On Your Side Alert: Reading the fine print

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You buy a computer, and when you're asked to agree to the terms of the contract, you click "yes" without actually reading it. Sound familiar? Well, a local professor did the reading for you and says reading before you sign may not help.

Page, after page, after page. It's safe to say most of us have never seen them but have agreed to what's written in them. We are talking about those contracts you say yes to when you buy a computer. Professor, Jim Gibson, Law Professor, at The University of Richmond says if you do read them you are in the minority. "For all we know, we are agreeing to tithe our income for 10 years and give the company our first born, we just don't know," he says.

For all those who don't take the time, Gibson did the job most consumers neglect. He read the contracts of not just one, but four major computer companies. "I discovered that there was an average of 25 contracts in each of those transactions, totaling over 70,000 words, which to give you a sense of the scale, is about the size of the first Harry Potter book," Gibson explains.

He says it would take a consumer over seven hours just to read one of the agreements. It took him over a year to complete the study."I was interested in trying to figure out if it was realistic for consumers to read all the contracts they encounter in the course of just regular transactions," he says.

Gibson, an attorney, admits even he had difficulty understanding the contracts. His conclusion, reading the fine print, if you had the time and legal dictionary, would be a waste of time. If you decide to say no to the agreements, there's really only one real solution -- don't buy the product. Gibson points out the computer companies are all following the law -- and that's what he hopes to change. "I don't know if there is a lot of advice that you can give to individual consumers. I think the advice is more to courts and legislatures about how seriously to take the notion that consumers are reading these things, because if they are not reading them they are not consenting to them, and if they are not consenting to them, then there is really no reason to enforce them," Gibson tells us.

The study is published in the Washington and Lee Law Review.

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