12 March 2006

Consumer Behavior

As a lawyer, I generally wouldn't encourage my clients to provide persausive proof that no one reads your end user license agreement (EULA). But, one software company did with notable results.

OK, let's be honest. You didn't really read the EULA. How do I know? Because hardly anyone does. To prove that point, PC Pitstop included a clause in one of its own EULAs that promised anyone who read it, a "consideration" including money if they sent a note to an email address listed in the EULA. After four months and more than 3,000 downloads, one person finally wrote in. That person, by the way, got a check for $1,000 proving, at least for one person, that it really does pay to read EULAs.

Although this is not a scientific sample, it does prove a point. People don't read EULAs. When we download and install software, we're usually in a hurry to take advantage of whatever it offers. That EULA is just one more thing to spend time on, and we're not just talking about a couple of minutes. The December 2004 End User License agreement that accompanies eWallet and other programs from the GAIN network is 2,550 words long--that's seven printed pages.

Despite this, contract law doctrine gives great importance (probably too great) to a clicked consent to the terms of a EULA and an almost always false representation that the customer has read it.

Hat Tip to the Contract Profs Blog.

In another look a consumer product documentation we learn:

Half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can't figure out how to operate the devices. . . . Product complaints and returns are often caused by poor design, but companies frequently dismiss them as "nuisance calls."

The latter is particularly pertinent to product liability law, in which a "duty to warn", which often hinges on language in an instruction booklet that no one ever reads states, is key to liability in many cases.

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