This Is How All User Agreements Should Be Displayed

Aviary is a suite of web-based graphics programs, both free and subscription-based. What’s awesome about Aviary from the Consumerist perspective, though, is their Terms of Use, which offers a plain English summary in bullet points alongside the legalese. It’s brilliant, it’s simple, it doesn’t reduce the power of their legal agreement, and it helps users make informed decisions. Everyone should do this.

Aviary Terms of Use [Aviary.com]

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  1. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    “We arent’ responsible if your internet access provider isn’t working. :)”

    In the words of Bill Engvall, here’s your sign.

    • James Johnston says:

      @verucalise: Yes. They should add… “If you have Comcast, quit yelling at us and start …. Well, you get the point…”

    • AfraidOfVelcro_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @verucalise: Scott Adams has some stories about bosses who try to get their employees to change websites their site links to. And then the bewilderment when they try to explain they don’t work for yahoo/IBM/etc…, and can’t change their pages.

  2. Ameer Hashw says:

    Thing is, if all companies did things like this, the wouldn’t be able to get away with half the shit they pull.

  3. Ameer Hashw says:

    they*, bleh.

  4. Coles_Law says:

    “Don’t be a jerk.” Every site and business needs this clause.

  5. mmmsoap says:

    Oh, me likey.

    It seems that those Terms of Use are pretty much recycled these days, without much change from one website to the next. I like how they’ve got a general “not-evil” vibe going, from reasonable timelines for notification of price increases, to a lack of a “this can change at any time without notice” policy.

  6. Skankingmike says:

    I would bet that could be used in a discrimination lawsuit against them as to say, psychologically one cannot not help who they are as a human and thus if being a jerk is their personality than this site is discriminated against jerks.

    :P

  7. ADismalScience says:

    I think this is easy to do with a website and well-nigh-impossible to do with most EULAs, contractual agreements, terms of service, etc. Most lawyers would develop a fear that a court would interpret the clarifying points as the true legal language of the contract. There is a reason “legalese” exists, after all, and it’s not just so lawyers pull salary.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @ADismalScience: Maybe. There’s a movement among (some) lawyers to move to simpler, plainer English for contracts, etc.

      One of the big reasons legalese exists is that lawyers are magpies who take bits of other people’s contracts that they know work properly. It’s slow work to create a provision from scratch using your own words instead of stock phrases. (I actually have a lovely set of five fat books full of stock phrases for contracts in Illinois. Terrifically useful.)

      When I write wills, I try to do it without technical legal terms and without twisty legal sentences. There are only two unusual legal terms I’ve found myself unable to jettison (“ademption” and “per stirpes”) and those are easy enough to explain to clients. Occasionally a client is disappointed, though, because they’re paying for the fancy lawyer-talk and don’t want this plain English crap. :)

    • Inglix_the_Mad says:

      @ADismalScience: Some lawyers are beginning to fear the courts overturning EULA’s (et al) because the common person CANNOT be expected to understand them. Having to hire a lawyer because little Suzie’s $9.99 has a cryptic EULA in the beginning, if you really wanted to understand it before signing, is slowly becoming viewed by the courts with less than glowing appeal. Not only that but the click through licensing on websites cannot prove that a person of legal age is entering into the contract in most cases. Therein, the site is still technically liable if a 15 year old “clicks through” the agreement because they have no standing to agree to it.

      This whole area is a mess with some pretty contradictory rulings (depending on state) according to my lawyer.

      The fear of the EULA being summarily dismissed is why software companies were/are pushing so hard for UCITA.

  8. Acolyte says:

    We love you, but signing this agreement doesn’t make us legal partners.

    A cute way of putting it….

  9. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    What I find particularly interesting is that they’re clear in the bullet points where the terms favor Aviary. They’re not weaseling. They seem to actually want you to understand the Terms.

  10. ztoop says:

    The summary is clear, but still really long (about 1/3 the length of the legalese.) It is a good first step, but there has to be something better.

