Suppose one submitted a clarification request regarding the ToS, and the website declined to comment for the time being.

Is that legal?

I understand one, if unsure, can simply not use said site. So I'm only interested in requests for clarification.

I'm asking out of curiosity after said request was met with said reply. I'm neither taking, nor considering, legal action.

  • Like what websites specifically?
    – CDA
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


Are websites obligated to explain the Terms of Service?

Generally speaking, no. The most important exceptions to this are issues the provider ought to clarify for purposes of user's/customer's safety. Other type of exceptions is where the ToS themselves imply an obligation for the provider to clarify matters.

Absent issues of safety, instead of asking for clarification the user would be better off by availing himself of the doctrine of contra proferentem and thus adopt the reasonable interpretation that favors him. For this approach to be valid, (1) the ToS would have to be unclear to a reasonable person, and (2) user's conduct or decision ought not to foreseeably lead to an outcome a reasonable person would avoid.


It is legal, and good policy, because the later explanation could create conflicting policies and notions as to what the "agreement" is. The TOS is probably created by a lawyer who interviewed the website owner to figure out what they wanted, then wrote legal language to do that. If you ask tech support how to interpret the TOS, you probably are not getting a legally-correct statement (assuming that the tech support guy isn't also a lawyer). Rather than take a risk that a customer would defend their action in court by arguing "they said I could!", the website may elect to not make promises that they don't want to keep.

Instead, if you want to understand the agreement, you hire your own lawyer, then propose a hypothetical action, to see how the law interprets the language of the agreement. For example "can I rent out my Netflix password so that other people can use it?". The lawyer would then read the TOS and relevant cases law, and would advise you whether this is allowed under the TOS (it is not). Alternatively, you could read up on relevant aspects of the law and figure it out yourself.

Website TOS is basically driven by copyright law, the technical necessity of some kind of automatic copying in order to use a web page, and the legal requirement that you can't copy without permission of the copyright holder. The TOS is the set of conditions that you must satisfy in order to be permitted to use the site. So many questions reduce to issues of copyright law and permission to copy *can you legally "permit" the copying of materials you upload?).


No, and it wouldn't have any legal bearing if they did.

If you read the TOS, it says that the TOS cannot be modified (except certain ways). An email exchange asking for clarification is NOT one of those ways. So you would not be able to wave the email exchange around in court and say it "overrides" the written TOS.

It might make a difference if the TOS was ambiguous, however that is exactly why Legal would have the CS rep's guts for garters if they caught one trying to interpret TOS.

If you want TOS interpreted, talk to your own lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to explain plain meaning, can research case law to see how anything unclear has been affected by precedent, and can tell you which areas are truly ambiguous, and your chances of winning a favorable interpretation on that.

You can also send a suggestion to the company's Legal Dept. asking them to amend TOS to remove ambiguities, which they would tend to want to do.

If you wanted them to reverse on an intentional clause, that is a harder road, but it has happened.

Lastly, if a clause is ambiguous or you think it is illegal, as long as you "have a stake", you can sue them to ask a judge to "Quiet the question", i.e. rule on how the interpretation will be made. Realistically this will simply cause them to amend TOS to sidestep the issue.

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