Terms & Conditions: Decoding The Fine Print in Digital Deals

Very few consumers read terms and conditions anymore. Not only are the documents long, but they’re also difficult to understand and, depending on font size, hard to read. Even so, terms and conditions (also known as terms of service, terms of use, and end-user license agreements) bind us to certain agreements without our knowledge.

 In most cases, consumers read terms and conditions when they’re tacked onto a promotional deal. In these examples, conditions are typically easier to break down. For example, online casinos offer some of the most robust welcome offers in entertainment. Though phrases like bonuses, welcome deals, and promotions may sound different, they’re likely providing similar deals.

One of the most common offers on the table is free spins on certain video slots. What differentiates one casino from another are the terms and conditions tied to such deals, including availability in certain situations, time restraints, and deposit/withdrawal methods.

Conditions related to eligibility, expiration dates, and banking methods are relatively easy to understand. Terms and conditions that come with subscriptions and downloads, on the other hand, present consumers with unfamiliar legal terms, from mercantile agent to exclusion to liability. Keep reading for more information on the most common (and confusing) phrases used in digital T&Cs around the world.

“Non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license”

What it means: A company owns your content

With these five words, companies gain access to a user’s content. This ‘content’ can be as simple as the information shared online, whether a photo on Instagram or a post on Facebook. By agreeing to this, users allow companies to share this content with other groups without any notification or compensation of the user. 

A note on privacy policy: This may sound similar to a company’s privacy policy. However, a privacy policy relates to personal data. The above example relates to information that is created and shared by a user, while personal data covers information collected by the company based on a user’s activity. For example, this covers recommendation algorithms for video streaming services.

Automatic Renewal

What it means: A company will automatically renew a subscription

Though this term is self-evident, it should be one that all users look for in a terms and conditions document. A company’s right to automatically renew a subscription, whether on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis, can be incredibly costly for consumers. Those who agree to automatic renewal will have few (to no) options for cancellation.

DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)

What it means: Digital copyrights are protected by law

DMCAs have become common clauses in most T&Cs. These cover copyright infringements for digital artists and intellectual property that’s found online. DMCA clauses provide the company’s recourse for handling digital property infringements. A user agrees not to share copyrighted material unlawfully.

Mercantile Agent

What it means: Debt collector

The term mercantile agent isn’t often used, but it represents the confusing nature of legal terms often included in T&Cs. In this case, companies will more often use the term ‘debt recovery agency’ in order to communicate clearly. Other possible terms include ‘third-party agent’, which is any company contracted to return a debt.

Sole Discretion

What it means: A company holds full decision-making rights

When a user signs on to a T&C, they’re agreeing to the company’s listed terms. Users should always keep a lookout for ‘sole discretion’, as it means a company can alter their T&Cs at any given time, for any given reason. Sole discretion means a company also may not have to notify its users of alterations to their T&Cs, depending on local law.

Material Term

What it means: An aspect of the T&C

A material term is a legal way of referencing a key point in an agreement. These are typically straightforward, including the user’s payment for a service and the company’s requirement to fulfill that service. Material breaches: A material breach means that one of these material terms has been disregarded. Keep in mind that this refers only to a major breach in a contract, as they’re attached to the material terms, which are only the most important aspects of the agreement.

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