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Definitions of Source Code Escrow, Source Code, and Escrow

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. The source code of a software is a programmed coding language especially designed by the programmer and which is further processed by an assembler or a compiler into a binary machine code which easily readable by the computer. Escrow agents, who are usually lawyers, function as keepers of the source code and represent the third party while a transaction with respect to the source code of a particular software is being finalized or when there is a disagreement that is being resolved. Normally, the party licensing software (licensee) hires an escrow to protect and maintain their software.

Difference between Licensee and Licensor

In situations where the licensor fails to commit its agreement of maintaining and updating the software or when the licensor files for insolvency, the software source code will be released 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. Perhaps, one measure to be able to use the software continually is for the company to obtain a copy of the updated version. This situation can be addressed by employing a source code escrow service.

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.

The following are provided for in source code escrow agreements.

Along with the software source code together with documentation, software tools or specialized hardware be independently maintained.

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.

Comprehensive duty of escrow agent, such that it not only narrows down to custody of the software but includes verifying of the source code storage media as 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.

Kinds of Escrow Agents

Before, lawyers were usually hired as escrow agents, but, nowadays, archives, museums and software communities are already considered to qualify as escrow agents.