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My Doctor's Office Asked Me To Lie (stallman.org)
524 points by gulbrandr 1603 days ago | hide | past | web | 230 comments | favorite

Could you imagine at the extremes if you had been refused treatment because of your refusal to sign this document, to which you knew to be untrue, and to which they could not provide you with the policy. I studied law for four years (haven't qualified) , but I'm still not even sure on the liability on this one (if there is any at all in this hypothetical).

It just shows how bureaucratic everything has become when a privacy policy contains 3000 pages, to which they clearly never refer to, and to which you are most likely the first person to have ever asked to actually see the policy.

Best wishes with your health Richard!

Additionally, what about the fact that if the woman knew the Privacy Policy was 3000 pages and in a binder (which she claimed to be aware of) and knowingly accepts a statement she strongly believes to be untrue? Is this enough to invalidate the "contract" because it is blatantly known that full disclosure and meeting of the minds has not been met?

This also comes to mind during mortgages and car loans. Often the closer will just hand you a stack of papers and say "you need to initial here, here, and here, sign here, here, and here" and then expect/anticipate the person to do just that without reading the agreement. The closer ought to know that the signer has not actually read the document and therefore the initials and signatures don't represent what they are meant to represent... that the person has READ the whole thing and mindfully agreed to it! Agh!

I the first time I closed on a house, realizing ten minutes in that either I was going to be signing contracts without reading them, or everyone was going to be sitting around watching me read for three hours. There's a lot of pressure in a situation like that, even though I try never to sign anything without reading it.

Did you have a lawyer to represent you? That's their job... to make sure that the contract you're signing is OK. Actually reading a contract without knowledge of the law, case history, and background can get you into just as much trouble as not reading it at all. That's why you have lawyers review important contracts.

The first time I rented a car, I spent 10 minutes reading the rental agreement. I don't do that any more; I just glance at it and sign it.

I am not a lawyer. Suppose a rental car matter ended up court. I would rather not have to say to the judge, "I spent 10 minutes thoughtfully reading and evaluating the contract, and after careful consideration decided to accept the agreement." I would rather be able to say, "Gee, it was printed in gray ink in tiny type on the back of the paper, and they told me to just sign here on the front to get the car. I needed the car, so I did what they told me."

I never accept the "standard contract" when it comes to employment or consulting gigs - then I always read carefully, propose alterations, and often talk to my lawyer. But if it really is a "standard contract" signed by millions (including, presumably, lots of lawyers, too) then I am inclined to balance the risks and benefits and opt for ignorance over informed consent.

I always read employment contracts before signing them, too. Last time I did this, the contract said something to the effect of, "The company can modify this agreement at any time without notifying the employee." I immediately crossed out that clause and initialed.

Does that actually work? Is it enforceable? I would imagine that if you sent back a contract with modifications for their review that they would balk at hiring or you would get involved with the lawyers who are so much better at legal negotiating than you are.

I definitely would not do that with a consulting contract. The chance that something weird would come up is generally worth it to get a good client.

> Does that actually work? Is it enforceable?

Yes, it's legal and enforceable. Your signature is on the contract that you sign, not on some mythical un-marked-up copy.

In fact, this is often a good negotiating tactic: someone hands you a contract, and they just want to get it signed. You strike out the price and write in a new price (or whatever), initial it, sign it, and hand it back.

The psychic weight is now on them - they have a SIGNED CONTRACT and all they need to do is to sign it themselves.

Taking the conceptual step backwards from a contract (albeit only signed by one party) to a contract signed by NEITHER party is a bit hard to do.

IANAL, but if you cross something out of a contract, sign it, and the counterparty also signs the contract, then the part you struck out is not part of the contract. The trick is getting the other person who's signing the contract to sign it even though you've crossed things out.

In my experience, people and organizations often purposely make their contracts over-reaching just to be on the safe side, and expect savvy customers/partners to cross those overreaching items off.

I never accept the "standard contract" when it comes to employment or consulting gigs - then I always read carefully, propose alterations, and often talk to my lawyer.

Have you ever worked at a large company? Did this work?

I feel like at large companies, this would be like trying to modify the language of a car rental agreement, and the HR rep would just be confused.


Large company. East-coast based. Where non-competes are legal and common.

Working on the left coast, I demurred.

I got the left-coast version of the contract, no non-compete.

In other circumstances, I might request a substantial portion (up to or exceeding 100% of my salary, given that actual costs typically run 140-200% of salary) for the duration of any noncompete. Consideration.

In this particular case, when the property I was working for was divested (and riffed) some time later, I has fully unencumbered. Others had noncompetes, though these were not valid in that state. I'm not aware of any action being taken on the basis of that contract, but noncompetes can and have been enforced (notably recently between Microsoft and Google trading employees back and forth).

That said, this is precisely the sort of thing a labor union or professional guild would be in a very good position to make more acceptable standard boilerplate for.

Fortunately those agreements are fairly standard between the major rental companies, so the future contracts are not going to change much. You still know general gotcha's while renting a car now.

I completely agree.

When I bought a house (and later sold it), the day before, we had the title company forward all of the documents to our lawyer to review. When he gave his okay, I felt perfectly comfortable signing multiple documents that I never read.

For something like that, it's important to have someone with some knowledge go over things first. Was I really going to be in a position to slowly read over documents for 3 hours and potentially hold up closing just because I didn't understand a contract? No. So, it's best to let a lawyer do his/her job.

I remember when I bought a house I had to sign tens of such notices and notices about signing notices, etc. Worse yet, I was actually provided with all the documents I was supposed to review, and they literally were a pile several inches high. And most of it was completely 100% useless at worst and duplicating what my agent already told me about 10 times at best and what I already read about in various disclosure forms (which I had to sign too, of course). It took me hours to get through it and by the end of it my hand hurt from all signing I had to do. Some politicians did some major CYA work there, I'm sure.

It's better than not reading it, but you still don't really know what you're signing. Maybe there's some catch or you're on the hook for something and the lawyer doesn't say anything (or even notice) because it's relatively standard for that kind of contract?

Probably a better use of time and money is to have them forward the documents to you, read over them the day before and ask a lawyer if you have any questions.

Except, I'm not a lawyer... so if there is something, then I probably wouldn't catch it either. At some point, you have to trust professionals to do their job.

Buying a house is a bit different though, because you have the purchase agreement and then you have the contracts you sign at closing. We examined the purchase agreement in depth with our lawyer, since that is what sets the context for the rest of the transaction documents. However, once that was out of the way, there was no need for us to read anything - so long as our lawyer signed off on it.

It also depends on how much you trust your lawyer...

> Except, I'm not a lawyer... so if there is something, then I probably wouldn't catch it either. At some point, you have to trust professionals to do their job.

Right, which is why I suggested asking a lawyer if anything in the contract was unclear.

IMO, it seems like having the lawyer read it without reading it yourself is just deferring the decision to the lawyer. How can you convey to the lawyer what you're okay agreeing too, and what you would take issue with? What are you getting out of it above and beyond the "Everybody signs it, so it can't be too bad," approach?

What if, after signing the contract, you find out there's a clause you disagree with, but the lawyer tells you, "Oh, I didn't think you'd mind because that clause is in all of the contracts like this and everybody else is always okay with it."

Maybe it really just depends on how well a person knows and trusts their lawyer?

If your lawyer misses something that does material affect you it is considered legal malpractice. Lawyers can and have been sued over this.

Legalese might hide problematic things without your knowing about it. It may very well take a lawyer to spot those issues in the first place, lines which you might gloss over as harmless.

Having your lawyer read something is no excuse for not also reading it yourself.

