Cloud Computing and Contracts

The goal of the project is to provide a better understanding of the role of contracts in procuring cloud-computing services. The research will evaluate terms and conditions used in cloud computing services and the general contractual structure of cloud computing agreements.

Illustration by: Lucian Savluc


Cloud computing has been deemed the Next Big Thing in Internet technology. In both the private and the public sectors, “moving to the cloud” has become a common phrase. Many consumers have become familiar with this phenomenon through services like Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail, or YouTube. At its core, cloud computing is a method of providing users with on demand computing services over a network. Cloud computing provides access to a variety of services including storage, use of software, and an array of applications. 
Cloud services, once primarily used by sophisticated businesses and other tech-savvy users have gained a much broader user base including individual consumers, businesses of all sizes, and governments at all levels. Cloud users now have the opportunity to purchase services, on a worldwide basis, that are limited or scalable to their individual needs. Prices of cloud services are generally lower than in-house development costs. However, the creation of one-size-fits-all computing services, deployed globally, raises many novel legal questions. Core legal issues relate to jurisdiction and applicable law in the cloud, data ownership, data access and portability, compliance with data protection laws, and liability for data losses. As consumers, businesses, and governments continue to upload data to servers located across the globe, legal issues surrounding cloud computing will continue to be more relevant on both an individual and a societal level. This project aims to provide a better understanding of the contractual methods used in procuring cloud-computing services central to the continued growth of the cloud. 

Research Issues

In cloud computing, contracts are used as a primary regulatory mechanism. The central question this project addresses is what role contracts have as a means of governing and enforcing the legal relationships created in cloud computing. The following are other central contract issues that will be discussed:
  • How contract terms have been used to supplement, or in some cases replace, state regulation of cloud computing.  
  • How industry manages services where contract terms contradict the laws provided in data protection regimes. 
  • What impact the practice of using contracts as governors has on issues like transparency and accountability, particularly when governments use private cloud computing services.  
  • The role contract terms play in the harmonization of cloud computing from both national and international perspectives.

Project methodology

The project is planned as an article-based dissertation. The project will focus largely on issues germane to contract law and electronic commerce law. The project can be divided into three primary components. 
The first component will provide an evaluation of the current role of contracts as regulators or governors of cloud computing services. To a lesser extent, this section will consider the role of technology, the industry, available services, and cloud users. 
The second component will consider the terms and conditions present in cloud computing agreements. The evaluation will consider practical issues for cloud users in addition to theoretical ones. Case studies relating to the use of cloud services by government contractors will also be discussed. Discussion of regulatory regimes, in Norway, the US, and at the EU level will be considered in this section as they apply to contract terms and cloud computing in general.
The third section will consider what role contracts ought to play in cloud computing. This component will also attempt to generalize or provide some predictions as to the future role of contracts in cloud computing. Results will be published as they become available. 
Published Apr. 26, 2016 10:46 AM - Last modified May 10, 2016 1:52 PM