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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Random Thoughts: Have You Lost Your Soul?

If you've ever made purchases online, or signed up for any kind of account on the Internet (forums, subscriptions, etc.), or installed software applications on your computer, then you must have seen screens where you have to agree to some kind of terms and conditions, or EULA (standing for End User License Agreement). How many times, however, do you actually read through those pages after pages of dry, dull, impossible to understand legal languages, especially on a computer screen?

Well, if quickly clicking through things has grown into a habit for you, it's probably time to reconsider it now.

According to this article from Newslite and this article from, GameStation, on UK online games retailer, added the "immortal soul clause" to its online purchase agreement basically saying the customers would grant them the right to claim their souls. More than 7,500 customers (88%) agreed to the clause without really reading the agreement details, and now GameStation legally owns thousands of souls. Here below are the exact wording of the sneaky clause:

By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorised minions. We reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act.

If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction.

Luckily, 12% of the customers did notice a small tick box at the bottom of agreement allowing them to opt out of the clause, and earned themselves a £5 gift voucher by doing so. But really, how many of the 12% customers actually read the terms and services agreement? My guess would be very few.

Although this probably was part of an April Fool's Day joke (the vouchers were no joke), and GameStation has no intention to ever claim their rights on the souls (in fact, they emailed all customers nullifying the clause), this clearly shows the general public opinion on these agreements. Most people think that if most people don't read these things, they are no longer valid. However, the truth is that they will most likely be legally binding (not the soul clause, of course) unless challenged in a court of law. And do you ever want to get into a legal battle with large companies who employ an army of lawyers?

There are, actually, some people who take these agreements very "seriously!" Anne Loucks from created a clever way to get herself out of legal troubles with EULAs. Using a piece of cardboard that reads "Kitty Agrees" with a protruding piece underneath, she would have her cat to step on the board, which pushes the spacebar underneath and agrees to an EULA for her. So worst comes to worst, it would be the cat losing its soul, and not Anne!

Putting aside the legality of these actions of both the businesses and users, clearly the system is not working very well. I know for regular business contracts or terms and agreements, critical elements are required by law to really stand out (bold, larger size, etc.). I am sure a better standard and approach will have to be created soon, because soon or later, somebody is getting sued over this.

Picture of the Day:

Brian Ghidinelli's creative reuse of his old equipments.