This has to be one of the most exploited (mis?)conceptions of the 21st century. Doctors, employers, websites, software plugins, account agreements, almost everything with which one interacts in the normal course of a modern life has a massive privacy statement that, using the unnatural jargon of the law as a gate, makes unreasonable statements which destroy the rights of the consumer and create rights for the provider. I recall a recent trip to the eye doctor where the standard document made the statement that I pre-consent to any and all treatment that the doctor orders and pre-agree to be financially responsible for all such treatments in case my insurance does not pay. My guess is that most of us have inadvertently pre-consented our finances and other aspects of our lives to various companies via these statements buried within the haystack of legalese that must be "signed" in order to operate a 21st century life.

I've walked from doctors offices when faced with similar waivers: pre-auth, non-disparagement, and binding arbitration being notable red flags.

That makes about as much sense as, "Paying a developer to write your code is no excuse for not also writing it yourself."

The lawyer is a profession. His or her job is to read and review contracts, just like my job is to write code. Does your boss rewrite every line of code you write? When you take your car to a mechanic, do you insist on re-doing all of the repairs yourself? So why are you insisting on rereading contracts that your lawyer has already reviewed?

The lawyer's job is to prevent legal mistakes, not business mistakes. Only you can look after your business interests.

Well, right, but that's no justification for repeating the lawyer's work. That's an argument for making your business requirements clear to the lawyer.

It's the same argument for both law and programming. Badly communicated requirements yield bad results.

You may find it difficult to convey your needs in enough detail for a small contract review.

If course we're supposed to read it but in some situations it's not realistic. Buying a house involves hundreds of pages. Unless you're a lawyer, the average person isn't going to recognize loopholes in the contracts. And I don't know many people who would back out on a house sale at that stage, so it's highly unlikely you'd refuse to sign. The only practical way to do that is to get an advance copy of everything.

In these cases you really do need a lawyer who you trust has read the documents and is protecting you.

I read each and every page before I purchased my home. I highlighted everything I didn't understand. Most pages looked like bumble bees. I worked questions during a 5 hour session with my realtor. For terms I now understood but didn't agree with, I had two options depending on the type of term it was:

1. Government and HOA stuff was not changing. I could accept it or walk.

2. Seller stuff could change. We made some minor requests and largely got them.


We were spending 6 figures. The quality of my work would have a major impact on my family for a long time to come. I was newly married and this was my first family related big project. I was damn sure going to understand how interest rates and loans work ("whats a point?", "fixed vs float") and what legal junk we might be getting into.

I got a chance to learn a little about real estate. When life throws you a stack of legal documents, make lemonade.

I also got to vet out the agent. I work hard and have had some business success. I figured one day it would be time for another house and it would be nice to have a long term relationship with a trusted realtor on that one too.

Core point: it is your name on the document, it is a lot of money, it impacts your feature. Exactly how lazy are you to not read it?

I wouldn't consider anyone lazy for hiring an attorney to read the fine print and summarize it, rather than reading every word. It's not a matter of laziness, it's a matter of actually protecting yourself. It doesn't hurt anything to read the documents, but it's not a substitute for actual legal counsel.

I also would not trust my real estate agent explaining the contract to me. Just like you should never go with your real estate agent recommended house inspector. Your real estate agent may be the nicest person on earth, but they have a vested interest in the deal going through. It's prudent to find your own attorney and housing inspector who are not associated with each other.

Nobody really tells you these things unfortunately and it is scary as hell making that first house purchase!

From your description it seems that nothing important came of reading the contract, it was boilerplate except for some minor points.

How much would it cost to get a lawyer to go over some contracts with you and let you know what's in there that you don't want? I imagine it depends on the type of contract, but a guess would be helpful.

Depends on where you are. In SF, you're looking at a minimum of about $200 an hour (for a fairly inexperienced lawyer, who will take longer). If you want a 10 year lawyer who actually knows what he's doing, you're looking at about $300-$600 (depending on experience, what kind of firm he's at, etc.). Lawyers don't read much faster than you would, so you can basically do the math on what to expect, based on the size of the stack of documents you want read.

If it's a three page contract, and you don't have an existing relationship with the attorney, you'll probably just be charged a flat fee of a couple hundred bucks, or nothing, depending on what sort of other business you might bring in.

In germany for certain contracts (such as buying a house or creating a LLC) it's required that a notary reads them aloud for you. That's quite a bit of fun if the contract contains annotations that make it fill a binder. There are some loopholes though: The contract may refer to another document that the notary may read to his assistant, so not everybody has to go through the whole ordeal.

Yeah we have that too in the Netherlands, at least for the important portions of the documents. The last time I closed on a house it took over two hours.

All relevant documents had been e-mailed to us beforehand but you still cannot ask them to skip the reading. Being too careful can be annoying too.

Idle curiosity makes me wonder if this applies when the purchaser is deaf. I'm going to predict the answer is "yes."

I'd take annoying over being effed up anytime. You can't ever be too cautious in legal matters.

Seems like that could leave a nice side effect of shortening contracts.

In Germany, the stronghold of bureaucracy? You wish.

I recently closed on a house in Ohio. At closing, the notary verbally summarized every contract we signed. I'm not sure if it was legally required (I believe he stated it was) but I also took the time to read them. Most of them were copies of contracts I had already signed with the realtor / mortgage company at offer / mortgage application, so nothing was particularly surprising.

Further, at offer time, the realtor read aloud every contract and answered questions we had about them. I don't feel that they tried to pull the wool over my eyes at any point. Perhaps it's different with other realtors?

I subscribe to the 'when you're in a bank, read everything, even if it takes four hours' theory. The last time I set up a really simple business chequing account, the account manager:

- spelled my name wrong - spelled the company name wrong - claimed that I was an electrician - listed my job title as 'oner'

None of these are terribly material errors, but they demonstrate just how frequently errors occur in financial documents. Frankly, it makes me queasy to imagine all the errors that could pop up in a mortgage document...

"listed my job title as 'oner'"

An obvious construction error. Just as one who plays piano isn't called a "pianoer", the account manager must have meant "onanist". Did you finally strike him in the face with your gloves?

And you still opened an account at that same bank?!

Those retail bankers are like store clerks, not paid that well.

Yup. When I closed on my home I had to figure out to handle that too. It blows the minds of the people in the room away if you sit there and read over the thing... and then ask questions for clarifications. It also [sometimes can] pisses them off cause they plan on 15 to 30 minutes for closing... so if you take your time and go over it ask questions it throws their whole schedule off. When I refinanced the credit union was smart enough to send copies of what I would be signing ahead of time so I could read over it and ask any questions prior to the ceremony of signing it in front of the notary public.

Ask for the documents in advance. Tell the title agency that if you don't get copies in advance you'll happily sit in the room and read them all at closing. Call them a few times to remind them that your are "Really looking forward to reading every word of those contracts". They want deals to close smoothly and will provide you with the documents.

I sat through some classes on how title companies worked, and the closer (the person at the title company who manages the entire process) refers to you as a "reader." Somewhat unusual, but not that uncommon. (I was a reader when I bought my house years ago.) RESPA requires that all significant costs be listed on a sheet available 24 hours before closing, and you can press your rights on that, though it may delay your closing by one day. That gives you the time to read all the documents before everyone collects in person. And everyone does not need to be in the same room at the same time, of course. Closing documents may be FEDEXed around the world, if necessary, and some real estate investing dual closings (flips) very much depend on everyone NOT seeing all the documents.

I usually ask beforehand for a copy of anything I'm expected to sign. If the other party refuses, I have no qualms with sitting, reading and inquiring as long as necessary.

