5 March, 2009

This blog is intended to take a look at the legal issues surrounding one of the key trends in how information technology is used in business today: the move “into the cloud”, away from locally-installed software, data and systems towards hosted services accessed over the network.

I am a technology lawyer working in the south east of England, and in the past few years – and at an accelerating rate in the past couple of years – have noticed an increasing move towards the use of hosted solutions. However, in many ways this shift is not fully reflected in how the legal and contractual issues are addressed: “Software as a Service” (SaaS) contracts are often expressed in terms of “granting a licence” rather than “providing a service”, which can cause problems for both the supplier and the buyer.

Then there are the broader ways in which the move to “pervasive networking” threatens existing business models and provides opportunities for those models (and new models) to develop. At the time of writing, two key technology stories are the dispute between YouTube and the PRS over licensing terms, which has led to YouTube blocking access to music videos for UK users, and the Guardian’s launch of an open API allowing reuse of its content (albeit with strings attached, notably as regards inclusion of advertisements).

The first can be seen as a collision between an old copyright licensing model and new technological means of delivering copyright material, the second as a radical attempt to find a new business model for newspapers in a networked world. On the one hand, restricting access in order to maintain control; on the other, loosening control in order to extend reach. It remains to be seen which of these approaches will prevail.

As regards this blog itself, at the time of writing this first post it is somewhat “rough round the edges”. This is a matter of deliberate choice: one feature of the networked world is that it enables projects to get off the ground quickly, rather than getting bogged down in preparatory matters. What I hope this blog will provide is useful and interesting content on issues relating to “law in the cloud”.