Says the Arkansas man who has sued Microsoft for $500 billion over his XBox Live contract. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Via Consumer Law & Policy, the punch line of a new study:
We follow the clickstream of 47,399 households to 81 Internet software retailers to measure contract readership as a function of disclosure. We find that making contracts more prominently available does not increase readership in any significant way. In addition, the purchasing behavior of those few consumers who read contracts is unaffected by the one-sidedness of their terms. The results suggest that mandating disclosure online should not on its own be expected to have large effects on contract content.
Regulation, of course, often goes to great lengths to mandate disclosure, and a considerable volume of private litigation is also based on theories that lack of more extensive and prominent disclosure rendered a transaction wrongful. The study is Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, Does Disclosure Matter?NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-54 [SSRN].
Alex Harris thinks a proper understanding of contract law would not call on buyers to go to the expense of shipping back a product if it arrived saddled with unexpected and unwelcome contract terms. But the problem seems to be going away, he says, in that that tech goods are increasingly sold in such a way as to give buyers a chance to examine the contract terms before taking possession of the product. (Technology Liberation Front, Oct. 28).
Shrinkwrap contracts in the produce section (Mike Madison, Sept. 18).
Relevant to a recent comment discussion, words of wisdom from Judge Easterbrook in IFC Credit Corp. v. United Business & Indus. Federal Credit Union:
Ever since Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute, 499 U.S. 585 (1991), enforced a forum-selection clause printed in tiny type on the back of a cruise-ship ticket, it has been hard to find decisions holding terms invalid on the ground that something is wrong with non-negotiable terms in form contracts. See also, e.g., Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 32 (1991) (unequal bargaining power does not justify refusal to enforce an arbitration clause in a form contract); Seawright v. American General Financial Services, Inc., 507 F.3d 967 (6th Cir.2007). As long as the market is competitive, sellers must adopt terms that buyers find acceptable; onerous terms just lead to lower prices. See, e.g., Hill v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 105 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir.1997); ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir.1996); George L. Priest, A Theory of the Consumer Product Warranty, 90 Yale L.J. 1297 (1981). If buyers prefer juries, then an agreement waiving a jury comes with a lower price to compensate buyers for the loss-though if bench trials reduce the cost of litigation, then sellers may be better off even at the lower price, for they may save more in legal expenses than they forego in receipts from customers.
There is no difference in principle between the content of a seller’s form contract and the content of that seller’s products. The judiciary does not monitor the content of the products, demanding that a telecom switch provide 50 circuits even though the seller promised (and delivered) 40 circuits. It does not matter that the seller’s offer was non-negotiable (if, say, it offered 40-circuit boxes and 100-circuit boxes, but nothing in between); just so with procedural clauses, such as jury waivers. As long as the price is negotiable and the customer may shop elsewhere, consumer protection comes from competition rather than judicial intervention. Making the institution of contract unreliable by trying to adjust matters ex post in favor of the weaker party will just make weaker parties worse off in the long run. Original Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Co. v. River Valley Cookies, Ltd., 970 F.2d 273, 282 (7th Cir.1992) (“The idea that favoring one side or the other in a class of contract disputes can redistribute wealth is one of the most persistent illusions of judicial power. It comes from failing to consider the full consequences of legal decisions. Courts deciding contract cases cannot durably shift the balance of advantages to the weaker side of the market; they can only make contracts more costly to that side in the future, because [the other side] will demand compensation for bearing onerous terms.”).
Let us imagine a writer for a left-wing magazine, we’ll call her Mephanie Stencimer, who wants to buy a car. But she has particular tastes: she doesn’t just want any old car. She wants a three-wheeled vehicle, perhaps because the feng shui is better, perhaps because she wants to spend less money on tires forced upon her by Big Rubber. She goes from car-dealer to car-dealer around town, but every single one of the dastardly businessmen insist that her only choice is a four-wheeled vehicle. She patiently explains the aesthetics of the triangular approach, but they shrug their shoulders and tell her it’s out of their hands and she has to have a four-wheeled car or nothing. Finally, she surrenders her preference for the three-wheeled vehicle, and takes a model with the extra wheel.
If you were to take seriously the arguments of Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones and the commenters there, and perhaps the occasional judge, this is an outrageous “contract of adhesion” that should be outlawed: Stencimer didn’t have a choice, didn’t have the bargaining power to make the auto-dealer sell her a three-wheeled car, and was forced to buy an extra wheel. But is this really a problematic failure of the market that requires government intervention?