I took my time during the only closing I've been part of. Every time I worked with my bank, I'd find some small but meaningful mistake in the paperwork. So I didn't trust that closing documents would all be correct. The funny thing is, nobody seemed to mind because they seemed amused to have someone finally reading through the paperwork and asking interesting questions.

By all means read the documents that are actually contracts.

But those are only a few pages. The rest of the documents you have to sign when closing a real estate purchase are mostly boilerplate disclosures about mold, asbestos, flood zones, penalties for fraud, etc ad nauseum. Anything that's actually important in the disclosures you'll already know about if you did your pre-purchase investigation properly. So there's no point in wasting time reading those disclosures in detail during the closing.

Sadly enough, professional negotiators regularly leverage social pressure on people who don't negotiate professionally.

It's effective precisely because you don't expect it to be used as a weapon against you.

That's why I asked them to send me the documents ahead of time. I spent the night before signing reading all the documents.

They said I was the first person to ever ask. :/

When we closed our house we not only read through the entire stack of mortgage papers, we had a several hour session where the escrow representative went line by line and explained everything to us. It is always good to understand what you are signing, especially a 30 year mortgage contract. However many of the statements we signed very worded in a way that a lawyer can interpret it in any way so the liability falls on us!

Just let them know in advance, they'll either send them to you before, or schedule time for you to read them while they are doing other things.

Since it's big money that I would be on the hook for, you bet I make them wait while I read the contract front to back. Yes, it annoys the escrow officer, but too bad.

When I bought a car, I read mine and they weren't surprised or upset. They patiently waited while I read it and initialed that I had done so.

Yeah, car loan signing wasn't as bad and the bank and credit union folks I've dealt with were surprisingly patient... they are surprised when people actually read the agreements though... I think it makes them feel better knowing the person is actually reading what they are agreeing to. Also car loans are many times less complex and have less paperwork than mortgages (thanks in part to all the additional paperwork and contract(s) needed in order to prep the mortgage so that it can be sold to fannie/freddie).

The worst experience I've had with this sort of thing is under release from jail. I've been arrested 3 times for civil disobedience actions and each time on my way out the officer on duty told me to sign some papers indicating the conditions of my release, that I've received all my property, etc. Each time, when I began to read the papers before signing them, they've told me if I don't sign them without reading them, they would put me back in my cell and hold me at least another few hours.

After my first arrest, they would not release me until I signed a paper saying that I received all my property but would not let me inspect my property first. They put my bag of property on the floor across the room and said I could stand about ten feet away from the bag to look at it. Needless to say, once I actually received my bag, I found that there was property missing. Nothing of great value (a hat, a bandana), but it was still pretty irritating.

> Each time, when I began to read the papers before signing them, they've told me if I don't sign them without reading them, they would put me back in my cell and hold me at least another few hours.

Wouldn't that the document since it was signed under duress?

Yes, but who are you going to complain to? The very same cops that just broke the law?

Or maybe he should go through the legal system? He'll spend more money fighting it than anything he lost is worth. And it'll make his life a lot harder.

I'd love to see him fight it, but I certainly don't look down on him for not.

Yea. So, I should be clear that each time I signed the documents despite not having read them first. I did not pursue any legal action mostly because I did not have much tangible cost associated with the threats. Perhaps had I refused to sign without reading and they actually did hold me longer I would have some sort of case, but even then, what value will a court assign to 4 hours of my life? Police seem to have a lot of leeway to make your life difficult without much recourse.

If there's one thing I've learned about the legal system from my arrest and court experiences, it's that just because the police do something wrong does not mean that you can stop them from doing it. People don't get their miranda read, they don't get to make a phone call to let anyone know where they are, they don't get their medication, they don't get a meal in line with their religious or dietary restrictions, they don't get a clean bathroom, and they certainly don't get treated with any modicum of decency. Well, it's not really anything you can prove and even if you could a judge won't care much because it's hard to assess damages for intangibles like that and the public won't care much because you broke the law and deserve what you get. It's a pretty fucked system.

Considering he got into the situation by doing the exact behavior you are doubting, maybe he would actually be interested.

The guy I was talking to was amused when I actually read what I was signing while purchasing my car. It asked me to sign saying I had received something, which was going to be printed next. He said I was the first person to refuse to initial/sign the paper until I had seen the next item on the list.

Also, what common binder can hold 3000 pages?

3000 is not the literal number, it just means "A lot" of pages.

I've actually been denied treatment for exactly this reason.

The privacy policy wasn't 3000 pages. Either Stallman didn't remember the story correctly, or more likely the receptionist was just making up a number to scare him off pursuing the issue. Even the thickest novels don't make it to 3000 pages; very few make it to 1000.

Hell, I'd be surprised if the privacy policy hit 3 pages.

I think you're nit picking and not focusing on the point. Regardless of the length (the lady either knew or didn't know how long the thing was) she didn't have it nor did she provide it to the gentleman to read. The office was still asking him to lie by requiring him to state he received and read something he obviously didn't receive nor read.

I'm inclined to believe this is a outlier to what normally happens and we're getting outraged over a mistake.

Every time I've visited my hospital for something, the privacy policy was printed on a small brochure and handed to me along with the signature form.

Same. I've been to multiple doctors, and each time, the "privacy policy" (either a HIPAA form or something similar) was included on the paper I was signing.

That's not to say Stallman's experience did not happen, but it is certainly not the norm.

That small brochure was only a subset of their privacy policy. The actual policy could not possible fit onto a brochure and as the OP said the form he was signing had a summary of the policy which is similar to your brochure.

Agreed, the story doesn't make sense and seems false.

Given that the two of you are talking of this 3000-page policy as if it's real, it's definitely on-topic to reveal that it isn't. Condoning hyperbole is never good, but it is ironic to do so in the course of condemning unnecessary beaurocracy.

If you want to fix things, seek the truth before making decisions on obvious falsities.

Whats truth is that he was asked to sign on a document that said he agreed to clauses, he never read. And could be denied treatment for not lying.

Whether those clauses are 3000 pages long or 3 pages long isn't much of a concern here.

Stallmsn didn't say it was 3000 pages long.

He did, in relating 'the story' on his website, which is why I phrased it that way.

No, he said that he was told that it was 3000 pages long, but never saw it, which was the point.

I wish the downmod brigade would actually read what I wrote. I'm not calling Stallman a liar. I'm saying he may have made a mistake in telling the story. It happens. I also said that it was more likely that the receptionist made up the number to scare him off.

If you read an article, the author is responsible for putting the words in it, whatever the original source is. The author can make mistakes, because authors are human. I'm just saying that it's a possibility he misquoted the number in his article, a possibility I stated to be less likely than other other source I suggested.

I understand the point of the article. I was responding to a couple of comments that were acting like this 3000-word thing was real, when it clearly isn't, and drawing conclusions about how crazy beaurocracy has become that documents get so long.

Yes but you specifically suggested Stallmsn was mistaken for saying something he didn't say. If you want to be pedantic, be correct.

Can you please quote me the line where I specifically say that? I said he might have made a mistake in the retelling of 'the story', not that he was the actor that said it was 3000 pages long.

"The privacy policy wasn't 3000 pages. Either Stallman didn't remember the story correctly…"

So if he was incorrect, about what was he incorrect? Nowhere does he say the document was 3000 pages long, he says he was told it was 3000 pages long (he may have been be embellishing, the person he was quoting may have been exaggerating, but he was not incorrectly stating the document to have been 3000 pages.

Yay, I finally didn't mistype his name.

After multiple clarifications, you are still misreading me. I specified that I did not say Stallman was the actor in the story that stated -foo-, but that he is retelling a story in which he recounts the words of others, who did state -foo-.

