It's a common criticism of companies providing tech services and products that they lay it on thick with the terms and conditions.
There are websites devoted to checking the length of end user agreements against literary works (the PayPal User Agreement has 28,126 words, making it longer than Macbeth) and articles have been penned on how long it would take someone to read and digest the agreements connected to every tech product or service they use as they go about their day online.
It's easy to point to extreme examples but it comes as no surprise that surveys have found most people simply tick 'read and understood' without further thought, keen to have access to the product itself.
Certainly the stories of 'Herod clauses' being inserted into agreements, by which consumers unwittingly agree to give up their first born child, would seem to back this up.
So if people aren't reading them anyway, what is the purpose of these agreements? And are they effective?
The short answer is that they remain essential in providing protection to tech businesses and, if drafted well, may well help avoid future disputes.
The reality is that a contractual relationship exists between supplier and consumer. The terms and conditions provide the parameters of that relationship and set out the parties' rights and obligations.
While it's important to protect your company, and the product you have invested time and money in developing, there's no advantage in making the terms as long as possible or bombarding people with legalese. The best way to avoid any potential disputes is for the terms agreed to be as clear and unambiguous as possible.
Individual consumers, unlike business customers who can engage in commercial negotiations on an even footing, are protected by the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015. In relation to digital content specifically, where content is provided to a consumer for a price paid by the consumer, or supplied free with goods or services for which the consumer pays, the CRA will apply.
The CRA implies certain terms into the contract, for example relating to quality and fitness for purpose, and also provides certain remedies for wronged consumers.
As for enforceability, according to the CRA, a term will be unfair, and therefore not binding on the consumer, if it causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer. Importantly, the CRA also specifically states that the terms must be drafted in "plain and intelligible language".
In this vein, the court's approach has been that consumers should be able to read and digest terms and conditions before ticking any box allowing them to proceed.
Having said that, one of the reasons these documents seem to grow longer every year is legislation mandating additional matters that companies must cover in their terms. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, for example, online traders are required to provide "pre-contractual information" to consumers. A failure to do so amounts to breach of contract.
The Competition and Markets Authority and the Financial Services Authority have given guidance suggesting that long agreements with 'read and understood' declarations may be unfair, in particular where important terms that could otherwise come as a surprise to the consumer are not flagged up.
Indeed the CMA has issued new guidance this week for businesses in light of a recent survey which showed that 54 per cent of businesses do not fully understand the rules on unfair terms and that some are not aware that unfair terms will be unenforceable against consumers. No doubt there will be further developments in this area.
What is clear is that caution is required. Service agreements are a necessity for companies to protect their biggest assets and avoid costly legal wrangling. So make sure you get them right.
Make sure the agreement uses plain and intelligible language to set out the rights and obligations of the parties clearly, succinctly and without room for uncertainty; make sure the agreement is tailored specifically to your business and the product or service you are providing (there's no one size fits all); and make sure the terms comply with current legislation.
Robyn Watson is an associate in the commercial litigation team at law firm Howard Kennedy.
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