Understanding Source Code Escrow, Source Code, and Escrow Agents
Source code escrow is a condition, in the computing world, wherein the source code of a valuable software is being deposited and entrusted with a third part escrow agent. A source code is a special, coding language designed by programmers in the process of developing a type of software, wherein the source code is later transformed by a compiler or an assembler into a binary machine code in order to be understood 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. It is the software developer that usually requests for an escrow to protect and maintain their softwares.
Difference between Licensee and 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
Employment and maintenance of a customized software is critical to many companies, such that they make sure that there is continuity of the software use even if the licensor is unable to continue. Perhaps, one measure to be able to use the software continually is for the company to obtain a copy of the updated version. It is in this situation where a source code escrow is needed.
Source code escrow always takes place in a agreement called software licensing agreement, involving at least three parties: one or several licensors, one or several licensees, and the escrow agent.
The following are provided for in source code escrow agreements.
The subject and scope of the escrow, which, respectively, refers to the software source code and the requirements of the licensee, require for independent maintenance of the following: documentation, software tools or specialized hardware.
The licensor is obliged to put up updated versions, at a specified period, of the software in the knowledge of an escrow agent.
Instruct that the software source code be released to the licensee by the escrow agent on the following conditions: bankruptcy of licensor, cancellation of a software development project, unwillingness of licensor to meet the contractual obligations.
An agreement that when the software source code is released back to the licensee, he/she has the right to fix errors in the program or modify by independently developing further the software.
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.
There is also a stipulation called non-compete clause which disallows the licensee from hiring the licensor’s employees after the release of the software.
And finally, the fees to the escrow agent.
Who Can Qualify as Escrow Agents
Normally, a notary lawyer plays the role of escrow agent, but in recent developments even museums, archives, and software communities have been solicited to be one.