I don't know how to make it clearer to you - even the snippet you quote is my words talking about him possibly not recalling the story quite right. I'm not saying he stated it was 3k words, but that it's possible that his recounting of another person's words might not be remembered correctly.

I have no axe to grind against Stallman, and if you look through my posting history, you'll see that there's been a few times that I've defended him against people who attack him as a figurehead rather than on the merits of what he actually said. This is partly why it's so frustrating for me to be taken out of context here and condemned for it.

I've also been misspelling bureaucracy... I thought it looked odd that way.

I suspect the "downmod brigade" read what you wrote, and is trying to silence the needless nitpicking on the alleged page count of the policy document that no one has seen. What if he had said "5", would that have changed the issue at all? Are you going to nit on the color of the wallpaper too?

I see you've never dealt with the government. I wouldnt be surprised if it grew a couple % each year.

What was the actual page count of the privacy policy?

I've run into the same routine with medical professionals. Also, many of these privacy notices have a clause that they can disclose your private information for certain reasons, then a list which includes "advertising and marketing" purposes with other entities. When I ask about this I am always told they would never do that, it is a standard notice and no one other than me has ever said anything. When I refuse to sign or ask to strike that part out I am told I am free to seek medical care elsewhere and signing the agreement to disclose my private medical information for marketing purposes is "a federal requirement". It's really quite disgusting and abusive.

The situation with web sites and software that have 10 to 100 page long (when printed) EULAs or Terms of Use are a similar concept. Much software these days makes you click a box saying you have read and understood a legal agreement that is far more complex than any employment or IP transfer agreement I have ever signed.

It must have gotten to the point by now that the mere length of a privacy policy, or EULA, is enough to convince the court that there effectively is no policy or no agreement, signed, seal broken or not.

Unfortunately, more recent jurisprudence in the U.S. has been chipping away at the scrutiny given to contracts of adhesion. In overturning a California Supreme Court decision that greatly restricted arbitration agreements when they were made in the form of contracts of adhesion, Scalia (writing for the court) noted that "the times in which consumer contracts were anything other than adhesive are long past", so California's rule being limited to contracts of adhesion was in practice so broad that it invalidated most arbitration agreements, and therefore interfered with the Federal Arbitration Act (AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 2011).

Thanks for the link, learned something today, "Contracts of Adhesion"

Either way because it's a License and not a Contract, by default you have no rights to use the software.

I'm not aware of the current state of the law regarding software, but the interpretation of copyright that requires a license before the work can even be used for its intended purpose strikes me as unproductive and counterintuitive. What is the point of all the law surrounding authorized distribution if distribution doesn't implicitly grant the legitimate recipient the right to use the work (e.g. book, movie, or application) as it was designed to be used?

Yes "use" is a rather sticky word. Copyright of course covers making copies, but you have to copy software to install it, and as the copy is permanent (unlike say a digital photocopier's buffer) I suspect this is a realistic interpretation. If installing did not count as copying, then I could install one piece of software on an unlimited number of machines.

On the other hand, perhaps the legal mechanism of EULAs is simply that the software won't let you use it until you click "I Agree" - but I would have thought there would be some legal basis where if you don't agree, you have no usage rights, hence it being a "license". It's murky.

I would expect copying to your own computer would fall under fair use, but that copying to a hundred computers would require a hundred purchases. A license mechanism isn't explicitly needed here.

Even installing on 2 computers would be copying 100% of the work, and harm the market for the original work, so I have a hard time seeing this as a fair use.

You bought it, so you can do whatever you want with it.

If you buy a CD, it's copyrighted, but you can still do whatever you want with it (unless what is limited by law).

Ah but that CD has a license in the sleeve... (see my above comment on copying).

No their is no federal requirement to allow personal information for marketing purposes.

A doctor friend mentioned that even if the patient agreement allows "advertising and marketing", a medical practice still has limits on what they can do before the Medical Board would pull their license, or potentially feds busting them.

My favorite by far is that every policy says "we will only do X, Y, or as permitted by law", which is a wildcard that says they will do whatever they want unless it is forbidden for some other reason anyway.

These documents are not upper bound promises, they are lower bound warnings.

I recently had a similar experience at my dentist's office. I was asked to sign a waiver of liability, presumably for insurance purposes. It asked me to state that I had been informed of the risks of the procedure (tooth removal), including a long list of possible bad outcomes. I asked the dentist about this, and she said not to worry, most of those couldn't happen here. So I asked her to please strike the ones that couldn't happen, and explain the likelihood of the other complications, as her own document required her to do. After disgustedly doing this, and spending another 20 minutes fulfilling the other requirements of the document she wanted me to sign, she poked a needle in my mouth, yanked my tooth out, and walked away without saying another word.

She clearly blamed me for wasting her time, since other patients obviously sign the form and get on with it. I actually think the problem here was that the form was too short, and so I felt that I could actually reasonably go through it, as opposed to a lengthy legalistic form that I couldn't possibly be held to in court if it turned out to be unfair.

It is ill-advised to spite your dentist soon before they get to work with sharp objects inside your mouth (or anyone, really).

He didn't "spite" his dentist. He wanted her to explain the risks of the procedure - which I think is reasonable.

Maybe he didn't ask in the most tactful manner.

Sure, that's possible. But you have no evidence for it, and I find it (cough) rude to assume so, and then criticize him for it.

I merely bring up the possibility, and do not disagree with your point. I might also add that it is rude to assume the dentist acted inappropriately. In any case, we have very little information to work with.

As a rule of thumb, however, the wise one treads carefully when dealing with someone who is about to have her in a particularly vulnerable position.

What a shame.

On one hand I feel some compassion for the onerous regulations and malpractice issues that require medical practitioners to pay for very expensive legal requirements.

On the other hand, they should follow their own policies without complaint!

That dentist is an ass.

Whatever else a medical professional of that type's job is, it is public-facing. That has implications up and down their practice, but one of the most basic is that they are expected to treat patients with dignity and respect.

I grew up around the medical world, and someone who acted like her would not have a good reputation among her colleagues, and it wouldn't matter if she was a DDS, MD, APRN, RN, or what.

To be fair, she did do an excellent job pulling the tooth -- she was just frustrated at having to spend half an hour on a 3-minute procedure.

I don't know how it is in the US, but here (Greece), most people aren't aware that you can modify contracts, or even that they're binding.

I've had various people come up to me with company offers and asking me to sign things, which, after I've read, I said, for example "I'm not authorizing you to use my email to send me things, so I'll strike this clause out". People (including the person who handed me the agreement) looked at me as if I were the most pedantic person in the world, or as if I were trying to make things fall upwards.

It's very disconcerting, because nearly everyone treats contracts as a "take it or leave it" affair. Sure, when you're getting a new phone, the employee doesn't have the power to agree to alter the contract, but in many cases you can do it.

"... so I'll strike this clause out"

Unfortunately, this option is taken away from us in online transactions. There is no legally binding way to change the text of the contract, and you are even forced to tick these "I accept the terms of ..." check boxes before proceeding.

I edit online contracts this way all the time. Right-click in Chrome, "Inspect Element", right-click, "Edit element as HTML".

I'd like to see someone argue that in court.

It's come up on This Week in Law. Someone was sending back a modified EULA in the POST data.

The lawyers on the show mainly thought it was cute and not something that would be recognized in court.

Sure. My thought is that, if it won't be recognized in court, probably neither will the "I accept" checkbox.

I've implemented electronic signatures before and what I like to do is have the browser submit the agreement back to the server and the server rejects it if it's been altered.

That seems reasonable.

