How many user agreements have you clicked through in your life without reading them? We're going to guess it's one for every single piece of software you've ever used, and every gadget, and Lord knows what else. You've probably signed off on thousands of pages of dense, unread legal jargon in your life. Well, guess what, you've all but signed away your soul.
We're not saying that the below companies intend to screw you over. All we're saying is that their legal teams have gone to great lengths to reserve the right to ... and to make sure you can't do a damned thing about it.
For example ...
So you just had a great weekend with your friends, and you decide to upload the pictures to your Flickr, Twitpic, Instagram and other sites that allow instantaneous uploading and incessant Internet exhibitionism. Who wouldn't? That's what's so great about social networking. It's the perfect way to share your precious memories with only those friends and family members you deem close enou- holy shit, how did your face end up in a penis enlargement ad?
"I don't remember having tits, but thanks to Xanax that means next to nothing."
Because you didn't read the terms of service you agreed to when you joined those sites, that's how.
What You Agreed To:
At some point (most likely the second the idea of social networking popped into someone's head), it was noted that people's personal photos amounted to a virtually unlimited supply of content that could be exploited by advertisers. As a result, pretty much every social network has a clause written into their user agreements that allows them to use your pictures for commercial purposes.
"We know this is shocking, ma'am, but you did click 'Agree'."
Specifically, the stipulations you agreed to state that you're granting these companies "worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce or distribute" your private photos. But they do make it a point to clarify that you still own anything you upload. Of course, that doesn't mean you're going to see a dime when they use that picture of you on the beach last summer in one of those "Obey this one rule for a flat stomach!" ads (and not in the good way, Flabby). But still, you totally own that picture. Meaning they won't sue you if you use it elsewhere. See? What are you worried about?
"We'll even let you have a half share in the mineral rights to your bones."
And after all, just deleting your photos off the respective sites should take care of the privacy and copyright issues, right? Well ... not exactly. There's also a section in those user agreements that states they can keep the rights to those removed images until a commercially reasonable time has passed.
But remember, you always have choices. You could decide to just not use these services. But then how will everyone know what the food you just ate looked like?
"Trust me, babe. No other living soul will see those pictures you sent me, unless they work at Facebook."
If there is one thing everyone knows about buying games, music and movies online, it's that we're basically doing the entertainment industry a favor by paying for that shit at all. We could just as easily download whatever we want for free, with minimal fear of legal repercussions.
"Eat a dick, global copyright laws. I'm a literate human being with Internet access."
And, if there is one thing everyone knows about buying things in general, it's that once you pay, you own it. That's what "purchasing" means. It's not like some car that you fail to make payments on -- they can't come and repossess your purchases just because they changed their mind.
Well, not so fast. You should probably do a little more reading when that user agreement at your favorite online store pops up.
"Well, can't read this while eating." -- Everyone
What You Agreed To:
In a nutshell, a lot of these sites have a section in their terms that says they reserve the right to change, suspend or fully remove any product or content that they choose. And they don't mean remove it from their site so nobody else can buy it; they mean remove it from the device you downloaded the file to, never to be seen again. Like if one day Bruce Willis strolled into your house and grabbed all of your Die Hard DVDs and then smashed his way out through your window.
"Yippie-ki-yay, paying customer."
What many people don't realize about buying digital files online is that you aren't really buying the file; you're just buying a license to use it. Such as video games. The wording from the Steam download services says that paying full price for a game grants ...
"... a limited, terminable, non-exclusive license and right to use the Software for your personal use in accordance with this Agreement and the Subscription Terms. The Software is licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Software."
So you aren't buying Rage. You're buying a Rage license.
That wording is standard -- you find the same in competing download services like EA Origin. If you are playing a game that requires access to the service and they decide to ban you from using it, your ability to play that game is gone and they don't have to offer a refund (or as they put it, "No refund will be granted, no Entitlements will be credited to you or converted to cash or other forms of reimbursement, and you will have no further access to your Account or Entitlements associated with your Account or the particular EA Service").
OK, but these are games that have multiplayer elements or other features that require the online service to work. Maybe it's just that they can't ban you from the service without disabling your game, so the disabling of the game is just a side effect they can't avoid. But surely that's not the case with, say, e-books, right?
"You give up the rights to one testicle per 100,000 words."
Yep. In one recent case, a man had his entire Amazon Kindle library deleted. And for what crime, you ask? Simply because Amazon suspected that a third party may have unlawfully accessed his account. Unfortunately, that man had been a customer for eight years and had spent hundreds of dollars on Kindle books (that he also took the time to highlight and add notes to) that were now gone. Oh, and for good measure, they deleted his entire Amazon account as well, which in turn deleted his purchase history, wish list and shipping addresses. Not to mention any sassy reviews he might have posted for products he didn't like.
Kindle users were equally surprised when they found that Amazon had remotely zapped their copies of George Orwell's 1984 after Amazon decided that they had been sold by mistake. Remember when that sort of thing was the company's problem, and that all they could do was, you know, stop selling them? Not any more!
It's like something out of that one book, what's it called? Eat, Pray, Love!
Of course, don't take this warning to mean that we're endorsing the idea of you ever leaving the house to buy things again. We're just saying be careful who you share your stuff with.
We've gotten spoiled by personal computers; they'll do pretty much any damned thing you tell them to do, that's the whole fun of having one. With a PC, fiddle with the code a bit and you can play a version of Skyrim where all of the characters are nude (Google it!). Computers are like cars -- you're free to customize and tweak to your heart's content. So when smartphones came along, the geekier ones among us wanted to do the same thing -- get creative and customize them in some way the manufacturer could never have imagined.
"What this needs is a dick."
With phones, the practice is often referred to as jailbreaking, and a ruling by the U.S. copyright regulators made doing it perfectly legal. But much like Rollerblading or wearing skinny jeans, the fact that it's legal doesn't make it a great idea.
What You Agreed To:
Most companies have paragraphs in their terms of service that say you promise not to mess with the software. If they find out you did, you have effectively given them the right to unleash hell.
"We've got another jailbroken iPhone. Send a team out to shatter his pelvis."
For instance, Nintendo, after realizing people were installing software to pirate games on the Wii, released an update that would brick the system upon installation. Microsoft, meanwhile, will merely permanently ban your console from connecting to the Internet if it finds any modifications done to the system. Now, not only can you not use any of your multiplayer games or the XBox Live download service (which is most of the machine's functionality these days), but you'll be forced to go around the neighborhood and pay 12-year-old kids to scream racial slurs at you in person.
You'll find almost identical "We can remotely kill your gadget" clauses in everything from e-readers to smartphones to portable gaming systems. It's kind of like if every car came with a device that, if it ever detected you speeding, would eject the engine through the hood.
"Finally, the streets are safe!"
Hey, speaking of intrusive car monitoring ...