My education is so far removed from the legal arena that even TV dramas are sometimes bewildering. Aside from my unforgivable nonchalance regarding most conventional legal systems, my only brush-in with judges and courts involved a traffic ticket, about 20 years ago.
But I do have a question regarding contracts, so if you can offer a tip or a clarification, you’ll be helping me understand things just a little better than I did.
Basically, my question is this: If a contract presents a statement or sets forth a condition that is technically incorrect, but requires the other party to concede to it before the agreement is complete, does that in any way invalidate the contract?
That sounds just as complicated as I imagine it. Let me give you an example instead.
That is the dreaded Microsoft end-user license agreement, presented as part of a Vista installation on an HP laptop. (I’ll pause while the booing and hissing subsides.) The lower checkbox, as you can read, suggests that you will be unable to use your computer if you do not acquiesce to the terms of the agreement.
I’m sure I’m splitting hairs here and I apologize beforehand, but to me that’s patently false. The use of the machine is completely discrete from the presence of a Microsoft product, as any free software advocate would tell you. Suggesting that the computer is somehow incapable of functioning by omitting the software is … well, a lie.
So doesn’t that statement, and the requirement that you acknowledge it, establish the agreement on false terms? Again, my legal know-how doesn’t extend much beyond a once-a-year viewing of Miracle on 34th Street, but if someone misrepresents the usability of a product as a condition of an agreement, it seems like that would invalidate the contract. Or is it just caveat emptor?
If I tell you that your car won’t work unless you use my brand of petrol, you’d laugh and refuse to buy the car. If I told you that your cake wouldn’t bake unless you bought my brand of flour, you’d call me a fool and bake the cake anyway. And in either case, you’d probably hire somebody else to sue me for lying, or just for being stupid. Which is sometimes the same thing.
I don’t know. I don’t have to worry about it because I’ll never buy or install or even use Vista, so personally the question is moot. And it comes as no surprise to me that Microsoft would use what appears to be a scare tactic to coerce someone into agreeing to use their shoddy software. But it does seem that anyone who did click on that box would have some sort of argument that the original premises were false, and that the cake is a lie.