Do the undead read the small print? In case they do, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has helpfully updated its AWS Service Terms to address the oft-ignored issue of whether software licence rights survive a zombie apocalypse.

The AWS Service Terms run to a lengthy 58 sections of legalese sufficient to put even the most energetic lawyer into a deathlike slumber. But a close reading reveals a provision that may provide a re-animating jolt to the careful reader. That section relates to the Amazon Lumberyard Engine, which is a game engine offered by AWS, and its associated assets and tools - collectively referred to as the "Lumberyard Materials".

Section 57.10 deals specifically with acceptable use of the Lumberyard Materials but also includes a surprising exception:

"57.10 Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems. Your use of the Lumberyard Materials must comply with the AWS Acceptable Use Policy. The Lumberyard Materials are not intended for use with life-critical or safety-critical systems, such as use in operation of medical equipment, automated transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, aircraft or air traffic control, nuclear facilities, manned spacecraft, or military use in connection with live combat. However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization."

So, while use of the Lumberyard Materials in the operation of medical equipment, manned spacecraft, nuclear facilities or any of the other applications described above is generally prohibited, the public-spirited team at AWS, presumably recognising that some exception must be made for customers facing extreme circumstances, are happy to allow such use in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Users should note, however, that even in a zombie apocalypse, there are caveats. Not only must the outbreak be certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control - and we hope that USCDC is aware that it has been set up as the arbiter of severity of undead uprisings - but the apocalypse must also be "likely to result in the fall of organized civilization." Of course, this is difficult to assess without knowing how well-equipped the world is to address a zombie invasion, so the applicable escalation and dispute resolution provisions will need to be robust enough to handle such an issue.

But has AWS gone far enough? Surely there are other ways to ensure that any software licence is ready for the zombie apocalypse?

  • Check whether your force majeure clause covers a zombie apocalypse and, in particular, whether the licensor or service provider is required to use reasonable efforts to continue to perform despite the fall of organised civilization.
  • Consider whether your service agreements provide for different levels of charging or service credits for the undead portions of your user base.
  • Make sure to update business continuity plans to account for the zombie apocalypse – it's never too soon to work out how quickly a hot standby site can be re-animated if the personnel at your primary site have their brains devoured by a rampaging hoard of undead.
  • Do your agreements provide that zombie-related damages are subject to the limit of liability clause, or did you negotiate uncapped liability for undead activity? Also consider whether losses arising from the fall of organised civilization will be deemed direct or consequential damages.
  • Make sure that your service levels account for the possibility that a worldwide viral infection will cause corpses to rise from their graves with an unslakable hunger for human brains. For example, if an instance of downtime results from a zombie attack on the service provider's data center, does that count against the SLA?

Finally, it’s also important to update your screening requirements to make sure that zombies are not assigned to your account and to consider what happens if key personnel become zombified.