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CNN has an interesting look at something we all do without thinking about it. Whether we use an iPod, iPhone, or iPad for e-reading or just for music, when we want to upgrade iTunes, we don’t bother to read through 52 pages of legalese. We just click the accept button and assume that “Nothing bad is going to happen.”

But CNN has talked to a couple of lawyers who remind us that we are entering into a binding contract when we click that “agree” button.

According to New York technology attorney Mark Grossman, selecting "Agree" serves as an electronic signature, due to a law passed in 2000. It has the same validity as typing your name in an e-mail or signing a document using a pen.

Jonathan Handel, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney who specializes in digital media, technology and intellectual property, said that because the iTunes terms are essentially a contract, people should treat them as such and give them more than a cursory glance.

The lawyers bring up three points from the contract that users may not be aware of but might want to pay closer attention. First, the Genius feature allows Apple to make use of data from their computer, such as your iTunes playlists, in order to generate recommendations for you. Second, you’re responsible for backing up your own purchases—if you lose them, Apple won’t replace them for you. And third, you’re licensing the content you buy—not purchasing it outright.

The lawyers note that there really isn’t any way Apple can cut the length down, because everything that is mentioned is legally important, and Apple could get in trouble for leaving it out.

"Whatever is in those 50 pages needed to be said," [Grossman] said. "Could you try [reducing] 50 to five and not lose anything? Someone is going to say that it wasn’t in the summary and therefore does not count."

And also, some of that legalese is included at the insistence of the media companies that provide Apple with content.

Handel notes that it would be helpful if Apple would at least clarify some of the content, if not shorten it. But he also suggests it’s incumbent on users to read the terms as well.

I don’t know if there’s really any kind of answer here. If we read the terms and conditions thoroughly on every piece of software we used or website we visited, we wouldn’t have time to do anything else. It’s an ingrained habit to click through those licenses, and I doubt very many people actually bother to read any of them. And the people who write those licenses darned well know it—if they don’t, they should by now.

So we’ve got a whole industry that spends its time writing licenses nobody ever reads. I wonder if the courts will ever accept “Nobody ever reads those and you know it,” as a valid defense?

 
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