Software as a Service Agreements

What is a software as a service agreement, and why do you need one? Software as a service (SaaS) agreement is an essential legal contract between a business providing cloud-based software and its customers. SaaS allows customers to access and use an application online instead of installing and maintaining software.

This guide will help explain:

  • What a SaaS agreement covers compared to a traditional license
  • Key clauses like data ownership, payment terms, and security
  • Additional agreements needed, like terms of use and NDAs
  • Best practices for drafting an effective SaaS agreement
  • Common questions around requirements, requests, renewals, and more

By understanding SaaS agreements, you can protect your business and customers and know their rights and responsibilities when using cloud-based software. Let’s explore the ins and outs of SaaS contracts.

What is a SaaS Agreement?

Before diving into SaaS contracts, let’s first clarify what exactly is meant by the “software as a service” model. In traditional software licensing, customers purchase the right to install programs on their devices and infrastructure. With SaaS, a provider hosts applications centrally in the cloud.

Customers access the software over the internet through a web browser or portal. There’s no need for downloads or local data storage since all the programs and files reside offsite. This makes SaaS highly scalable – new users can easily be added without extra setup. It also means automatic updates are pushed out seamlessly.

Key Differences from Licensing

Given the different delivery approaches, SaaS contracts necessarily differ from license agreements in some key ways:

  • Usage Rights: SaaS contracts specify the number of simultaneous users allowed based on the subscription plan. Licenses grant installation rights to a single device.
  • Updates: Updates and support are included in SaaS subscriptions as part of the service. Licenses may require additional purchases for upgrades.
  • Scalability: SaaS allows for flexible scaling up or down by simply adjusting the user count. Licenses require buying more as needs grow.
  • Ownership: SaaS contracts clarify data ownership since files reside remotely on the provider’s servers. Licenses deal mainly with software ownership.
  • Access: Customers access SaaS applications online rather than downloading programs locally.

In summary, SaaS agreements govern the terms of cloud-based, subscription-style software delivery and access rather than one-time license purchases for local installation.

Essential Clauses in SaaS Agreements

Now that we’ve explored the basics of SaaS let’s dive into the critical components addressed in these contracts. Well-crafted clauses protect both providers and customers over the long term.

Software as a Service Agreements
Software as a Service Agreements

Usage Rights and Users

This section clearly defines who can employ the software and for what purposes. Expect details on permitted user types like employees, contractors, or partners. User quantities may also be specified based on the subscription plan.

Data Ownership

Cloud-based apps inherently involve data hosting, so SaaS contracts must clarify ownership. Options include customer-owned, provider-owned, or joint ownership, depending on sensitivities.

Payment Terms

Here, you’ll find pricing models like one-time fees or monthly subscriptions. Billing cycles, valid payment methods, late fees, and other financial particulars are also addressed.

Service Level Agreement

This establishes the quality and performance standards customers can expect, such as uptime percentages, response times, and security protocols. Providers commit to targets while limiting liability for outages.

Termination and Renewal

Both parties require exit ramps, so read this clause carefully. It delineates renewal processes, cancellation notification periods, and any applicable charges or credits.


With sensitive customer information at stake, providers must ensure high protection. This section defines controls for vulnerabilities, privacy practices, incident response, and auditing.

By understanding each component, users can feel confident their needs are met while suppliers avoid future disputes.

Additional Agreements for SaaS Businesses

While the core SaaS agreement is essential, additional documentation strengthens any software company’s legal foundation. Let’s explore some joint supplemental contracts.

  • Terms of Use: This defines acceptable behaviors for customers interacting with your service. It establishes guidelines for content, privacy expectations, and prohibited actions.
  • Development Agreements: If partnering with outside developers, outline specifications, deadlines, and payment terms upfront to ensure quality results. Clearly define deliverables and intellectual property handling as well.
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements: NDAs protect sensitive ideas, codes, and plans from accidental exposure. Ensure team members and partners sign one before exchanging confidential information.
  • Employment Contracts: Hiring documents clarify employee rights and responsibilities. Incorporate non-compete clauses to prevent trade secret leaks after departures. Contracts also specify paid time off and other benefits.
  • Shareholder Agreements: For founders working as a team, set expectations for ownership stakes, voting powers, exit strategies, and more upfront to avoid future conflicts.
  • Service Agreements:If offering professional services like implementation, spell out deliverables, payment schedules, and support commitments in a detailed contract.

By supplementing your core SaaS agreement with these additional legal templates tailored for specific relationships, you can give your growing business comprehensive protection as it scales. Taking time upfront results in much less hassle down the road.

Drafting an Effective SaaS Agreement

Software as a Service Agreements
Software as a Service Agreements

With the essential elements covered, let’s discuss crafting high-quality SaaS agreements. Remember – your goal is a document that protects both parties reasonably while avoiding disputes down the road.

  • Scope of Services: Start by clearly outlining the specific features, tools, and support included. Don’t leave gray areas open to interpretation.
  • Performance Standards: Complement your service levels by defining uptime, response times, security, and metrics. Back these with service credits.
  • Limitation of Liability: Both you and your customers will want recourse if issues arise, but unrestricted damages could cripple a business. Place reasonable caps to balance accountability.
  • Customization Options: If offering tailored solutions, address change request procedures, additional fees, and timelines upfront to manage expectations.
  • User Support Provisions: Clearly define support channels, response SLAs, maintenance windows, and any training/onboarding included to ensure smooth sailing.
  • Review and Renewal: Set regular review periods, establish clear renewal terms, and allow room for renegotiation based on your and your customers’ evolving needs.

With diligent drafting, your SaaS agreements can protect both parties while strengthening customer relationships through transparency and trust. Be bold and consult legal counsel as needed.


This article explored software as a service agreement – a critical legal contract for subscription-based cloud applications. We covered:

  • How SaaS agreements differ from traditional software licensing in areas like updates, scalability, and data ownership.
  • Critical clauses that must be addressed, like usage rights, payment terms, security, and more.
  • Additional legal templates that supplement core SaaS contracts for areas like terms of use, NDAs, and developer agreements.
  • Best practices for crafting comprehensive agreements like clearly defining scope, performance standards, and customization options.

By understanding the components of an effective SaaS agreement, businesses can protect their and customers’ interests for reliable, long-term software delivery through the cloud. Solid contracts pave the way for smooth operations and growing success.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is a SaaS agreement required?

Anytime a business provides cloud-based software services to customers through a subscription model, a SaaS agreement is necessary. It establishes the legal terms for ongoing access and sets expectations around data ownership, support levels, etc. With a contract, the relationship is defined correctly.

Who owns customer data under a SaaS agreement?

Data ownership is one of the most important clauses to get right. While practices vary, many agreements specify that the customer retains rights over their information. Clearly state whether data is solely customer-owned, provider-owned, or jointly-owned, depending on sensitivities and your specific offering.

Can terms be renegotiated upon renewal?

Most SaaS contracts have automatic renewal provisions to promote continuity. However, it’s common practice to allow renegotiation of specific terms by one party providing advance notice. Clearly define the process so both sides know when and how adjustments may be requested to keep agreements flexible over the long term.

What happens if the service level targets still need to be met?

Service level agreements hold providers accountable for maintaining specific performance standards. If those targets are not achieved, remedies such as service credits deducted from future invoices should be specified. Customers need to understand the recourse available if issues arise despite best efforts.

How often should SaaS agreements be reviewed?

Regular reviews, perhaps annually, help ensure agreements stay current as business and technical needs evolve. Legal, security, and compliance landscapes also shift over time. Built-in checkpoints avoid potentially costly disputes and open communication lines for productive change management.