While the doctor's office may have been the proximate agent asking him to 'lie', the true culprit is the incomprehensible, self-contradictory system that elected and unelected bureaucrats in the US have cobbled together over the decades. If the doctor doesn't maintain that privacy paperwork (which as rms noted the police can view at will anyway), they will not receive reimbursement from CMS. There are likely other statutory issues with HIPAA that I'm unfamiliar with. It's difficult to fault them for not wasting their limited time/money resisting the paperwork requirements when it would only detract from patient care resources.

If he were actually In Extremis, the physician/nurse/EMS would treat him under implied consent. Technically a patient of sound mind can refuse care but in practice someone who looks like rms (beard discrimination) ranting about his privacy would rather quickly be hit with a B52 (50mg Benadryl, 5mg Haldol, 2mg Ativan). Emergency providers are in a bit of a quandary as they must choose between the possibility of missing a subdural hematoma on a patient refusing care and facing a wrongful death lawsuit, and facing a lawsuit for unlawful imprisonment and assault.

Note that the article is from 2011 (August 1 if you believe the headers). No direct relation to the "rms collapsed" story posted yesterday.

Yeah. As it says on the bottom, "Copyright 2011 Richard Stallman released under Creative Commons Attribution Noderivs 3.0 unported".

It's a surprising statement for many reasons. First, I have traditionally thought of CC as somehow opposed to GNU, but here's Stallman releasing with CC. Second, it's a 2011 document -- had he not been to a doctor prior to 2011? unlikely, so maybe he just never noticed what he was signing?

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the "noderivs" part. One important text -- the GPL -- is also released as copyrighted, to discourage people from modifying the GPL in their COPYING documents in their repositories. But CC Noderivs prohibits any modification of this little snippet. I thought the whole point of free software was modifiability -- but Stallman doesn't think that this applies to free art? Meanwhile, it is not released as share-alike, which is the CC license which "copylefts" the work in the way that the GNU GPL acts to copyleft software.

Stallman's mentioned at various times that he doesn't think modifiability is nearly as important for expressive type works. He has a very user-centric view on why software (and hardware) should be free, basically that users should be able to modify their own devices and share the modifications, or at least pay someone to make the modifications for them, as part of the right to fully use/customize/control your own computational environment.

Being able to modify and distribute copies of Stallman's 2011 narrative account of a doctor's visit doesn't seem (to me, at least) to implicate a similar right-to-your-own-devices rationale. Reuse in the artistic domain is more of a "remix culture" type of thing, which I think Stallman is sympathetic to, but it's not his core interest.

I suppose people tend to think of rms as an idea more than a person, almost -- someone who adheres to a small set of principles with complete disregard for practicality or anything else.

It's not true, though -- and this shouldn't be surprising. A short blog post is not at all the same as software, and so it's pretty normal that he'd treat it differently.

One obvious reason -- to get his views out, and to gain respect from people who don't know him, it helps for them to encounter him making intelligent comments on related issues. If he lets others republish his posts and essays (statements of opinion, mind you, not software or documentation) without attribution and/or edited, he loses that chance with no gain in exchange.


He releases his books under GNU FDL, so they can be remixed. But I assume he doesn't want people changing his blog posts. Makes sense to me.

I think there's a fundamental difference, too. His books are fiction. (Or fact. I dunno, I didn't read them.) His blog posts are his personal opinion. I would definitely treat their contents differently.

The noderivs clause is similar to the case of invariant sections in the GFDL. Stallman is quite consistent in considering that his writings do not need to be free.

What's really the problem with this situation is that it's really hard to point a finger to a single culprit in the system thereby pointing to a way to solve the problem. That's why it's a wicked problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem)

* The doctors cannot be blamed because they want to protect themselves (e.g. see the insane amounts of insurance required to practice medicine in the US to guard against suing by patients) and "the system" forces them to create such documents and have them signed.

* The patients cannot be blamed because, well, you don't want to sign your consent to a document that you haven't read and that may (and will) contain clauses that are clearly adversarial to you. But the issue is not just having access to the document, 99% of the people won't have the knowledge, let alone the patience, to parse such a legal document.

* The politicians are not to blame because they are just bowing to public pressure (and of course powerful lobbies) and many of these laws and practices are one way rachet-up, i.e. they can never be loosened (see, e.g. the overly strict sex laws in the US).

* The lawyers are not to blame because they are just being employed by people, i.e. they are not evil by themselves but may be put to evil use (similar to "guns don't kill people" defense).

For a recent example of suing madness (in a slightly different area) in the US consider that Nutella was sued and was fined $3.6M just because people couldn't read the clear nutritional sign (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/02/10/133565759/a-mom-s...).

I don't know what the solution is. But the US healthcare industry is converging to disaster if we don't solve problems like this.

One solution might be to create a small number of standard documents. Then trusted experts could certify a few (like the UL seal of approval on electronics), and people could just ask the receptionist if their document has such an endorsement.

Another would be to create a consumer protection law that prohibits doctors' offices from doing certain things even if patients explicitly signed those rights away.

I believe there are already standard documents, e.g. the huge binder the receptionist was referring to in the OP certified by a few "trusted experts", i.e. lawyers. The question is by whom are these experts trusted, which in practice means who employs them. How would people get a list of these experts (government intervention?)

Mostly agree. Except, the politicians ARE to blame! We need spined, "sensical" statesmen leading our government to workable solutions, not self-fish, egotistical wimps working towards "getting the meanest/loudest 'animal(s)' off our backs and getting re-elected".

Tort reform is where I would start if I was working towards a solution. Tort reform is often not done because 90% (pulled from the air based on recollections of other vague memories of articles and statistics) of politicians are lawyers! This is also why I laws are so horrifically written with legalese making it next to impossible for a layman to understand. Returning to Common Law (over statutory laws) and trials with citizen juries would do wonders for dispensing "justice" the way "the people" see right and fit.

Tort reform hasn't materialized very many benefits in the States where it's been attempted. I'm afraid it's a starting point at best [1].

And desiring simple laws that people can read and understand is like desiring simple code that people can read and understand. Sure, there's lots of code out there written with bad practices, acquiring years of cruft and in need of some refactoring, but there's also massive amounts of code that simply cannot be reduced to a 'simple' state. Some problems are complex and navigating them requires precise attention to numerous details.

So it is with law. Some things can certainly be simplified. But the process of simplifying does not guarantee a simple result.

[1] and a heavily politicized one, at that. What many advocate when they say 'tort reform' isn't a shift toward simplicity and fairness but a shift past perverse incentives to litigate and to a perverse disincentive to even pursue litigation. That is: instead of protecting, say, doctors from frivolous claims, it makes it increasingly difficult to sue doctors with even valid claims. And that's no better a situation from the neutral point of view.

This is an excellent point! "Make things as simple as possible but not any simpler" The solution is not try to keep the current situation and try to simplify (or translate into simple English) the legal contracts, which is pretty much impossible, but change, to the extent possible, the need for complexity.

"Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it" In the OP, rms is taking the pragmatist approach and is willing to suffer the complexity, i.e. reading the huge binder if it could've been found. The solution is to reduce the need for doctors to hide behind such high legal walls.

You are, of course, right but up to a point: I believe in situations where politicians are widely blamed, the real problem lies elsewhere (typical example: EU economic crises). Politicians are trying to operate under many different constraints, economic, populist, etc., some do a better job than others.

In order to break the chicken and egg problem, a more effective way, I think, is to inform the public. For example, in this case how many people have even thought about what that consent signature means (I signed a form like that just yesterday) but if the consequences are made widely known than the public may pressurize the politicians to make changes. Nothing gets the attention of those guys as public opinion.

Agreed. Our education system, K-12, is abysmal. We need to be teaching general law and legal issues to all people 16 and older! How many people understand the different law domains (natural, common, statutory, civil, criminal, etc..) and their orders of application?

