not disclose the result of any benchmark test to any third party without Network Associates' prior written approval.

c. The customer will not publish reviews of this product without prior consent from Network Associates, Inc.

This text was outside of the license agreement. The license agreement itself did not contain clauses (b) and (c). Furthermore, the license agreement contained a clause specifying that it (the license) constitutes the entire agreement between the consumer and Network Associates, and supersedes any prior communications related to the software.

The major claim of the deception argument was as follows: Consumers - having read the license agreement, with its clause that the entire contract between parties is contained in that license agreement, and without the "gag" clauses - will then read this text. They may reasonably conclude that the restrictions on publishing reviews and benchmarks are not part of the contractual agreement between the consumer and Network Associates, and are instead made and enforced by some other entity.

That is, the text deceptively implies that the restrictions on reviews and benchmarking are imposed not by Network Associates, but by someone else - such as the state or federal government.

Furthermore, the clauses restricting publishing reviews and benchmarking are not enforceable at all in this case (regardless of the general enforceability or legality of such clauses), because they conflict with the actual license agreement. Thus, consumers are deceived into believing that they have no right to publish reviews and benchmarks, when in this case, because of the way it is written, these clauses are not a valid contractual agreement.

Opinion of the Court

Source: PEOPLE v. NETWORK ASSOC., INC

The court rules against Network Associates. However, the ruling states that the Attorney General's claims of deception are valid. It does not directly address the first claim, of violation of free speech and fair use.

Furthermore, the ruling explicitly states that Network Associates is

enjoined from including any language restricting the right to publish the results of testing and review without notifying the Attorney General at least 30 days prior to such inclusion

which suggests that language restricting publishing of benchmarks is not necessarily prohibited. That is, Network Associates is not generally forbidden from writing a license in the future that restricts consumers' rights to publish reviews and benchmarks.

  • So, this is very nice to know, but the bottom line is that this was not an example of the DeWitt clause being successfully defended in court. Still, do you happen to have a link to the arguments by Network Associations rebutting Spitzer's first claim? – einpoklum Jul 15 at 15:34
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The New York Attorney General got a judge to ban Network Associates' licensing terms that prevented customers from reviewing their software without permission from NA. I think this started as a consumer protection suit by the AG's office instead of a customer defending themselves after violating such a licensing term. This was in New York state court, so who knows what would happen if a database vendor tried to sue someone in a different state.

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    This answer is not strictly accurate. The Network Associates ruling was on the grounds that the specific language they used was "deceptive," not on the grounds that such clauses are generally unenforceable. It was a much narrower ruling than various media sources made it out to be. – ff524 Sep 15 '14 at 18:28
  • True enough, but it's the closest thing I can find. – Bill Barth Sep 15 '14 at 18:31
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    Then you should clarify your answer. As currently written, it's very misleading – ff524 Sep 15 '14 at 18:36
  • To paraphrase the court, the language was deceptive because it might mislead the consumer to believe that those terms were enforceable. They were not enforceable, so NA should not have put them in the agreement. I think that's close enough to not being enforceable outright. – Bill Barth Sep 15 '14 at 18:41
  • See this answer. Hope that helps :) The language was not enforceable because it was stated outside of the license, and the license itself precluded the enforceability of clauses outside of the license; not because such language is generally not enforceable. – ff524 Sep 15 '14 at 20:34

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