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Published March 25, 2013, 11:00 AM

Fine print

Just click ‘I agree’.

By: Ryan Taylor, Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — I’ve always felt fortunate on our ranch and around our neighborhood that I’ve been able to do most of our business based on a handshake. I can sell cattle, trade help with a neighbor and hire myself out for a Cowboy Logic after dinner speech, and do it all with a handshake. No need for “the party of the first part” to sign and notarize an ironclad contract with “the party of the second part.”

Sure, there’re plenty of exceptions. I have to sign a note at the bank for an operating loan, I sign something every time I change my cellular phone plan, and I have to sign plenty of other stuff in a variety of places from courthouses to hospitals. We don’t get to sign our own birth certificate or death certificate, but most everything in between will have a line and a flag that says “sign here.”

I don’t mind signing those documents, but, to me, it’s secondary to the fact that you already said you were going to do what you said you were going to do, and your word should be worth more than the contract.

Of course, these days, you can’t always look someone in the eye and give them your word, or shake their paw, or even sign their contract if they so insist. It happens regularly on the computer screen before my eyes as I download software, or update some program, and for that purpose the lawyers of those businesses have invented the “clickwrap.”

A clickwrap is not like Christmas wrap, it’s not like Snoop Doggy Dog rap. They say it’s kind of like shrink wrap, but different. If you go to a store, buy software and crack open the plastic shrinkwrap, you’ve just agreed to all the terms of use whether you know it or not.

When you’re downloading online there’s no shrinkwrap, so you have clickwrap. Just read the twelve pages of scrolling fine print and click “I agree.” Or, if you’re like me, read the first five words, fast forward to the bottom, and click “I agree.”

I sometimes wonder just what it is that I agreed to. It’s all in lawyer speak, though, and it reminds me of what cowboy thinker Will Rogers said back in 1935. “The minute you read something and you can’t understand it you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. Then if you give it to another lawyer to read and he don’t know just what it means, why then you can be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer. If it’s in a few words and is plain and understandable only one way, it was written by a non-lawyer.”

I don’t know if anyone reads this stuff, but we all agree to it. I looked at one just for fun and read one of the lines written all in capital letters toward the end. Someone told me when you type in all caps it’s like shouting, so this is what it shouted. “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHALL COMPANY BE LIABLE TO USER OR ANY OTHER PERSON FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES FOR ANY MATTER ARISING FROM OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT, THE SERVICE OR THE INTERNET GENERALLY, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION …” ... blah, blah, bla-bla-blah.

I could go on, and it did, for 118 all-capped words in a single sentence (where’s their editor?) but I won’t. If you want to use their software, just click “I agree,” even if you don’t, I guess.

And, if you want to feel a little better about your fellow man, or woman, sell your calves, trade work with your neighbor and hire your Cowboy Logic after dinner speakers with a handshake.

As I’ve heard it said, if a fella comes to do business with you and has to bring his lawyer, well, look out!