Additionally if the organizations obtaining signatures knew the people signing them knew the law and what's binding, they might actually ensure that things are done correctly and mindfully since the odds of a signature (and contract) being challenged is greatly increased.

> Nutella was sued and was fined $3.6M just because people couldn't read the clear nutritional sign

Did you even read the article? It clearly says that Nutella was sued because it had misleading advertising, saying/implying that it was healthy, when in reality it contains a lot of sugar.

I know that Coca-Cola is bad for your health (it's pretty obvious that any sweet drink is bad for your teeth and makes you fat and probably not any less thirsty). But I would still want the company fined if it advertised Coca-Cola drink as being healthy.

All advertising is misleading in a sense, the question is where to draw the line: the legal complaint (http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/02/Nutella.pdf) states that the moms were duped because they saw TV commercials that showed moms feeding Nutella to their healthy families. Although I think the ""An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast." label should be removed from Nuteall jars (which'll be done, http://commonlaw.findlaw.com/2012/05/nutella-lawsuit-company...) I don't the millions of dollars awarded (I misstated this, actually it was $3.06M) makes sense, but then I'm no lawyer.

BTW, you can go to this site (https://nutellaclassactionsettlement.com/FrequentlyAskedQues...) and claim up to $20 if you've bought Nutella, no receipts asked (until the allocated $2.5M runs out).

In the time period listed I've bought WAY more than 5 jars of Nutella, but I don't honestly think that I bought it thinking "Hey this is healthy!".

> What's really the problem with this situation is that it's really hard to point a finger to a single culprit in the system thereby pointing to a way to solve the problem.

Couldn't this have been solved by simply having a copy of the privacy policy available in the sign-in area for the patient to read?

I don't think so. As others have stated, perusing dense legal documents while people are waiting for you just doesn't work. Even if we remove the time constraint, many people wouldn't be able to understand the legalese.

It's not exactly an isolated case. When I turned 18 I was presented with the same document. To my mother's dismay, I pointed out the flaws and then marked in the necessary negatives in pen to render the document useless before signing it. Since the other party (a member with legal power at the clinic) did not sign after me, I'm not sure the form is actually binding on either of us. Could somebody clarify what precedent holds in the case of a single party signing a contract and having it accepted but not signed by the other?

EDIT: It occurs to me that I should mention that there is no place for the other party to sign on the document in the first place. There may have been a photocopied signature already on the form.

I doubt that these documents are contracts. They aren't intended to create a legal obligation on the part of either party but rather are intended to be evidentiary documents to prove that the privacy policy was disclosed to the patient and the patient told the doctor's office that he understood it.

Your signature on the document is there to refute any future claim you might make that you were not presented with the privacy information.

I'm assuming the privacy form is a separate document. If it is part of a larger document then perhaps that document also includes elements that make it a contract. In that case the lack of signature on their end is probably not a problem.

It's a common belief that contracts must be in writing and signed. In fact only certain kinds of contract must be in writing and signed (the biggies are contracts that cannot be performed within one year, contracts that transfer interests in land, and contracts for the sale of goods for $500 or more).

Otherwise, all you need is for both parties to have agreed on the terms of the contract and a thing called "consideration". Consideration is a subtle and elusive concept but roughly it means each person obligated under the contract is getting something valuable in exchange for taking on the contractual obligation.

If both parties agree to something and both uphold their end of the bargain then it doesn't really matter whether or not they actually managed to form a legally enforceable contract. That only matters if something goes wrong and one or more parties want to use the courts to enforce the contract or win damages for breach of contract.

If you have to sue someone over a contract you'll have to prove that there actually was a contract formed with them. That will be a lot easier if the contract was in writing and you had them sign it.

Thanks for the information! I doubt it will come to a confrontation, but it's been an itch I couldn't scratch for almost a year now pondering the implications.

You can agree to something through your actions regardless of whether you've signed something. If you are presented with a contract, don't raise any objections but don't sign it but then both parties act as if they'd accepted it (for instance you pay some money, they give you a thing), then it's likely that you'll both be deemed to be bound by the contract.

In this instance by presenting you with the form they likely legally signified their willingness to enter into the agreement.


My old employer had a "non-compete" contract they wanted new hires to sign along with the rest of the employment contracts. The stipulations were basically that you couldn't work for any competitor within a year of leaving employment with them.

I disagreed with it on principle and signed the rest of the paperwork, but not that one, and no one ever mentioned it.

Now you're saying that I am bound by a contract I did not accept? How's that make sense? What about Kevin Smith at Paisley Park?

Standard, IANAL and TINLA, plus things will depend on where you are.

But my guess is that probably no - you signed everything else but not that - that's not acting as if you agreed to something, that's acting in a way that differentiates that document.

Had you signed nothing (that is treated everything the same) but carried out your duties, accepted pay and so on then you're more likely to have been bound by it along with everything else.

Ideally of course you would have stated clearly that you weren't signing it - it's still a bit ambiguous - though the overriding thing is that it's normally too expensive and too much effort for companies to enforce them anyway, especially if there is ambiguity.

Worth noting that in a lot of countries (for instance the UK and I believe the EU generally), non-compete clauses, certainly the generic sweeping ones, usually aren't binding as they're a restraint of trade and therefore violate competition law.

There usually is no need for them to sign it. They offer, you accept (with your signature as evidence), which is the essence of a contract. There is no need for them to "accept your acceptance".

As you changed the document, it may or may not be binding. Effectively you offered them new terms, and I wouldn't like to speculate as to if they accepted them (e.g. by treating you).

They need to accept the changes, if any. The lack of a place for them to sign is proof that they intended for it to be signed as-is, or not at all.

Contracts aren't valid unless both parties have accepted them. The doctor's office can't accept a contract they haven't read yet, and any changes to a contract make it a new contract.

If they go ahead and treat him and their policy is only to treat patients who've signed it that's likely to be acceptance by action.

That's true. But either way, they didn't get permission to use the data for marketing. And that's what that slip is really about.

I know such precedent exists in cases like this where you are to sign a non-negotiable contract. This is why most EULA's are largely worthless especially when it comes to standard retail software.

I find arguing with the functionaries at the desk is ineffective, however since they are simply 'doing what they are told' they will often do what you tell them too. I signed a privacy policy where it stipulated the company would pay me $5,000 for each occurrence that it shared any of my information.

It went like this:

Receptionist: "You need to sign this privacy consent form."

Me: "I don't agree with that form so I won't sign it."

Receptionist: "Well if you don't sign it we can't help you."

Me: "Ok, how about this, give me another copy, I'll just mark it up a bit and we can both sign it, ok?"

Receptionist: "Uh, I guess so."

...I take the form, add various and sundry financial obligations, and restrictions on what they can do with my data, add a line at the bottom "representative date"....

Take it back to the receptionist.

Me: "Ok put your initials here, here, and here and sign at the bottom."

Receptionist: "Uh, ok."

Me: "Both copies, thanks."

I then asked on the way out where their legal office was. And and gave them one of the signed copies. The last I saw was that receptionist looking at their marked up form with a very puzzled look. :-)

If you tested that in court you would almost certainly find that the receptionist has not been granted the authority to enter the office into legally-binding contracts.

I don't think that's so much the point, though. It's a fun "hack". And while the receptionist may not have that authority, the end result was that he also did not sign their document, so he achieved his initial goal of not signing a document he did not agree to.

They have two choices: Treat him as if he signed nothing binding at all, or accept his version of the document.


"There is no real confidentiality of medical records in the US, since the police can get them under very easy conditions."

Very true. And sometimes police can obtain information without even having to ask.

