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California Bill Would Safeguard Consumers' Rights To Criticize Firms Online 160

Posted by samzenpus
from the say-what-you-will dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with news about a California bill that aims to protect online reviewers’ rights."The proposed law appears to take aim at online licensing agreements that consumers often enter into with companies when they click through the many boilerplate terms and conditions of various online services. Buried deep in the small print of a number of these contacts are provisions stating that consumers agree not to write negative reviews about the service provider. 'If merchants think that our First Amendment free speech rights need to be curtailed, they should say so upfront and in plain language,' Pérez explained of the impetus for his bill, as reported by the Times."
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California Bill Would Safeguard Consumers' Rights To Criticize Firms Online

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  • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Monday May 19, 2014 @03:09PM (#47040789)

    The First Amendment protects us from prosecution by the government. It doesn't protect us from civil matters with private companies. This Pérez guy should know that.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Monday May 19, 2014 @03:27PM (#47040915)

    Not that I'm defending people who write contracts here, but the notion of plain language is not unambiguous. What counts as plain is dependent upon the reader's level of fluency, and because not all native speakers of a language have the same level of fluency the notion of 'plain' differs from person to person. The reason clauses of a contract or often not plain is because of the use of specialist language. However, that specialist language has a specific function: reducing ambiguity. In order to make a contract more plain, more commonly understood language needs to be used, but more commonly understood language is necessarily more ambiguous, and thus open for interpretation. If there's one thing no one wants it's that their rights critically depend upon the interpretative powers of another person. This is why the words "In a 5-4 decision, the supreme court..." inspire such dread.

  • by lgw (121541) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:09PM (#47041323) Journal

    Sure, if you want other people to do things for you, they might have some rules before they'll do those things. That's not a problem in and of itself, and isn't at all the point of this proposed law.

    What you can't do is secretly add terms to a contract. Most states have rules about "boiler-plate contracts". If you stick an unusual requirement into a 30-page apartment lease, which otherwise looks like a customary lease, the burden of proof is on the landlord (the writer of the contract) to demonstrate that the renter knew about that clause. Because of that, you'll sometimes see leases where you have to initial a specific paragraph here and there to show you really read it before signing the lease, where those paragraphs weren't industry-standard.

    This is that same idea for EULAs. You can't hide stuff in them - there's no "meeting of the minds" if you do - so wonky "you can't criticize us" rules should need the company to call special attention to them. It would be great to see state laws clarifying this sort of thing.

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