Read the Fine Print

November 30th, 2006 by katherine


If you’re anything like me, legal agreements may make you uneasy and anxious. Legal language may bore you, frighten you, or simply cause you to feel cranky. You may deal with these feelings by racing through legalese, where you encounter it, as fast as you can. If you’re like me, when your computer tells you that it’s time to update software, you click “Agree!” “Agree!” “Agree!” on the licenses faster than a little kid playing Whack-A-Mole, all hopped up on birthday cake and caffeine soda.

And you might never pause to wonder what, exactly, you’re agreeing to.

Andy Sternberg’s blog The Small Print Project mines those passive kinds of legal agreements that most of us just gloss over. They’re called EULA’s, or End User Licensing Agreements, and they are like dense, forbidding fruitcakes: outrageous provisions lurk within them, like so many booze-drenched raisins.

Sternberg started the site as a project for a graduate course in online journalism at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication. He writes:

“This site is designed with the hopes of fostering discussion, suggestion, exposition and implementation of EULAs (electronic and otherwise) in an effort to help define, describe and mediate the nature of agreements in the digital age.”

I’m partial to the most recent “EULA of the Week,” a pastel-colored sign at Disneyworld—the mere act of walking past it constitutes permission to allow one’s voice and likeness to appear on film.

Go on, be brave. Take a look at the fine print next time. And when you find something outrageous, call it like you see it.

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