Sympathy for the Lawyer

Department of complaints.
March 1 1998 3:30 AM

Sympathy for the Lawyer

An e-mail exchange about subscribing to Slate.

(Continued from Page 3)

1. Some of the more complex provisions in the agreement have to do with what we are doing with your personal information. Print magazines have always done lots of third party marketing with your subscription data, but somehow there's no cry for them to make the kind of disclosures and disclaimers that we in the online industry are being driven to make (by the Federal Trade Commission and consumer groups in particular). In this one area, we are actually being more upfront with the consumer than magazines are.

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2. The interactive parts of Slate--mostly the Fray--allow you to have your words and thoughts instantaneously distributed to the world through our information pipe. Without much chance for us to edit or review your words (as we would in a print magazine's letters to the editor section), the specter of defamation liability becomes large. In fact, the vast majority of the lawsuits we have seen in the online world are defamation suits for what a user posted on a bulletin board or online service. This legal reality drives a large part of the more complex legalese.

3. You said that you were familiar with software licenses. Then I am sure you will recognize some of the disclaimer language in our agreement as the same language you find in an End User License for a desktop application (especially the language that says we aren't liable for what happens to your computer if you use our product and something bad happens). Don't forget ... "Slate" is not just printed words ... it's code and ActiveX controls and a whole bunch of other stuff that take control of parts of your computer. I know of no analogue in the print world.

4. Doing virtually instantaneous monetary transactions over the Internet raises a huge potential for fraud. That's not true when you mail in a magazine subscription order and the clearing house has all the time in the world to let your check clear or check out your credit card account. That's even more legalese.

There are more, but those are the key differences that come to mind.

Thanks for being so thoughtful in your e-mails. I have enjoyed the chance to be challenged and trade perspectives. It's been very educational for me. I hope it has for you too.

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