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. 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. The said escrow is normally requested by a party licensing software (licensee) to ensure protection and maintenance of the software.
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 Need for Escrow
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. 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.
Stipulations in Escrow Service
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.
Below are the provisions in source code 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.
Requiring the licensor to create updated versions of the software in specific intervals invoking the escrow.
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.
After the release of the software source code, delineating the rights, obtained by the licensee, to modify the software for the purpose of correcting errors or to continue independent development of the software.
Imply that the duties of escrow agents are custody and verification of the stored source code software such that 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 lastly, the required 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.