Thanks to Christopher Trudeau, law professor and plain language champion, I just viewed the Terms of Service for CodePen. Proof that the company takes its consumers and its legal risks seriously!
I especially like the clear version of the copyright and content ownership clause: The things you make on CodePen are yours, “CodePen” is ours. The legalese version required 151 words. But my favorite is the translation of legal’s list of “impermissable acts” as Don’t be a jerk.
From their About page:
CodePen is a playground for the front end side of the web. It’s all about inspiration, education, and sharing.
Need to build a reduced test case to demonstrate and figure out a bug? CodePen is great for that. Want to show off your latest creation and get feedback from your peers? CodePen is great for that. Want to find example of a particular design pattern for you project? CodePen is great for that.
I recall hearing about rewriting legal documents in “plain language” in other contexts but the caveat was always to err on the side of caution. A TOS (or other legal document) is intended to limit liability–so while “don’t be a jerk” is ‘plain,’ doesn’t it expose the company to unnecessary liability issues? I’m sure Christopher Trudeau knows the answer to the legal aspect and I’m curious also to the applicability of this to professional and technical writing. Sans all writers becoming lawyers, how can we help communicate complex legal issues to users?
Legal writing is a topic that I know only a little about. But, if you check out the link to CodePen’s TOS, you see the terms presented in a table: the legalese version appears in the left column, and the plain version appears in the right column. That’s what I meant when I wrote that both the lawyers and the consumers could be satisfied.
Several tech/prof comm folks, like me, are also interested in plain language. See yesterday’s post on work done by Susan Kleimann. Or Ginny Redish. Or Karen Schriver.
To learn more in this area — Clarity International is a professional organization devoted plain legal language: go to http://www.clarity-international.net/index.html. And PLAIN has a page devoted to plain language and the law at http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/legal/.
The ‘plain English’ text does not have the same meaning as the ‘Official legally binding stuff’. (If the ‘plain English’ text has the same meaning as the ‘Official legally binding stuff’, then then ‘Official legally binding stuff’ is not necessary.)
If I read only the ‘plain English’ text, then I cannot not fully understand the terms of service. And if I cannot not fully understand the terms of service from the ‘plain English’ text, that ‘plain English’ text is not satisfactory.
I think that the supply of an unsatisfactory interpretation of a legal text is not a good way to satisfy consumers.
Mike, I don’t believe most consumers understand the legalese version. What I wanted to point out is that CodePen chose to make that point explicit by posting the plain version next to the legalese version.