How art those contract terms?

I pray thee, good reader, let’s retire:

The day is hot, the OFT abroad,

And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl;

For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.

… or something like that.

contract lawFrom the Metro 23/03/12:

Some websites ask users to wade through more words than a Shakespeare play in accepting the ‘terms and conditions’, a new investigation shows.

PayPal, for example, demands visitors must read and accept 36,275 words of Ts&Cs, leaving Shakespeare’s longest play Hamlet trailing at a mere 30,066.

OK. I admit having such a long set of standard terms is “ridonkulous” (that’s a specific legal term of art, you know) but equally crazy is comparing the word-count with the works of Shakespeare. Why Shakespeare? Your average online consumer is probably more likely to read several thousand words of terms than any Shakespeare, after all.  

Apple’s iTunes is not far behind, with 19,972 words of legal agreements, more than Macbeth at 18,110.

Hmm… “words of legal agreements”… I’m not sure I care for the choice of phrase, but this is the Metro. Let’s not judge them too harshly! ;-)

For those who also want to use Apple iCloud, then there are another 10,724 words to read through.

Using the Amazon website means reading 5,212 words of Ts&Cs, and the firm’s Kindle product requires ticking a box to say you’ve read 7,115 words of policy. Consumer experts Which? called for sites to produce simplified versions of their legal agreements.

Marzena Lipman, digital policy manager at Consumer Focus, said: ‘It is clearly nonsensical to expect consumers to digest, absorb and understand such lengthy terms and conditions.

‘Retailers should at the least provide a concise and easy to understand summary of the key information so people know what they are signing up to.’

Nicholas Tall, a partner at Speechly Bircham law firm, said terms could be ruled invalid if customers argued it was not ‘fair and reasonable’ to expect people to wade through pages of documents. Which? called for a slicker solution.

Yes indeedy. How about suggestions for that slicker solution, Which?.


  1. I do like the helpfulness of calling for a "slicker solution".

    I'm always slightly concerned about training consumers to read a short list of dummies-guide-to-your-contract bullet points rather than the full length agreement (which will clearly still be there and will clearly still favour the company). Sure you can potentially get it set aside, as long you go to court and win.

    I think the PayPal example is possibly one that merits quite long terms and conditions, given what PayPal is. There's a limit to how straightforward a quasi-bank that lets you transfer money around the world can make their terms and conditions.

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