I work for a regional pharmacy outlet and it is the company policy to transmit Pseudoephedrine (PSE) Sales Log Records to the local police department every week.

After writing a memo stating customers/patients should be at least given an informed consent that the information they are required by law to provide in order to purchase PSE is then released to the local police department - an act not required by law. I was told that PSE sales information is not considered Protected Health Information under HIPAA and thus not a breach of Federal privacy law. Granted since PSE is an over-the-counter product its purchase does not technically qualify as a 'medical record'. However, because PSE is purchased 'behind-the-counter' at pharmacies in the U.S. I believe there is a reasonable expectation of privacy on the public's part in this regard.

The Board of Pharmacy in an e-mail clarification to this memo did not address HIPAA compliance but merely stated that the methamphetamine unit officers were 'approved' to receive such information and for all pharmacies to please kindly comply with their ongoing methamphetamine combating efforts.

I've taken a personal policy to comply with the company policy - having higher educational debt cheapens the price of selling one's self - but to openly share what is done with the records if asked. So far no one has ever asked me what is done with the records.

When a customer writes down his/her name and address in the log book of Customers Who Bought Meth Ingredients, I think the reasonable assumption is that this log book will be shared with law enforcement. This active - and very visible - step of recording the information makes that sharing quite likely in the customer's mind.

If this sharing were occurring based on scans of customer loyalty cards or the like, I would be more troubled.

Here(Brazil) everything seems to work like that. You sign 200 pieces of paper each day and if you'd enforce everything you agree to in just one day, the legal system would halt.

Recently I tried to purchase a small stereo, one of those tiny little ones that just play radio and a CD. They demanded that I provide full personal information in order to give me my receipt. I know that demanding personal information in order to print a receit is illegal here. So I question the attendant. She says she can only print it with that data. So before I had a stroke, and after 15 minutes of stupid arguments, I go ahead and do what Stallman did: fill it with BS and negate the "I agree" thing at the end, signed it - bought the stereo.

That movie "Brazil" with the ridiculous 26bStroke6 form is not too far from reality now that I think of it.

When everybody becomes a forced liar, it becomes easy for authentic liars to hide in the crowd.

This is why I hate the bureaucracy in my country (Brazil). There's a clear penalty for trying to do things the right way (tons of useless and expensive paperwork), and nothing happens to the crooks who take advantage of the system.

Granted, one of the reasons why there's so much bureaucracy in this country is precisely the crooks. Society tries to protect itself, goes overboard, ends up with lots of complicated rules that enables the very thing they were trying to stop in the first place.

Terry Gilliam's film: Brazil spotlights the absurdity of bureaucracy. Is Brazil renowned for theirs?

The film is named after this song:


Thanks, I somehow totally missed that!

Actually, there can be no authentic liars if everyone's a forced liar. Nor can there be truth, or communication, for that matter.

Offtopic: I liked how minimalistic the site looks, so I looked at the source - just a bunch of <p> with a h1 on top. The head was also really clean - a title, encoding, favicon and

  <link href="stallman.css" ... >
This a 404, but if you try to open /stallman.css you get http://www.stallman.org/stallman.css

Again, pretty minimal just a few rules and comments... and then this:

  This causes the entire page to be red when you click anywhere so I
  do not want it.  Not sure why we had it to begin with.
  07/26/2010 jcv
  :active {
  	color: #FF0000

This article was beautiful to read on mobile!

"How about if I add 'not' to make it a true statement?" She accepted this. So I had my appointment.

That is an elegant solution to the problem.

I was hoping he'd clarify whether he changed it to "... has not been provided to me..." or "... has !been provided to me..."

I just paid $44 to fax medical records to health insurance underwriters. The woman at the doctor's office was surprised the underwriters didn't access those records themselves. Also odd, they're also asking for all my other records for the past 5 years, when I already gave permission in a conference call for them to access those records.

Are they deliberately trying to discourage my application by burying me in expense and redundant bureaucratic busywork?

The reality is, had the privacy notice been available appropriately, and had been signed, how do you know that it is enforced? Most practices are busy and run rather chaotically to think about that. By and large most medical groups do not want to share information about their patients with people who don't need it. We don't have marketers walking into our offices asking for specific patient information. We only share it with appropriate individuals, that have been authorized by the patient or who are clearly involved in the patients care for a particular condition.

I suppose there are databases out there with diagnoses of patients and the medications they take, but there are no patient identifiers in these databases, so it's basically an anonymous batch. That kind of anonymous data is going to be important to make further advances in healthcare IT, and healthcare in general.

You don't know if it's enforced or not until something happens. At that point, you can sue them because they didn't follow the contract.

But then, that's how all contracts work.

Almost every day I agree to the terms and conditions of software that I have never read, and have no intentions of ever reading. In no way does this make it acceptable for the doctor's office to ask people to regularly agree to terms that haven't been presented with - my argument is that in this society in which we live it has become an acceptable practice to baffle the general public by dumping ridiculous amounts of legalese (with terms that are never in our favour) in front of us and making us sign it before we can use everyday services.

The worst bit about this is that most of these services then go on to take a big fat steamy dump on our personal rights and our privacy (I'm sure I don't need to give any examples here!), and there's nothing we can do because we agreed to the terms that were "clearly" laid out infront of us before we even used the service.

You should be careful just adding "not", because they can always claim they didn't notice you modified the agreement (I'm assuming no one on their staff signed or initialled your change).

Isn't the worst case that the contract is just invalid? If you made a change which they didn't see, then there's no meeting of the minds, and thus no contract. As long as you didn't need the contract anyway (it sounds like it's purely for their benefit), it's all the same.

The European custom is to ask the other party to sign on the border of the lines where changes have been made, so they cannot claim that they did not notice a change made to a canned form.

Yet, this allow the signing person to add _other_ changes once the signatures are made, but this custom is useful in the classic 80% of the times (maybe 99% in this case).

To which the reply is "That's a shame, you should train your staff".

Snappy "replies" might not hold as much weight in a legal setting as you imagine.

The writing on the paper do. If they didn't check it was unmodified and went ahead, it seems the problem is theirs.

I'm not an expert on contract law, but I'm fairly sure that one party modifying a contract without the other person's notice or consent does not make the modifications legally binding, which is why you do need to get the other party to initial changes you've made.

A contract is a physical expression legal agreement which both parties are supposed to know about, it's not a magical piece of paper which enforces whatever's written on it.

I should note that in this particular case the chances of any of this ever mattering are essentially zero. Just letting everyone know, in case they think they can go out, buy a house and move a decimal point in the sales contract while nobody's looking.

So if I don't know what's on the paper because no one has made sure that I do then I still can be upheld on what I signed but if the guy who gave me paper to sign doesn't know what's on the paper because he didn't notice my changes then he can't be liable?

You have a duty to read before you sign a contract. In this case, they can claim you tricked them into thinking you'd signed the form contract, and that they relied on that agreement when they provided you care. IANAL, but I suspect you will lose this unless you can show that the staffer accepted your changes knowingly.

I'm still not an expert on contract law, but I would suggest that yes, that's the case. The law isn't necessarily perfectly symmetric between the original text of the contract and handwritten alterations put in at the time of signing.

In 2003 I wanted to import my car from France as I was moving back to Poland. As I bought the car in France, all official paperwork I had was the French registration card and a car "cession" document. There was no price stated on the cession document.

The official at the Polish registration office gave me a photocopied Belgian registration form and told me to fill that in, fill the price and sign for the seller (in other words, forge the seller's signature).

The medical industry is in need of disruption. Has anyone played with the idea of "seeing" a doctor located in a different country using a video app? I imagine the experience would be better than what most people deal with in the states. US doctors have too much power and they take advantage of it. A remote doctor would be under more competition and be willing to provide better service.

