ATLANTA - Every time you download an app, every time you pay for something online, every time you update your iTunes software, you are signing a contract. A lot of times it doesn't matter, but sometimes it does.
Many are obvious. You buy a car. You sign a contract. You rent an apartment. You sign a contract. Those you probably read.
But more reflexively, all day long at the keyboard, you hit "accept" on what's called an end-user licensing agreement. Sometimes it's called a shrink wrap or a clickwrap agreement. It's the only way you can use their product. And as we found out when we stopped some students, most people don't read them.
We showed Emory student Michael Malenfant the Paypal agreement. It's 47 pages plus dozens of links to read.
"This is crazy. How many trees did they have to take down for this? Nobody has time for that."
Sometimes they're quirky. Take iTunes. The ender user agreement says, in part, "You also agree you will not use these products for any purpose prohibited by United States' law, including, without limitation, development, design, manufacturer or production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
"That's a little intense," two young women said after reading it. "Is it being used for that?"
And sometimes they're funny. Take this fine print from an old video store receipt that this law professor uses as a class example in contract law.
"I hereby surrender my soul for all eternity to the clerks at "I Love Video" and agree to become a part of their legion of zombies."
Robert Ahdieh, a contract lawyer and Emory University law professor, says even the most conscientious of us sign off without reading contracts. There's a name for it. It's called rational ignorance.
"The odds that something goes wrong is relatively low," he said. So it's rational to remain ignorant until something goes wrong."
Here's the Google end user contract. This one was scary.
"You give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post, or display on or through the services."
That's everything you do on that web browser - email, pictures, all of it. Most end-user contracts aren't like that, but many do take a bite out of your privacy. I know I have tons of photography apps. They're loaded with personal pictures. My personal pictures, right? Well, sort of.
Our legal expert helped us out here.
"My guess is all the photos you put on there they are entirely free to do with what they want with. Many of those have the right to use those for commercial purposes, without your consent and so forth."
They can, but he says they probably won't. A number of years back a company called PC Pitstop gave away $1,000 to the first person who read about free money in the fine print. It reportedly took 3,000 sales and five months for someone to notice.
While it's fun to be flip about these end-user agreements, there are some contracts that you should always, 100 percent, every single time read.
1. Employment Contracts
3. Personal Finance Contracts
4. Medical Contracts
Always, always be on the lookout for clauses that take away your right to remedy if something goes wrong.
"Once in a while you'll run into a provision that might say you need to litigate a dispute in California, or under the law of Nevada, or you have to subject yourself to mandatory arbitration or you can't participate in a class action," Professor Robert Ahdieh said.