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Tim Astley for Lowering Legal Friction

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Final Report

Project Update

This is our final report on the Grant for the Web funded part of our Lowering Legal Friction project. The aim of this project was to create a suite of key legal contracts and policies covering the most common web monetization use cases. These documents can be used freely to implement a compliant legal framework for web monetized services or as starting point for more cost effective legal advice – hence the Lowering Legal Friction name.

Our work on the suite of documents has been successful. As you probably know, different legal jurisdictions have different legal rules, particularly on consumer rights and data privacy. So, we worked with lawyers in some key jurisdictions to adapt the documents to comply with local legal requirements.

Our biggest challenge and the area where our project evolved the most was how to best make the documents available. As planned we are open sourcing the documents under Creative Commons Attribution Licence 4.0 at git.law, but we also wanted to make the documents available in an automated and accessible manner which allowed customised and service specific contracts to be created without the need for editing or completing a lot of blanks in the documents with prompts like “[INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE]”. We talk about the challenges we faced and how our approach changed in this regard in the Progress Update section.

Progress on objectives

The core document suite has been completed and is being adapted and localised for some common and popular jurisdictions. In addition to English and Welsh law, we initially hoped to cover one US state (each state in the US has its own jurisdiction) and Italy and Spain from a European perspective. However, we have exceeded this plan and will also be able to localise for Germany. As we explain in the What’s next section, we hope this list will continue to grow.

In addition to open sourcing the documents on git.law, we are creating the website frosdot.com. This stands for “Free Open Source Document Templates” and we have also registered the .co.uk and .eu domains.

We initially planned to use a decision tree style selection tool to help people identify which documents from the suite were needed and which jurisdiction would apply. This functionality has been created and we are open sourcing the code under an Apache 2.0 licence for other people to use.

However, as we worked on the project, we had some concerns about the effectiveness of this approach. We worried whether it would get sufficient user buy-in to the documents, with risks of a tick-box approach which gave a false sense of security. Also, there would still be a lot of variables which users would need to review, edit and complete, sometimes repetitiously.

So, we decided to try a more ambitious approach of creating a contract selection tool on frosdot.com, which would then link through to git.law for the actual documents. This tool would allow users to enter variables on frosdot.com, which would then be auto-populated into the documents wherever needed (for instance the company name and contact details would only be entered once and then replicated into multiple places in the documents). It would also automate a more granular selection of which clauses would be relevant and included in their documents. The user could then download a completed suite of documents in popular formats with no annoying [INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE] type boxes.

This approach also helps with our concerns about user buy-in to the documents. This was particularly pressing in the area of privacy, where real risks arise if users were to think “oh, I’ve downloaded a privacy policy from frosdot.com and put it on my website so I’m compliant”. This is generally not how privacy laws work, as there is a real emphasis on data controllers actively thinking about and documenting data processing activities and making informed and reasonable decisions on data processing activities.

The contract selection tool helps address this risk by getting users to engage with and consider their processing activities. So, rather than just using a template which covers generic processing activities, we ask the user to tick which activities are in play and for what reasons and then provide a free text option to describe any other activities and the tool then populates this into the documents. This means the documents have been created in an intentional manner and better reflect both the reality of processing activity and compliance requirements.

Our work on this aspect of the project, which involved taking a step back and thinking about all of the different options and combinations applicable to the documents (and then documenting these in spreadsheets), led to an even more ambitious idea. This was whether the spreadsheet approach could be standardised and used with a contract builder tool to create new contract selection interfaces on frosdot.com, which would interface with templates held on git.law. This would allow us to keep the document suite up to date – for instance, if there was a change in the law which required changes to the terms, we could just update the spreadsheet, resubmit to the contract builder tool and the contract selector on frosdot.com would be updated, without the need to incur more web developer costs.

Additionally (and for the future) the contract builder would allow us to add completely new types of contracts to frosdot.com. These contracts will be of a type which will be of interests to start-ups and the web-monetization community and will help foster the open source community maintaining and working on the documents going forward.

These changes of approach meant the project took longer and led to an increase in developer costs. Fortunately, as we were underbudget we were able to work on this expanded and ambitious part of the project by reallocating costs. We applied for and received change authorisations from the Grant for the Web team, who were really helpful and accommodating of our developing ideas. The work on the contract builder has been delayed slightly by staff absences at our third party developer, but is in progress and we will be adding the functionality to the frosdot.com website shortly. As with the codebase for the initially planned functionality, we will open source the results of this expanded work under an Apache 2.0 licence.

Key activities

We have completed the document suite of terms of use, consumer service terms, acceptable use policy and privacy notice under English and Welsh law. We will also make available New York, Italian, Spanish and German localised versions. We are open sourcing the documents on git.law as originally proposed and the documents will be available through frosdot.com when the expanded contract selection/contract builder functionality is implemented.

Communications and marketing

We have worked with a third party marketing agency, OJI Marketing, on the marketing of the project. They have worked with us to prepare marketing campaigns, a social media presence and have devised and assisted in the production of marketing copy. Once the contract selection/contract build tool is complete we will further promote this new functionality in our existing networks at our own expense. We also plan to engage with the providers of legal precedent materials (Westlaw, LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters) to have the document suite built into their existing precedent offerings as a value-added service.

What’s next?

Although this is report is titled “Final”, we feel the work of Lowering Legal Friction is only just getting started. The fantastic support we have received from Grant for the Web has allowed us to successfully complete the first set of documents and to develop technology to allow them to be most easily used and deployed, but we are keen to grow the project. This means working with more lawyers in more jurisdiction to expand the reach of the documents, keep them up to date and expand on the type of documents we make available. None of this would have been possible without Grant for the Web and the Interledger Foundation. Already, between completion of the project and submission of this report, we have (using our own funding) been working on a lightweight standalone document assembler, and we have also identified a number of additional legal documents which we are converting into a format which can be used by FROSDOT and expand our suite of contracts.

What community support would benefit your project?

We welcome any feedback on the documents, or people can freely use and propose changes on git.law. It would also be great to hear what other types of documents the community would find most useful and we’ll add these to our to do list.

Additional comments

We would like to thank the Grant for the Web team for their help and support throughout the project – it has been a great experience working with you all and with other grantees.

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