License agreements for digital media need revision

People don’t read license agreements — otherwise known as those “Terms and Conditions” boxes — when they buy things online. Why? Because they are extremely long and mundane, and the consumer usually makes assumptions about the license that are generally correct. When it comes to purchasing digital music, most consumers assume that whatever they buy, whether they receive it in a tangible form or keep it as a digital resource, is theirs to own. Therefore, the vast majority of online shoppers find it unnecessary to scale the dense walls of text in online license agreements.

However, digital ownership is not always the result of an online purchase, especially when it comes to music. This was showcased last week, when rumors spread that actor Bruce Willis planned to sue Apple after finding out he was unable to legally pass down his iTunes collection to his daughters — because, technically, he does not own his iTunes collection. Songs bought from iTunes are personally licensed to the buyer, but they are not “owned.”

To clear up some of this confusion — and avoid expensive legal battles — online agencies should make very clear what one can or cannot do with an online product by reforming how license agreements are conveyed to users.

Digital licensing is an extremely unclear matter, especially for consumers; it takes real effort for someone to find out what they can or cannot do with something bought online.

Although it’s true that the buyer could perform extensive research into the restrictions on his or her purchase, it would be much more effective for online agencies to make those “Terms and Conditions” boxes a little easier on the eyes through better visual design and layout of the license agreements.

As they exist right now, online license agreements are irritating obstructions that consumers skip over in a matter of seconds. In order to make sure buyers know what they can or cannot do with their purchases, companies need to ensure that their license agreements are readable, clear, and concise. They need to be designed, not only by lawyers invested in protecting the company, but by writers who can communicate such ideas clearly to the general public.