terms of youse

Hulu.com updated its terms of use recently. After recent legal decisions, I figured it was worth a look, especially because I frequently embed video from Hulu here. I wasn’t disappointed.

Hulu is generally a good, trustworthy, and fair company — it offers a good product in an easy-to-use format in exchange for fairly minimal commercial interruption. Nonetheless, lawyerly bulletproofing requires Hulu to make ridiculous and unenforceable pronouncements in the name of thoroughness. Here’s a list of things you can’t do on your website if you’re going to embed Hulu video:

[D]o not embed the Video Player on any website or other location that contains or hosts content that is unlawful, infringing, pornographic, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, harassing, vulgar, indecent, profane, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, encourages criminal conduct, gives rise to civil liability, violates any law, rule, or regulation, infringes any right of any third party including intellectual property rights, is otherwise inappropriate or objectionable to Hulu (in Hulu’s sole discretion), or links to infringing or unauthorized content (collectively, “Unsuitable Material”).

I’m hoping “law, rule, or regulation” is some sort of legal term of art and I’m not violating my terms of service when I fail to keep the Rule of St. Benedict:

When anyone has made a mistake
while reciting a Psalm, a responsory,
an antiphon or a lesson,
if he does not humble himself there before all
by making a satisfaction,
let him undergo a greater punishment
because he would not correct by humility
what he did wrong through carelessness.

(I make mistakes while reciting my antiphons all the time!)

Here’s another badly phrased, if amusingly pompous, couple of sentences:

Access to the Hulu Site and use of the Hulu Services is free. If we feel it is appropriate to charge for certain premium Hulu Services, we will, of course, notify you. You then will have an opportunity not to use such premium Hulu Services if you are not interested in paying for them.

No doubt, of course, Hulu’s lawyers mean something sensible by these passages. In the first case, I assume they’re referring to applicable state, local, and federal laws, and in the second, well, the graciousness of their allowing us an “opportunity” not to pay for their services speaks for itself. But the vagueness seems to signal a cloudiness of thought in the writers of the TOU document, and it’s troubling. Here’s a sentence where the bad writing actually creates contradictions:

[Y]ou may not construe a waiver of any provision of these Terms of Use with respect to any party as a waiver of that provision (or any other provision) with respect to either that party or any other party.

Or there’s this:

To be effective, the notification must be in writing and contain the following information: (a) an electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive copyright interest….

Which is fine and all, except that down at the bottom of the page there’s a blanket ban on electronic signatures:

No Use of Electronic or Digital Signatures. Although we understand that electronic or digital signatures are frequently viewed as the equivalent of traditional written signatures these days, for purposes of these Terms of Use, a signature or “signed” writing or written agreement may not include an electronic or digital signature.

I think you ought to be able to declare a contract void if it’s this clunky and obtuse. Down with severability!

This has been a complete nerd freak-out. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

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