Legal question: the fine print (sort of)

I’m listening to Yahoo Launchcast right now. For those not in the know, it’s an internet streaming radio service.

They just ran an ad for some sort of contest that has a Saturn Ion as the prize. So, the radio ad basically tells you what you have to do and what you might win. This was (probably) followed by the usual ‘fine-print’ spiel (for want of a better term): “We’re not responsible…blah blah…employees of Yahoo cannot participate…blah blah…”.

This is where my question comes in. This fine-print spiel was spoken at super-speed. Basically, I could not make out a word of what was said (hence the ‘probably’ above) and I relied on my prior knowledge of liability statements to infer what they probably said. All I caught was the word ‘yahoo’ and I think that was because it is in itself a fairly distinctive word, not to mention since I’m listening to Yahoo Launchcast, it is contextually expected and hence easier to catch (a phenomenon referred to as ‘priming’).

What I want to know is, since the listener cannot understand what is being said, is it still legally valid? Can I argue that since the announcement is imperceptible to the large majority of people hearing it, none of what they said is enforceable? Aren’t they doing the auditory equivalent of having absolutely illegible fine print on a written contract?

Also, what on earth is the correct legal term for “fine print spiel”?

The correct legal term is “fine print speil.” “Legalese” and “lawyerspeak” are also acceptable.

If you want to argue that the fine print speil does not apply to you, you can probably do that. But I wouldn’t expect to win if I were you. Especially because they almost always say that official rules can be obtained somewhere (usually by sending in a request or looking online). Your failure to look for the official rules will definitely affect your ability to successfully argue that the fine print does not apply to you.

Now you are saying, “yeah, they may have said I could find the official rules, but they were saying it so fast that I didn’t even understand that it was an option or something on which I could follow up.” Well, you can still argue that the rules don’t apply to you, but be careful. As a general rule, people who participate in a contest are bound by the rules whether they choose to find out what they are or not. The fine print spiel is only meant to set forth a few of the most important rules for participants’ convenience. The official (and likely lengthy) rules still apply to everyone.

In most states, a court would enforce such “external” or “referenced” contract provisions. However, such provisions must be clearly indicated. If it really is impossible to catch the reference such that you are able to look then up, then you have an argument that you did not have sufficient notice.

I’m a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. If you’re serious about this, consult a qualified commercial lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction.

I’m not looking for legal advice here. Just wondered about this because to my totally non-legal mind, what they did seemed to lean towards concealment.

If I understand you correctly, are you both suggesting that the onus of discovering the rules lies on the participant, and that the contest creator’s only legal obligation is to ensure that the rules are available somewhere?

No, the onus is on the party trying to enforce the external (also “embedded” or “nested”) contract terms (in this case, the people running the contest) to give adequate notice of those terms. That means not only making you aware that the terms exist but also giving you reasonable opportunity to review those terms. If what they’re doing amounts to making it too difficult for you to read the terms or purposely hiding the ball, then that counts against them.

Okay.

Everyone generally knows contests come with fine print included, and so everyone generally accepts that the super-speed announcement at the end of the ad was probably the legal notice.

This ‘generally-probably’ scenario is legally considered adequate notice because
(a) the company has not purposefully concealed facts
(b) it is common knowledge that contests have limitations.

Got that.
Thank you.