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Websites that Attempt to Decipher the Legalese? 22

Posted by Cliff
from the cutting-through-the-language dept.
mzuckerm asks: "I am currently a law student doing some work with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Specifically I am working on a project called the Collaborator's Clinic, which provides resources for the open source community. I am currently trying to gather sample legal documents (including linking agreements, patent licenses, software development agreements, etc., you can look at the work in progress here) in order to annotate them with common sense descriptions of what the legalese means. This is very much like what the Berkman Center has done with the Chilling Effects web site (which deals with legal issues involved in cease-and-desist letters). Has this been done anywhere before? I have done a google search to try to find other sites including this information, but none I've found have included the information for free or directed it towards the Open Source community. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you are aware of any relevant licenses or legal agreements to which we could obtain the right to post and annotate, that would also be totally rad."
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Websites that Attempt to Decipher the Legalese?

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  • none so far (Score:3, Informative)

    by stonebeat.org (562495) on Wednesday October 15, 2003 @12:02AM (#7216328) Homepage
    i haven't seen any site that does that. have you checked our the creative commons website? they made all the legalese very easy to comprehend... http://www.creativecommons.org/license/ and http://creativecommons.org/learn/licenses/ . There comics, and animated make the CC licensing very easy to comprehend and use.
  • by chriso11 (254041) on Wednesday October 15, 2003 @12:09AM (#7216370) Journal
    I was hoping for something like bablefish, only with a legalese option. THAT would be useful


  • Would it not be legally binding if you didn't write a document that only a lawyer could understand or something?
    Despite the fact that English can be made to be ambiguous, couldn't you just put a disclaimer saying that you, the software publisher or whatever, get to resolve any ambiguity somebody may decide to find in your normal-english legal agreement?

    • I'm not a lawyer myself, but the local law here doesn't state anything about legalese being a condition of law.

      An ambiguous law would be stricken down however, as that would be contrary to the interests of the whole judicial system as a whole.

      However, law being like most fields, if you say something in an unambiguous manner to a lawyer, you're using legalese.

      Just like you can't speak about object-oriented programming clearly, without making distinctions between say multiple and single inheritance(and the

    • Disclaimer: I am n00b second-year law student.

      Part of the reason for legalese is that certain words used in particular combinations have legal effect, whereas other do not. One example involves conveyances where people say "I give my iPod to A and his heirs." The words "and his heirs" have the legal effect of a fee simple conveyance, which essentially means that A is given the iPod without being subject to any outside obligations or interests. The average person would interpret "and his heirs" to someh
    • Because the EULA is not for your benefit, but for theirs. If it were in plain English, the average user might actually be cognizant of the actual restrictions of what he is agreeing to, and then not do it.

      Couched in legalese, you probably won't notice that the average EULA gives you, the consumer, no rights whatsoever, and protects the vendor from any action on your part.
    • Lawyers can write clear english documents; my attorney (Steve Schneider in Los Gatos, CA) does, and he also explains the chunks of legalese that are required in some documents (by tradition as well as other factors) clearly. (I get nothing for this; he charges me the same ridiculous Silicon Valley rates that he charges everyone else)

      I was told by a law student once (so take this with a boulder of salt) that a judge will usually enforce the intent of a layman's contract, if the intent is clear. So to write
    • Would it not be legally binding if you didn't write a document that only a lawyer could understand or something?

      Of course it would. In fact, there's been a sizable movement [amazon.com] in recent years, to clean up and sharpen legal writing. Communicating using simpler terms would help reduce misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which occur with alarming frequency in the US legal system. It would also speed up the process and efficiency in our courts, which would be a serious benefit for a legal system which is

  • Firstly some of your links are broken because you're supplying internal dns for 'h20dev' and the rest of the internet doesn't know what that's about.

    I'm interested in it as a project having waded through legal documents before, but it seems to me that these things are highly individual, except for structure, so it might be better to go back to the 'root' boilerplate or structure documents rather than using real world examples that people may or may not like you using.

    Nice effort, though. I like it.
  • by Valar (167606) on Wednesday October 15, 2003 @08:29AM (#7218080)
    As far as attempting to decipher the legalese, you've come to the right place. As far as sucessfully deciphering the legalese... Can't help you.
  • Having taken a couple business law college courses, I wonder if you really thought this out.


    Legalese isn't hard, but it does require knowing some legal principles that aren't always obvious (speccifically, you'll need to cover contract law and UCC before looking at licensing).


    Keep in mind law school is 4 years of graduate school. So is medical school. You canset up some wiki definitions, but you'll probably leanr just as much from watching mattlock or ER.

    • Actually law school is only 3 years...can't speak for med school though. Being nitpicky...

      No joke about the UCC and contract law: in my short law school career so far (1st Year), contract is by far the most incomprehensible body of law, and the UCC and its derivatives are the most poorly written and difficult statutes (what's worse than a law written by lawyers and lobbyists? a law written by law professors...).

      Tie me down and subject me to endless hours of torts, civil procedure or constitutional law i
  • One thing EBay does right is their user agreement [ebay.com]. [annoying javascript lurks]. It's easy to understand and presumably is legally valid.

    The distinction is that EBay wants people to understand their user agreement. Conversely, obtuse user agreements are that way for a reason.
  • by joeljkp (254783)
    I've thought about doing this with EULAs, but haven't gotten very far yet. Either a "Gallery of Dumb EULAs" or an "English Explanation of EULAs".
  • by eoyount (689574)
    I know he didn't write
    "...that would also be totally rad."
  • This is a unique and original idea! Have you considered patenting it?

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