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"I Agreed to Do What!?"

Would you sign a contract without reading it first? Before you answer, consider this: most people enter into contracts daily without reading their terms, and few are even aware that a contract is being formed.

Have you ever visited a company’s website and been required to “check” a box indicating that you agree to that company’s “terms and conditions” before being allowed to proceed? Many check this box without thinking twice, but are you aware that by doing so you are forming a binding contract?

This type of take-it-or-leave-it contract is called an adhesion contract and is commonly used by interactive online companies like the popular Youtube, Myspace and Facebook websites. These agreements are often long and filled with legal jargon, which makes them difficult to understand and discourages many from reading them. However, the content of these contracts might surprise you. Here are some examples:

• Some contracts allow the company to release or sell your personal information to a third party without ever notifying you.

• Some companies allow you to “post” your personal items on their websites (such as, artwork, messages, pictures, and videos), but reserve the right to use these personal items for any purposes they choose.

• Many contracts require you to arbitrate any disputes and waive your right to a jury trial.

• Many contracts require you to pay fees, penalties, costs, and/or attorneys’ fees for any violation of your contractual obligations, which may come as a big surprise, particularly if you didn’t even take the time to read through your obligations.

Courts have repeatedly upheld the validity of adhesion contracts, leaving consumers with limited remedies. As a general rule, read the company’s “terms and conditions,” and never agree to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. With all the different services available online these days, you can usually find a company that suits your needs without requiring you to give up all of your legal rights. If in doubt, contact an experienced attorney before signing.

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