“I accept” may not be acceptable

A story I wrote in 1999 for Computerworld Australia about licence agreements. I wonder if this is still a legal problem. If you know, please comment.  

SYDNEY – Sites and software licensing agreements using an ‘I accept’ button may be problematic when the Electronic Transactions Bill becomes law early next year.

Phillip Argy said users could argue that the ‘I accept’ agreements are invalid if they can show they were unaware of what they accepted. The Mallesons Stephens Jacques partner and electronic law specialist was speaking to delegates at the Internet World conference in Sydney yesterday.

He said the new law will recognise a variety of electronic ‘signatures’ on agreements so long as the person making the signature is identifiable and there is an adequate way to indicate that person’s approval. “Online you have to ensure that the context in which someone agrees is appropriate.”

Argy said that in many standard online and software agreements, users are expected to read a page of conditions and then click on an ‘I accept’ button. However, in many cases user can simply “buffer the return key” and bypass agreements without acknowledging their existence or actually reading their contents. Then, if there is a dispute, they can argue they were unaware of the conditions.

He said, “The onus is on site owners and software developers to prove that their customers know that there is an agreement – they don’t have to actually read it, they just need to know it is there.”

He said that this problem can be avoided if developers ensure that the ‘I accept’ button doesn’t activate until the customer has at least scrolled down part of the conditions document.

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