Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Legal - The Small Print

In This Corner, the Lawyers

If you've ever installed a program on your computer you have seen the long document of legal requirements that you must agree to in order to install the program. I am university educated and literate and I have a hard time making my way through these documents each and every time I want to install something.

I have always dutifully read through instruction manuals when I have purchased appliances and equipment before using it. In the beginning I read the small print on the licenses and other installation agreements. But things are getting ridiculous.

I know that if you accept a contract you are accepting what is written on it whether you have read it or not. You may be "signing" away some rights that you might otherwise have. I am wondering if the language used in these documents really can be expected to be understood by the average person who can be expected now to be wanting to install and use this software?

A contract requires a meeting of the minds - I believe, but could be wrong on that - and if the average person can not be expected to understand the wording of the contract, how can there be a meeting of minds? Of course the argument could be that you shouldn't "sign" what you don't understand. That is true. But should a person be expected to hire a lawyer whenever it is time to install a patch to some software they have purchased previously? Or when they purchase the software package should they be expected to have a lawyer on hand when they buy it in the first place?

Can a person return software when opened if they do not agree to the license agreement? If not, isn't it a bit of coercion to accept the agreement or lose the purchase price? Often you can not read the agreement until after opening the package.

Now I am understanding that now they consider that you are not actually not "buying" the software or program but purchasing a license to use it. That means you agree to the terms of the license in order to use the software which is still owned by the company that puts it out.

I can see that companies want to protect themselves and perhaps all that text is necessary. At the same time it is too much and beyond many to read and understand and it comes too often for most users of the software.

I might suggest a solution.

I suspect that large sections of these agreements are the same from one agreement to the next. Now if they are the same could they not be standardized so that if given a label or title that would be agreed upon, if read and understood once, a person could be told that it was that section and they would know what it was without re-reading it. They would then focus on what makes that document different from other agreements.

A person could then simplify going through the legal agreements before installing and they would be informed about the agreement before installation. It would be a win-win situation for user and company wouldn't it?

I do wonder if those agreements really are binding if there can be no expected meeting of minds?


~ Darrell

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