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The Internet Businesses Government Your Rights Online

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

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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  • Fight fire with fire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:33PM (#47041007)

    You know how many online ordering sites have a comment box? How about entering, "By accepting my payment, you agree to make your EULA null and void."

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @04:40PM (#47041057) Homepage

    It's even worse than that. The article gives the example of a company, KlearGear, trying to charge a couple because they left a negative review of the company. The wrinkle in this case: The negative review was posted three years before the lawsuit and before the "you can't criticize us online" text entered into the EULA. So the companies don't just want you to agree to whatever is in their EULA, they think you accepting the EULA means you also accept any future version of the EULA no matter what restrictions get added on.

    In the case of the couple, the charge was sent to a collections agency which hurt the couple's credit rating. They, in turn, sued KlearGear to have the debt declared null and void. When KlearGear didn't show up to challenge the suit, the judge ruled in favor of the couple. What would have happened had KlearGear had a better legal team, though? Even if they didn't win, they could have easily tied the couple up in court for months or years, forcing them to bankruptcy with legal fees, until the company settled out of court with the couple. (Perhaps dropping the original fee in exchange for no precedent being set against the company and maybe even some token amount that wouldn't even cover the couples' legal costs.)

    I agree that agreements can over-ride constitutional rights in some cases. For example, if I sign an NDA, I'm restricting my freedom of speech in a certain regard. However, these agreements should only be done on when something needs to be kept under wraps (details of a new product shown to reviewers early, for example), not as a matter-of-normal-business instituted when anyone has even the slightest business association with the company.

  • by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @05:18PM (#47041379)

    Rather than allowing EULAs written by companies, we should just have standard EULAs, for common types of products, and declare all other EULAs nonbinding.

    I understand the need to have contracts that are nuanced, but for the kinds of contracts that you "agree" to simply by opening a box, should be standardized and devoid of any nefarious language.

    I should not be able to send a letter to someone that says "By opening the envelope this letter arrived in, you agree to write me a check for $10,000, and failure to do so within 30 days will result in litigation" (and have it be enforceable). For the same reason, companies should not be able to have custom EULAs that are implicitly agreed to by opening a box or envelope.

    Sure we can put the responsibility on the consumer to read every EULA for everything he/she buys from an OS to a bluetooth headset, but this is just a waste of everyone's time. We already invalidate stupid EULAs for being stupid. Lets just go one step further and make an implied boilerplate EULA that everyone is aware of and doesn't include anything shady.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.