Google’s terms more complex than Beowulf

I have commented before on Mark Anderson‘s common-sense observations and wry tone. Here, true to form, he notes the functional unreadability for many users of Google’s Terms and Conditions and suggests that they should be written more like Fifty Shades of Grey (well… that’s not quite what he says).

Of course, we know (possibly from guilty experience) that most readers don’t read the terms and conditions (“T&C”) or terms of service (“TOS”) before clicking the “download” or “accept” button anyway, although it is not clear whether we don’t read them because they are difficult or whether they have evolved to become difficult and obtuse because most people don’t bother to read them and therefore few sales are lost because the terms are inaccessible or unacceptably harsh.

One software vendor that offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who read the fine print in its license agreement and hid the offer in plain site in its terms of service did not receive a response claiming the prize for four months and more than three thousand downloads.  Another inserted a term providing that if a user did not register the downloaded evaluation copy of its software properly, “a leather-winged demon of the night will tear itself, shrieking blood and fury, from the endless caverns of the nether world, hurl itself into the darkness with a thirst for blood on its slavering fangs and search the very threads of time for the throbbing of your heartbeat.

For contract attorneys and IP lawyers drafting terms and conditions, end-user license agreements (“EULA”), and click-wrap agreements in general, especially those designed for use by ordinary online consumers, the most difficult part of the task is often to provide both maximum legal coverage and maximum clarity at the same time.

This should never be an excuse, of course, for not striving for that elusive blend of clarity and coverage. A clear contract will always be more enforceable, and the best business practice is rarely to “let the buyer beware” and blame the reader for not getting assistance if any of the terms he or she is invited to “click here to accept” are difficult to understand.

Of course another way to get readers to actually pay attention to the terms of service, is to have a celebrity perform a dramatic rendition of them.  Mr. Anderson has previously drawn our attention to the hilarious reading of Apple’s EULA by Richard Dryfus (click here to listen to the Dryfus reading, and be sure to click to listen to the “Effective until” segment).

If you are struggling with your own (or someone else’s) T&C, TOS, EULA or Click-Wrap Agreement–and you don’t have ready access to a celebrity like Richard Dryfus to read it for you–the contract and intellectual property attorneys at Briskin, Cross and Sanford will be more than happy to assist.

IP Draughts

beowulfIP Draughts spluttered over his porridge this morning, while reading an item in his newspaper.  According to researchers at the University of Nottingham, if you want to understand Google’s internet user agreement you need a higher level of literacy than you need to understand Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon poem that was written about 1000 years ago.  Non-firewalled news report here.

The research team has developed some software that will rate the readability of website text. Called Literatin, it has been developed to work best with Google Chrome.  There is an amusing irony here: you have to accept the Google terms before you can use the software!  It seems that there is also a version that uses Firefox.  See here to download either version.  IP Draughts wonders whether it uses any of the same methodology as the Bla-Bla Meter, which we reported on here.

Ms Ewa Luger (@ew_luger)…

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2 comments on “Google’s terms more complex than Beowulf

  1. […] Google’s terms more complex than Beowulf (bcslaw.wordpress.com) […]

  2. A says:

    Funny/good stuff!

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