Modular norm models: practical representation and analysis of contractual rights and obligations

Sayonnha Mandal, Robin Gandhi, Harvey Siy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Compliance analysis requires legal counsel but is generally unavailable in many software projects. Analysis of legal text using logic-based models can help developers understand requirements for the development and use of software-intensive systems throughout its lifecycle. We outline a practical modeling process for norms in legally binding agreements that include contractual rights and obligations. A computational norm model analyzes available rights and required duties based on the satisfiability of situations, a state of affairs, in a given scenario. Our method enables modular norm model extraction, representation, and reasoning. For norm extraction, using the theory of frame semantics, we construct two foundational norm templates for linguistic guidance. These templates correspond to Hohfeld’s concepts of claim-right and its jural correlative, duty. Each template instantiation results in a norm model, encapsulated in a modular unit which we call a super-situation that corresponds to an atomic fragment of law. For hierarchical modularity, super-situations contain a primary norm that participates in relationships with other norm models. Norm compliance values are logically derived from its related situations and propagated to the norm’s containing super-situation, which in turn participates in other super-situations. This modularity allows on-demand incremental modeling and reasoning using simpler model primitives than previous approaches. While we demonstrate the usefulness of our norm models through empirical studies with contractual statements in open source software and privacy domains, its grounding in theories of law and linguistics allows wide applicability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-412
Number of pages30
JournalRequirements Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Compliance
  • Frame semantics
  • Hohfeld rights
  • Laws
  • Norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems


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