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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Terms of Use as Entertainment

Miriam A. Cherry

(The next John Grisham?)

We here at the contracts prof blog are frequently in a lather over adhesive contracts.  Terms of use run amok, arbitration clauses are routinely enforced, and non-compete clauses prevent teenagers from seeking gainful employment.  Yet, where's the outrage from other quarters?  One problem, as John Oliver notes in this hilarious (and effective) bit on net neutrality, is that some things are just too BORING to grab consumers' attention.  Towards the end of the clip (about 10:10), he states this truth:  "If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring."  He speculates that Apple could put the entire text of Mein Kampf inside its user agreement and we would just hit "Agree." 

That's really the problem with Terms of Use - they are just too boring that except for a few contracts profs, most people don't want to think about them.  They just want them to go away.  One solution is to make them more interesting.  John Oliver's approach to net neutrality - to make it ridiculously funny yet informative - is one way to awaken the sleeping consumer into righteous outrage.  Apparently the FCC's comment site temporarily shut down after he encouraged viewers to voice their displeasure.  Of course, South Park has already poked fun at the iTunes agreeement.  That didn't result in a boycott of Apple's products because there was no "call for action."  It did, however, raise the issue for many and has become a useful cultural reference point on the state of consumer helplessness in the face of TOS.

Another way to provoke interest in the subject might be to write an imaginative futuristic tale of a world controlled by EULAs, like Miriam Cherry has done here.  Her fast-paced story is a mashup of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Boilerplate and Ender's Game - beach reading for contracts profs!

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2014/06/terms-of-use-as-entertainment.html

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Comments

Thanks for the kind comments on the story, Nancy!

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Jun 13, 2014 6:20:13 AM

Another good example of the literary genre lampooning EULAs is Stephen Colbert's "America Again" which includes a deliciously sarcastic set of Terms and Conditions (at pp.6-7). I'd attach an image if I could, but Amazon's "Look Inside" feature should allow you to read the relevant pages if you wish. That's a little ironic since this is one of the Hatchette books that Amazon has placed on 3-5 week back order in their dispute with the publisher. Enjoy.

Posted by: Rip Verkerke | Jun 13, 2014 7:51:30 AM

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