Defining Source Code Escrow, Source Code, and Escrow Agents
In the computing world, all precious source code of an important software passes through what is termed as source code escrow, which simply means that the source code is deposited with the participation of a third party escrow agent. In programming of softwares, normally a coding language is designed by the programmer and this is called the source code, which is further translated by a compiler or assembler into a binary machine code to make the code decipherable by the computer. An escrow agent, who is usually a lawyer, is a person, representing as third party, who holds the source code for safekeeping while a transaction is taking place or finalized or in cases where there’s need to resolve a disagreement with respect to the design or ownership patent of a software. Normally, the party licensing software (licensee) hires an escrow to protect and maintain their software.
Differentiating Licensee to Licensor
In extreme cases when the company or licensor fails to maintain and update the software as stipulated in the software license agreement or files for bankruptcy, the software source code will be released back to the licensee.
The Necessity of Source Code Escrow Service
Many companies, who are dependent on a licensed software, do make a point of continually using it and maintaining it even if the licensor is unable to do so. To be able to use the software continuously, the company can obtain a copy of the most updated version of the source code. It is in this situation where a source code escrow is needed.
Contract Provisions in Source Code Escrow
Three parties are included in the application of a source code escrow where an agreement (software licensing agreement) is entered into – one or several licensors, one or several licensees, and the escrow agent.
Below are the provisions in source code agreements.
Along with the software source code together with documentation, software tools or specialized hardware be independently maintained.
Requiring the licensor to create updated versions of the software in specific intervals invoking the escrow.
Agreement to release the software source code by the escrow agent to the licensee in cases of bankruptcy of licensor, cancellation of a software development project, unwillingness of licensor to meet the contractual obligations.
A stipulation to allow the licensee to fix errors in the software or further develop the software once it is released back to the licensee.
Specify clearly the duties of an escrow agent which involves custody and verification of the stored source code software if it is readable to a computer.
The contract may include what is called a non-compete clause, which prohibits the licensee to employ the licensor’s employees once the software is released to the licensee.
And finally, the fees to the escrow agent.
It used to be lawyers who were hired as escrow agents, but lately museums, archives and software communities have also become agents.