In many Terms of Service/End-User License Agreements, there is a statement either as art of the confirmation check box to agree to said agreement and/or as a part of the agreement itself that says something along the lines of "Please read this agreement in its entirety, by agreeing to this agreement/checking this box, you are acknowledging that you have read, understand, and agree to all terms/linked terms/linked agreements/etc."

What I'm wanting to know is if by not fully reading and understanding these agreements, am I in violation of these terms and the agreement?

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    Even if ... have fun proving it in court Nov 2 '19 at 22:02
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    Obligatory link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HumancentiPad Nov 3 '19 at 12:42
  • If you got a 10 page contract and just flipped to the final page and signed it, would it make your signature any less real? Nov 3 '19 at 13:38
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    @BaardKopperud : In this case the only thing which could save you, would be if the contract itself was against the state's law. For example, if a company policy is against the law, they cannot enforce it (they just hope that employees or clients who sign it don't realize this)
    – vsz
    Nov 3 '19 at 16:12
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    IIRC there is another case inside the EU where EULAs are only valid on store- purchased software if you are able to read it before(!) unsealing since after unsealing you are unable to return the software.
    – masterX244
    Nov 4 '19 at 7:53

You have read it: legally

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read it in fact. At law, you have. Therefore you cannot avoid obligations or consequences by saying “ I didn’t read it”.

It’s an extension of the common law principle that if you affix your ‘mark’ to a document you were acknowledging that you understood it and would abide by it: even if your mark was an X because you were illiterate.

There are protections. At common law an unconscionable term is unenforceable and may void the contract entirely. Additionally, many jurisdictions have passed legislation to make unfair contract terms unenforceable, particularly in contracts of adhesion. Further, consumer protection laws often have non-excludable warranties that operate in spite of the contract.

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    On the other hand, not reading it sadly seems to be expected. I had a collegue once who had the task of setting up a customer's PC before the rest of the team arrived. When they did, he was still at the first installation step, carefully reading the software's ToS and discussing each paragraph with the customer in detail. The boss was outraged.
    – Ray
    Nov 3 '19 at 20:01
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    Depending on the country, the EULA might not even be relevant. For example, in Germany the EULA only applies if you can read it before purchase of the software - no, writing "by buying you accept the EULA" on the box isn't enough. Even when it is accepted before purchase, many of the usual paragraphs are superseded and made irrelevant by German law (resale, copying, sale of OEM, etc.)
    – Morfildur
    Nov 4 '19 at 7:54
  • @Morfildur: I'm pretty sure that's not just Germany but the whole EU. It's just common sense - one can only agree to terms that are known - but in the EU the law is aligned with common sense.
    – MSalters
    Nov 4 '19 at 9:42
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    @DaleM: In the modern world, that means the EULA has to be agreed to before you buy + download the software. Not only after paying for access to a download of the installer. Of course much software works on a license-manage model where you can download + install the software and have to pay for a license, so it complies with that requirement without a problem. (I'm not a lawyer and I'm not familiar with the law in question, but that seems like the obvious conclusion / purpose / consequence.) Nov 4 '19 at 10:31
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    @Ray If I was explicitly forced to read the ToS of everything I've ever used then I would probably stop using things made by others. It's simple; don't subject me to relinquish my first born and I won't use your product to launch nuclear warfare.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Nov 4 '19 at 15:16

The only consequence of not reading and understanding the TOS, or any contract, is that you might unintentionally violate that contract, because you did not understand what the contract requires you to do. Or, the other party might act in a legal way that you (wrongly) thought was not possible under the contract. For example, a TOS may say that you can't copy material from the web page. What is illegal is copying material from the web page, so if you don't do that, then you're okay. You might happen to know independently (from copyright law) that you can't copy stuff from a web page.

Clicking "I have read and I agree" when you know that statement to be false might very hypothetically be fraud, in that you are making a false statement that might be material to the other party's allowing you access to the material. The problem would be them showing that it is actually material to their side of the bargain that you both read and understood, plus, the other side could not prove that you did not read – the corollary claim about understanding is too subjective to be the subject of litigation.You might get some traction on Philosophy SE with the ethical question of whether it's morally proper to agree without understanding. It is perfectly legal, but risky.

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    Still, I'm pretty sure if such a license agreement contained something ludicrous like you agreeing to give your firstborn child to them, hidden in convoluted legalese to make it even more difficult to find even by those few who do skim over it, they won't be able to enforce those terms in any court of law. (the problem is in grey areas which are abusive but could still have a chance of enforcement. Google did this once, by using gmail you unknowingly gave over ownership to Google of anything you sent through it. It caused great uproar and Google retracted the term, claiming it was a "mistake")
    – vsz
    Nov 3 '19 at 9:03
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    @vsz "agreeing to give your firstborn child to them" you mean like, #10 Herod clause?
    – Andrew T.
    Nov 3 '19 at 9:48
  • Many moons ago the Dilbert strip based a series of strips on this premise. Dilbert wakes up in a strange place and is informed that the EULA he signed includes an agreement to be Bill Gate's personal slave.
    – EvilSnack
    Nov 3 '19 at 14:23
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    There's a legal term for the principle that some rights cannot be waived by contract, even if the contract is fully understood by all parties. If anyone remembers what that term is, it might be a good addition. Nov 3 '19 at 19:00
  • @MerryMisanthrope : you mean this, or something more specific?
    – vsz
    Nov 4 '19 at 5:05

by not fully reading and understanding these agreements, am I in violation of these terms and the agreement?

No. A contract is an exchange of considerations (aka benefits). The sole act of reading the terms of an agreement gives no benefit to the counterparty, whence reading and understanding them is not part of the actual contract. Consequently, not reading or not understanding the contract cannot constitute a violation thereof.

The relevance of reading and understanding the terms of a contract pertains to proving the formation of a contract, and more specifically the contract-law tenet that agreements be entered knowingly and willfully. Thus, your signal of having read and understood the contract (for instance, by clicking on a checkbox) serves as your counterparty's evidence of your full awareness of what the contract between you two entails.

am I ethically in the wrong?

In most cases, no, you would not be ethically in the wrong. The fact that generally speaking it is not unethical does not render your question "off topic", though.

(I am sorry for some users' arrogant habit of suppressing parts of others' posts. Unfortunately some people pretend that ethics has nothing to do with law. If it were off-topic in law, ethics as a keyword would not yield the thousands of results when searching court opinions, nor would there be an entry therefor in legal dictionaries such as Black's Law Dictionary.)

As explained above, your manifestation of having read the agreement serves a purely evidentiary purpose as to formation of a contract. That evidence might be brought up in the event that either party attempts to void the contract or that the counterparty goes after you for breach of contract.

Falsely purporting your awareness of the terms of a contract might lead to legal problems only in very few, unusual scenarios involving mental states such as negligence. Even if the false portrayal does not amount to breach of contract or a violation of laws, a court might rule in equity when the party's omission and misrepresentations thereof causes injuries to a party to the contract or to third parties.


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