VA Court OKs Enforcement of Clickwrap Contract Against Minors
Much ink has been shed over clickwrap contracts, and more will continue to be shed as courts attempt to apply age-old principles of contract law in a new technological age. Contracts with minors are typically voidable, but the court makes an exception to this general rule in this case.
In this case, several students were required to submit their class papers to turnitin.com, a plagiarism detection website. The students’ schools had agreements with iParadigms, the company that owned the website, which allowed them to archive the papers. The main issue in the case was whether this was a copyright violation, and that issue made it all the way to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the 4th Circuit left intact the District Court’s reasoning that by clicking “I agree” on the website when submitting their papers, they were bound by all the terms contained in the contract.
Noting that typically contracts with minors are voidable, and citing the principle that “[i]f an infant enters into any contract subject to conditions or stipulations, he cannot take the benefit of the contract without the burden of the conditions or stipulations,” the court concluded that they essentially received irrevocable benefits.
They received a grade from their teachers, allowing them the opportunity to maintain good standing in the classes in which they were enrolled. Additionally, Plaintiffs gained the benefit of standing to bring the present suit. Plaintiffs cannot use the infancy defense to void their contractual obligations while retaining the benefits of the contract. Thus, Plaintiffs’ infancy defense fails.
Regardless of whether the benefits the Court cites actually were benefits of the contract per se, one problem is the irrevocability of the benefits that the court cites. Under this test, any irrevocable benefit that happens as a result of the contract would suffice to destroy the infancy defense. For example, simply using the service would suffice if it confered a sufficient benefit. In an age where services are migrating to the cloud and most services have extensive clickwrap contracts attached to them, are we losing the infancy defense altogether?