Boilerplate: The Fine Print, Vanishing Rights, and the Rule of Law

Princeton University Press
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Boilerplate--the fine-print terms and conditions that we become subject to when we click "I agree" online, rent an apartment, enter an employment contract, sign up for a cellphone carrier, or buy travel tickets--pervades all aspects of our modern lives. On a daily basis, most of us accept boilerplate provisions without realizing that should a dispute arise about a purchased good or service, the nonnegotiable boilerplate terms can deprive us of our right to jury trial and relieve providers of responsibility for harm. Boilerplate is the first comprehensive treatment of the problems posed by the increasing use of these terms, demonstrating how their use has degraded traditional notions of consent, agreement, and contract, and sacrificed core rights whose loss threatens the democratic order.

Margaret Jane Radin examines attempts to justify the use of boilerplate provisions by claiming either that recipients freely consent to them or that economic efficiency demands them, and she finds these justifications wanting. She argues, moreover, that our courts, legislatures, and regulatory agencies have fallen short in their evaluation and oversight of the use of boilerplate clauses. To improve legal evaluation of boilerplate, Radin offers a new analytical framework, one that takes into account the nature of the rights affected, the quality of the recipient's consent, and the extent of the use of these terms. Radin goes on to offer possibilities for new methods of boilerplate evaluation and control, among them the bold suggestion that tort law rather than contract law provides a preferable analysis for some boilerplate schemes. She concludes by discussing positive steps that NGOs, legislators, regulators, courts, and scholars could take to bring about better practices.

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About the author

Margaret Jane Radin is the Henry King Ransom Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and the William Benjamin Scott and Luna M. Scott Professor of Law, emerita, at Stanford University. Radin is the author of Reinterpreting Property and Contested Commodities.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 7, 2012
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Pages
360
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ISBN
9781400844838
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Consumer
Law / Contracts
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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When you visit a website, check your email, or download music, you enter into a contract that you probably don't know exists. "Wrap contracts" - shrinkwrap, clickwrap and browsewrap agreements - are non-traditional contracts that look nothing like legal documents. Contrary to what courts have held, they are not "just like" other standard form contracts, and consumers do not perceive them the same way. Wrap contract terms are more aggressive and permit dubious business practices, such as the collection of personal information and the appropriation of user-created content. In digital form, wrap contracts are weightless and cheap to reproduce. Given their low cost and flexible form, businesses engage in "contracting mania" where they use wrap contracts excessively and in a wide variety of contexts. Courts impose a duty to read upon consumers but don't impose a duty upon businesses to make contracts easy to read. The result is that consumers are subjected to onerous legalese for nearly every online interaction. In Wrap Contracts: Foundations and Ramifications, Nancy Kim explains why wrap contracts were created, how they have developed, and what this means for society. She explains how businesses and existing law unfairly burden users and create a coercive contracting environment that forces users to "accept" in order to participate in modern life. Kim's central thesis is that how a contract is presented affects and reveals the intent of the parties. She proposes doctrinal solutions - such as the duty to draft reasonably, specific assent, and a reconceptualization of unconscionability - which fairly balance the burden of wrap contracts between businesses and consumers.
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