10 Fantastic hidden clauses in contracts and end user license agreements

We’ve all done it: skimmed or skipped over the terms of service to agree with whatever the company has written to get to what we want that much more quickly. By this time, we’ve grown confident that there’s probably nothing in that fine print that would be either interesting enough to pay attention to, or deal-breaking enough to pause for.

But every once in a while, a company slips in something that we don’t expect, something that just might be more than you bargained for–or nothing like you would have expected.

Here are some of the most interesting and amusing clauses we’ve found hidden in contracts and terms of services:

#1 A to zombies

Buried in section 57.10 of Amazon’s terms of service, about the acceptable safe use of lumberyard materials, the online marketplace has stashed a clause that negates the whole section should the zombie apocalypse take place. Of course, they have a broader legalese way of stipulating such an event:

“However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.”

Yes, that should cover them.

#2 Tumblr tells it like it is

Microblogging platform and social media tool Tumblr took a very honest and to the point approach in their user agreements.

They use their terms of service to gently remind kids that there are other things out there.

Try books

Their community guidelines prohibit impersonation with a specific example:

You can't pretend to be Benedict Cumberbatch

And impose broad limits on what you can do to and with usernames:

Don't squat or hoard URLs

In their privacy guidelines, they even add some positive affirmation:

You're beautiful

Thanks, Tumblr. We needed to hear that. All of it.

 #3 Atomic iTunes

In its end user agreement, iTunes stipulates that anyone on any of the included lists of embargoed countries, an array of persons and entities denied entry and citizens of embargoed countries. Wedged in directly after is an added limitation on the use of the service:

“You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.”

Who knew the music player even had such capabilities?

#4 Brown M&Ms

The following clause was placed deep within the standard performance contract of legendary rock band Van Halen:

No brown M&Ms

This detail became notorious, an apparent prime example of the ridiculous demands of rock stars. However, the reason behind the inclusion of this clause went far deeper than a bowl of candy.

As lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography, “Crazy from the Heat,” this clause was a test to see if the event space had carefully reviewed all the technical criteria of the concert that they would be hosting. Since Van Halen was one of the first performances of its size to appear at lower level venues, many of the spaces were unprepared for the sheer weight of the equipment. A brown M&M would indicate to the band that their hosts hadn’t read the contract, making a potentially dangerous technical error likely.

#5 Happy Birthday

When two renters received their lease agreement in a Word document, instead of a PDF, they decided to amend the document with a special clause.

“Lessor shall provide birthday cake for Lessee(s) in the weekend closest to their birthdays, which are June 7 and February 17. Vanilla cake is not acceptable.”

The landlord didn’t notice the change before signing it, initiating what could be the beginning of a sweet arrangement.

#6 Long live the Queen

When rules against perpetuities became common law in the United Kingdom, lawyers began to introduce what is known as the ‘royal lives clause’ into contracts. Instead of granting certain conditions ‘in perpetuity’, the clause would validate details so long as the last living descendant of a British monarch was alive. It would read something like this:

“The option must be exercised before the end of the period ending at the expiry of 21 years from the death of the last survivor of all the lineal descendants of [his late Majesty King George V or some other British monarch] who have been born on the date of this agreement.”

#7 Creative credit

A Russian man, after deciding he wasn’t happy with the terms of a credit card offer he received in the mail, took it upon himself to rewrite the contract to include zero percent interest, no fees, and no credit limit. His added clauses also promised penalties to the bank should it fail to hold up its end of the agreement or attempt to cancel the contract. He signed it, and the bank did too, not noticing the amendments.

When the bank filed a lawsuit against the for unpaid balance and related fees, the court ruled in the man’s favor, requiring him only to pay the balance on the card, not the extra fees.

#8 April souls

Many corporations participate in attempts to be the most creative and shocking in their April Fool’s Day pranks, but GameStation went all the way into their terms of service to do their deed. 7,500 people who placed an order on the website on April 1, 2010 agreed:

“…to grant Us a non-transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorized minions.”

Only 12 percent of purchasers saw the clause and clicked the option to “nullify soul transfer,” after which GS rewarded them with a coupon. After the holiday was over, GameStation graciously relinquished their rights to the souls.

#9 Consideration clause

When one antivirus software company wanted to see just how many people would pay attention to their EULA, they hid in the text the promise of a $1,000 reward for the first person who actually read the statement in their terms. PC Pitstop waited four months and facilitated more than 3,000 downloads before someone finally wrote in after noticing the clause and claimed their reward.

#10 Herod clause

Back in 2014, to truly illustrate the dangers of public Wi-Fi use, European law enforcement agency Europol decided to include a chilling “Herod clause”. The free Wi-Fi was provided only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first-born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people agreed to the terms to sign up for the free network. F-Secure, the sponsoring firm for the experiment, assured that it would not try to enforce the clause.

Still, it would seem that the experiment illustrated its point well.

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What are the funniest clauses you’ve seen—or used yourselves? Tell us about it in the comments!

Guide to better legal writing

About the Author

Lindsey Dean is the Content Marketing Manager for One Legal where she is fueled by coffee, tea, and food for the imagination.

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