Archive for February 3, 2008

What’s in a Name?

Download any software package and a software agreement that’s as simple to peruse as “War and Peace” on a Palm pilot pops up. Do you really read the whole thing before clicking on “I agree” and continuing?

You go to a real estate closing and the friendly folks at the title company walk in with a McMansion sized stack of mortgage documents. Do you sit there for a week (with your paid by the hour attorney) and review the entire package line by line?

No? – I thought not.

So – have we gotten so habituated to signing agreements as long and impenetrable as the Great Wall of China, without reading them – that we’ve become utterly indifferent about what we attach our names to?

“Fools names’ – like their faces – often appear in public places”

The members of a professional association I belong to are currently at odds because a few of our members have chosen to publicly attach their names to the websites of two groups whose stated goals are utterly in conflict with those of the association. I’m not going to name names, but to give you an idea of what we are talking about, try to imagine NRA members publicly supporting the Brady Campaign.

When they joined our group (which is, by the way a professional association, not a club or a charity group), these people signed their names to a membership form which stated that they read and accepted the association’s mission statement and code of conduct and that they agreed to adhere and abide by them. They also agreed that they had answered all questions on the application truthfully including disclosing any information that could indicate a conflict of interest with the mission statement or code of conduct.

Now that their duplicity has been discovered and made public, some of these members are pleading ignorance. “I didn’t know what that other group stood for,” they whine, or worse yet – “But I didn’t read the code of conduct.”

Ignorantia juris non excusat,”  ignorance of the law does not excuse. When ignorance of the law becomes an accepted excuse, people charged with crimes or subjected to civil suits can simply claim they aren’t aware of the laws related to their situation to avoid any civil or criminal liability. Even though in today’s complex world it is impossible to be aware of all laws and regulations, we must ensure that willful blindness doesn’t become a refuge for the dishonest.

When we click “I agree” without reading a software license agreement written in obtuse legalese, we are still aware that we are participating in a binding contract with the software vendor. And in this day and age, we can assume that that agreement is probably telling us that we can’t duplicate and sell the program and that the vendor accepts no responsibility for the subsequent crash of our hard drive if the software ends up being incompatible with our operating system.

But when someone signs their name to a one page membership application and agrees to abide by the conditions set forth in two short documents, written in plain English and attached / cross-linked with that application – without reading any of them – should we accept their willful blindness? Or should we hold them accountable?

“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”  ~Thomas Babington Macaulay

February 3, 2008 at 10:58 pm 4 comments

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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February 2008