Whether or not you’re already familiar with the term, a clickwrap agreement is something you’ve probably taken part in countless times.

A staple of the modern internet, software, and professional service industries, it’s the proper terminology for a contract in which one party agrees to another party’s terms and conditions before making use of their software or professional service. It is also used to describe arrangements where a similar acknowledgment takes place, prior to the processing of a financial transaction or trade. When purchasing and installing software from an online source, a user will often be subjected to two or more clickwrap agreements: at a minimum, one prior to their payment being processed, and another before the software can be installed or used.

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These agreements are sometimes called “clickwrap licenses” or “clickthrough agreements.” They are notorious for the frequency with which they go unread, prior to a user simply checking the provided box and acknowledging their acceptance of any terms. So, why would a company use a clickwrap agreement?

A Clickthrough Agreement is Simple to Set Up and Maintain

Most avenues for offering downloadable software and other online services to the general public, such as online storefronts and payment management services, offer the built-in capacity for some form of clickthrough agreement. One prominent example is PayPal, which allows those who use its service to sell online to include terms and conditions in their invoices. By simple notice, their clients can be informed that making a payment on an invoice will be considered legally binding acceptance of the terms as presented. Whether using PayPal, or a similar service, or setting up their own stand-alone agreements, a provider can easily create and modify an agreement, while ensuring that prospective users cannot take advantage of their services or perform a certain transaction without acknowledging it.

Clickwrap Agreements are Convenient

The name of this form of contract developed from that of the shrink-wrap contract, which was common during the early days of the software industry. A user who purchased software in packaged form would be told that the act of opening the package (or removing the literal shrink-wrap) constituted acceptance of the developer’s terms of use. Today, that same idea allows for a company to establish binding contracts with large numbers of users, without having to individually negotiate terms with each one. Despite the apparent complexity of many companies’ terms of use, these agreements are usually far less complicated than those which are worked out between two specific parties over an individual transaction.

A Clickwrap License is Thorough

Despite being developed for the purpose of non-specific application, a clickwrap license allows its owner to modify their terms and conditions as needed, requiring only that they notify existing users and establish their consent with a new agreement. As a result, a company is able to cover a broad range of concerns within the scope of what functions as a single, evolving agreement. This enables them to accommodate issues and concerns which might not have been obvious at the time when the agreement was originally authored.

The clickwrap agreement is not devoid of its share of cautionary accounts. For example, consumer advocates have noted that the average internet user, assuming an average reading speed, would have to spend more time reading and comprehending all of the agreements which are relevant to them than what is actually available. Thanks to convenience, general acceptance, and the overall effectiveness of these contracts, however, it is unlikely that they are going to be replaced any time soon.