June 30, 2003

Sam’s song.

I missed writing about the issue before last which was packed with IT contract cases. One of the most interesting comments was Richard Stephens on SAM v Hedley, a case which looked at the legal status of bugs in software, the effect of “entire agreement” clauses and the validity of limitation of liability clauses. I make three additional points on the case:

· The judge’s conclusions on reasonableness were expressly based on the evidence which emerged. Particular facts are, as ever, more problematical than the law applied to them.

· The judge also held that although SAM were not liable for breach of contract, they could not claim the additional maintenance fees they had incurred for putting right defects in the software. Therefore, it seems that a supplier protected by exemption clauses in such circumstances should either refuse to do anything or interpose a neutral third party to be involved in any maintenance obligations and collect the fees.

· The case holds a further lesson, nothing to do with strict law. SAM had originally claimed £310,509.84 including the various maintenance fees. Hedleys’ counterclaim was set at £789,658.44. The judge’s application of the law meant that the sum eventually awarded to SAM was £8,773.73 (including VAT). For reasons not fully reported but probably mainly to do with the fact that neither party succeeded in getting close to the position for which they were arguing, the judge made no order for costs. It seems that each party therefore has to bear their own costs of what would have been a very expensive trial: a pyrrhic stalemate.

Psion o’ the times

The Psion 5mx/Pocket PC debate rumbles on: something I think I may have vaguely started in a previous column (volume 13, issue 2) but given fresh life by WK Hon (volume 13, issue 5) and now joined by Richard Stephens (“Psion-ara Psion”, volume 14, issue 1). I now have a Pocket PC sitting on my desk in its cradle, password protected (do this now, constant synchronisation of your Outlook details, in particular your confidential e-mails, is going to be rather embarrassing if you leave it in the pub).

I also still have the good old Psion available for its wonderful “till roll” calculator, quick access to world times in “Agenda” and now, I gather, cult article status. I am glad to know I have a modern icon on my desk.

What the 5mx does not give you is out-of copyright novels: currently, I’m reading Huckleberry Finn on the Jornada although, at present, I don’t think it’s going to join Bleak House and Dracula in getting the up-to-date Computers and Law treatment.

The way we work..

The SCL Web site has a section called “Off the Spike” which collects largely unedited press releases from IT suppliers. It’s too good to overlook. Here is a sample:

“Zap Away the Post-Holiday Blues

New System Alleviates Email Headaches

Uxbridge, May 14, 2003 – Picture the scene: You have just returned from holiday, you are tired, jetlagged, the plane was delayed, the taxi ride was hideously expensive, you are not looking forward to that huge swathe of emails sitting in your inbox demanding attention.

Could there be a less welcome return home? But help is at hand thanks to those hard working technologists at Xerox.

They have come up with the Xerox Advanced Print Automation or XAPA (pronounced “Zapper”) system, designed to reflect the way people work, rather than the other way around. With a single click, XAPA automatically opens all emails including associated attached files, or files held on CD, or in electronic folders. Data is sent to the printer of choice and output is produced in chronological order. At the end of the operation a log provides details of each item printed, its source, number and type of outputs with totals”

I am amused at the idea that, in the circumstances mentioned in the press release, a massive wodge of paper categorised by colour is somehow going to make the task of facing a pile of e-mails more manageable. This is obviously an excellent and beneficial product but I can’t help feeling that its virtues are not being sold in the most effective way.


Lawtel, Sweet & Maxwell’s current awareness Web service has a very useful e-mail update feature. Its researchers produce digests of significant cases and articles which you can skim through and link to those which interest you. I ticked the box for updates on professional matters. I was surprised and vaguely flattered to find that the epically lightweight piece of literary-legal trivia, “Dracula, Computers and Law,” intended only to amuse and divert (and possibly cause lawyers to revisit the source), has been summarised and circulated apparently as a serious piece of comment on professional matters. I hope that C&L gets some readers from this source – and that they’re not disappointed with what they find.