Why do we do it? We keep writing legal language to satisfy non existant lawyers that none of can afford anyway. I am not a lawyer (hmm I smell an evil recursive argument coming along), but I think a court (at least in common law countries) looks more at the intention than the language. This is why Click through licenses and the like are not normally worth the pixels on the screen. However if you write a straight forward agreement in straight forward English (or whatever language), you have a much better case in the future as it is harder to deny understanding the terms if it is spelled out clearly.
While they might not be perfect I try to not talk legalese. Here are excerpts from the Usage Agreement for WideWord
Here you need to try and persuade the reader to read the rest of the agreement:
The following is the no nonsense plain English agreement between you and me, Pelle Brændgaard the operator of WideWord. By creating a document in WideWord you agree to be bound by this agreement. I hate reading these things as much as you do, but please try and read it I will keep it very short and as fun as possible – I promise.
it may not be perfect. In particular the first paragraph still sounds to sterile to my liking.
What do you offer?
We provide you a service where you can collaboratively write and publish documents.
Be very clear and short here. I’ve managed to do it in a single paragraph.
Are you in a beta?
Then you should write about what your users can expect now and afterwards. I think it is alright to not know everything right now, just be honest about it.
You will be able to create as many documents as you want to without limits. During the beta period, it might be that you loose your documents because of some strange but. I have done extensive testing in my secret lab and feel that this probably wont happen, but you are warned.
Copyright and such
If your site includes content created by your users you need to talk about this. I would like to go into this in more detail than I have here, but I haven’t finished thinking it all through yet so I feel what I have here is sufficient for the time being:
Your own documents remain your copyright. It is also your responsibility to obey copyright law or it might become our responsibility whether we want it or not to enforce it.
We all need to make a living and dont be scare about admitting that to yourself or your users. If you do put advertising on the site let them know upfront:
We reserve the right to place advertising on all the pages on this site. At the moment we only provide advertising on the public pages, but we might change this in the future if we can do it while retaining your security and privacy.
Security, Data Loss etc.
Seriously be honest here. You can’t always protect yourself against everything, so just be honest about it. With regards to security it is a good idea to write a separate little article about the security of your system. In particular the user is just as much responsible for maintaining the security of his data as you are. Write it.
During the beta period I aim to provide full uptime and no loss of data, but as nothing can break a system like thousands of people doing something you didn’t think they would do, we can not guarantee it. That is what the beta period is for.
Once we leave beta we do aim to have the system as secure as possible, 99% uptime and lots of backups and redundancy. With regards to security please read my Security Page for more info about security in WideWord.
Remember that your documents are only as secure as you keep the url’s are that are stored in the initial email. Keep this email safe and secure. If you forward it to someone he has access to your document.
Disagreements, courts, jurisdiction etc.
Be flexible and human about your service and I think you probably won’t get many problems. But specify this. Courts and Lawyers almost never benefit the parties involved.
If you have a problem please write me at [email protected] . I doubt that there would ever be anything we couldn’t work out. Lets leave the lawyers billing people other than us.
See the full Usage Agreement for WideWord for more.
Please feel free to use mine as a model, of course remember to change it to your circumstances. And don’t worry if it gets me in trouble I will blog about it here.