  11. dwhuntley says:

    BRILLANT!

  12. ophmarketing says:

    Of course, just because something is in the “summary” doesn’t mean it supersedes the actual legalese. It’s like a salesman telling you something that differs from the contract you sign. The only thing that matters is the contract.

    While this is a nice summary, it shouldn’t absolve people from taking the responsibility to read the actual agreement.

  13. Avi Muchnick says:

    Wow, I’m really happy people noticed this and were happy. It took a while of slogging through the agreement to do. :)

    I was inspired by a moderator at WebmasterWorld.com, (username Jensense), who used to update the forums every time Google made a change to it’s Adsense Terms of Service. As part of her update she would do a summary of each paragraph in plain English.

    That service was invaluable to understanding what the agreement changes really meant and that left a mark on me. Credit is really due her.

    Aviary’s mission is to make creation accessible to the world – even those that can’t afford digital software. It doesn’t make sense in light of our mission to make understanding the legal ramifications of using our tools inaccessible to anyone without a law degree.

    Anyways, I’m flattered that you guys thought enough of this to mention it. I agree, more companies should be doing it and I’m sure they’d have tighter relationships with their userbase as a result.

    • wildhalcyon says:

      @Avi Muchnick: Great work Avi. Just for that, I took a closer look at your site, and I really dig it. Probably going to sign up.

      See that other companies? See how positive consumer advocacy can work in your favor?

  14. metaled says:

    ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! If Microsoft did this, it woould read “We do not promise that any of this will work on anything. You give up all rights by purchasing this software. you give us full rights to do anything we want to any computers you install our software on, with no rights to legal recourse. By using our software, you agree if you have to call us, we will jerk you around as much as possible for as long as possible.”
    I could go on for hours, but I haven’t had my coffee yet.
    This EULA is perfectly wonderful, I love these guys! I’ll have to check them out! I wish google and others would follow this example. I would use their services before I would others with all the legal crap. Everyone would prefer the summary of the full EULA, I can’t remember the last time I actually read one. (the company’s intentions!)

  15. nakedscience says:

    That site is amazing. The TOS is great, but I mean the site itself. It’s been bookmarked. I keep staring at the header image. So prettty.

    I’m kind of loopy. I need coffee lol.

  16. professorjonathan says:

    As someone who writes Terms of Use and Privacy Policies and EULAs for (part of) his living and teaches about how to write them for the rest of it, I remain firmly on the side of plain language whenever possible. That said, summaries can be unintentionally misleading if they don’t exactly match what the legalese means. For that matter, there are certain phrases that have legally binding meaning (“work made for hire,” for example, or “best efforts”), and summarizing or replacing them with plain language might not suffice. {ProfJonathan}

  17. Peter_Betts says:

    Now this is a business that has confidence in the product they are peddling.

  18. Brandon Colton says:

    This is great!

  19. Sam G. Daniel says:

    This is a great idea. I was able to follow the legal version as well as the summary. Made things very clear. All companies should do this.

  20. erratapage says:

    I don’t know why they need the legalese. The summary seems comprehensive enough.

  21. CapitalC says:

    LMAO! The best part is at the end:

    “We love you, but signing this agreement doesn’t make us legal partners.”

  22. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    Credit card companies could take a lesson from these guys.

  23. HogwartsAlum says:

    That is awesome.

  24. Meester Deadletterb says:

    Check out our lease – we did this same kind of thing on the side for our Giant Industrial Arts Building…

    [watershedpdx.com]

  25. Ezra Ekman says:

    PB Wiki, which is Ramit Sethi’s company (of I will teach you to be rich fame), also has a similar Terms of Service. In fact, they’ve been written up before as an example of how to do it right.

    I think Aviary does it a little in a more user-friendly fashion (each bullet point is next to the paragraph it references), but the general purpose is the same. It really makes clear who’s side they’re on, and what their goals really are.