That doctor will not be able to authorize you to purchase restricted medications they recommend, or authorize your insurance to pay for various expensive procedures and test.

Had a similar scenario happen when giving blood a couple months ago. They suggested there were closing in half an hour, but insisted that I give blood anyway. They took blood samples checking iron levels and then brought me over to a desk to sign a consent form. They promptly brought out a 200 page binder, saying I was required to read it prior to signing the form.

I opened up the binder and started to read, but quickly realized it was humanly impossible to finish it the remaining time. Several other people sat down next to me planning to give blood, signing the form without even opening the binder. I figured OK well, they aren't required to read the binder, but simply agree to the terms.

What surprised me, was that a lady taking blood, promptly walked over and said skip the binder.

I understand the desire to maximum blood taken from volunteers, but something is seriously wrong, when the people taking blood encourage and purposely take blood knowing there isn't enough time for the full required procedure to be preformed.

This is a principal reason society need effective regulation: So that one does not need a fucking lawyer for every daily transaction.

Practices (meaning behaviors, not medical offices) like this should be shut down before they ever see the light of day, and confuse, inconvenience, and compromise the safety and integrity of thousands.

You have to wonder where the "reasonable person" guidelines that most jurisprudence relies upon has to do with any of the things we sign off on today, as well as the click-through agreements.

For example, Who in the hell reads their iOS terms and conditions that they agree to in order to see what changes Apple has made this week? Every time I download a new app or grab upgrades, it seems that I have to agree to their 90 or 190(?) screen terms and conditions. It would be bad enough to read it the first time, but could you imagine re-reading it every time they sent out a new one?

I love my iPhone and I'm not about to make a moral stand by not using it or worse by reading those damned things - but they don't sit well with me.

I am routinely asked for my Social Security number by doctors and dentists, although they don't need it and really shouldn't be using it. I decline in a probably vain attempt to limit my ID theft/privacy risk, but I always feel like a loony when I do.

3,000 pages? Why would it need to be that long? Isn't that kinda extreme? I don't think any average person would even want to read that, and making a copy of that would just seem wasteful of paper... Couldn't they make it shorter?

Another theory is that the person in question had no idea what the document looked like or where to find it, and just made up the 3000 page story in a hope to scare off the person asking for it.

Reminds me of when I refinanced my mortgage... The bank sent a 100(?) page copy of the contract for my review prior to signing in front of a notary public (in their employ). When arriving at the appointment they produced their own copy that may or may not have been modified with respect to my copy, expecting me to sign in short order.

I complied but only because I was dealing with an otherwise reputable organization. It does seem like there's plenty of room for improvement in these situations.

The problem is that some of these documents try to intimidate patients by adding statements that the patient cannot sue even-though they are un-enforceable. I have also seen cases where doctors have sued patients who leave bad comments about them on websites that allow you to rate a doctor. Bogus malpractice suits are bad, but suing a patient for leaving a bad review is unbelievable.

Blaming the doctor for Government mandated privacy policies due to HIPAA is not going to fix the problem. You have your wonderful legislators and the president to thank for this mess. If you have a problem with the law complain to your representatives to change the law. Every doctor office I have been to has shown me their privacy policy and none are 3000 pages long.

If every doctor's office you've been to has been willing to show you their reasonable length privacy policy, surely we SHOULD be blaming this particular doctor's office?

Find a new doctor. I have never been to a doctor, dentist, etc., that did not have a copy of the privacy policy taped/laminated to the clipboard!!! Seriously, how hard can it be. She probably would have found the policy if Sallman had told her he was going to another doctor, and he was going to tell this doctor the reason why he left.

You haven't visited many doctors and/or have been very lucky and/or haven't been paying attention.

I was referred to a specialist this week for a new injury. The specialist's office asked me to sign several standard looking forms, one of which had almost this exact language (you agree to the terms of our privacy policy).

Then just today I was at the pharmacy and after swiping my credit card for payment I was faced with another dialog "I have read and understood the pharmacy's privacy policy"

It's not as simple as "find a new doctor." First of all, I'm on an HMO and my choices are very limited -- in most non-urban areas there may not be more than a single practice or hospital, which uses the same paperwork for all patients.

Am I supposed to put obtaining my pain medication, or potentially life-threatening care on hold while I hunt around for a new doctor? I've seen and signed similar policies while admitting my infant daughter to the ER with a 105 degree fever -- you ask how hard it can be? It is literally impossible. Obtaining health care services is not like shopping for a pair of shoes, and there are often no alternatives available.

My "Seriously, how hard can it be." comment was about clipping the privacy policy to the clipboard, not to finding a new doctor. Also, from what I can tell, Stallman lives in an urban area. My comments were directed at him.

I'm in an urban area as well. The hospital I took my daughter to was El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, for example.

It's even worse for rural people.

Stallman seems far out to me on some issues but this is one that irks me too. I'm glad he wrote the entry.

I've had job offers that had similar language. I edited the contracts to make them true, initialed the changes, and got the other party to sign next to my endorsement. Once submitted, and not disputed within 72 hours, it's valid.

RMS has Eben Moglen advising him. I trust he can handle his contracts.

I'm surprised the conversation hasn't turned towards "Terms and Conditions" of websites.

As webmasters, many of us act like stallman's doctor's office every single day. By asking clients to agree to (and making it oh so simple to skip, and oh so daunting to read) the terms of using our websites.

As a rule of thumb, I ask to see privacy policies. Usually they are not very long ( a few pages ).

Whatever happen to Social Contract? The worst thing that could ever happen in this country is if we start mistrusting established institutions.

Wait... as a geek, I enjoyed the story. If I was at the same establishment as Richard, I would be laughing my tail off!

What happens if you just sign with a fake name? Is it still binding?

They lie, you lie ..

What you write is inconsequential, it's that fact that you do that is important. If you can't write (not a big issue today, but has been not too long ago), you can sign with a X.

The signature itself doesn't carry a lot of weight. Signatures given under threat or deceit are void - which is why important stuff needs to be witnessed or notarized.

This. The name doesn't matter. The signing act is all that counts. Before literate times the illiterate would "sign" by simply marking an "X" on the signature line. If you are under duress you may certainly sign your signature as "Under Duress", if the accepting party doesn't harm you right away at least when you show up in court to dispute it your can point out you signed it as such... but you better be ready to prove and show that you legitimately where under duress or the court won't accept your claim.

That's awesome! I have also in the past just scribbled the crap out of a receipt much like a 3 year old trying to coloring a solid shape with a pen as my signature a few times. The clerks never care interesting enough. I don't think they even know that the signing act is all that's needed. I suppose when its only for a few bucks they prefer to avoid confrontation. However, according to a merchants credit card agreement, the merchant is responsible for verifying the identity of the person using the card. If they accept unauthorized payment on a card the merchant is liable and takes the loss... never let up or believe a merchant that says you have to pay for fraudulent charges.

Guess the point is deniability: you can claim that you didn't sign it..

of course you'd have to fool handwriting analysis..

Agreed. But if forced to testify in court you would commit perjury if you said you didn't sign it.

If it came out that you intentionally mislead the other person by signing [a false name] [to get out of the obligation], good luck, you're still on the hook and now have opened yourself up to potential criminal and civil fraud charges.

Don't think you can skirt not taking the stand. More than likely this will be in a civil trial and not taking the stand will be viewed by the court and jury that you are hiding something...

If you signed it, that's your mark. It doesn't matter what the mark is. That's why you can sign with an X if you can't write your name.

That would be fraud and you can go to jail for that.

When this happened to me at an urgent care clinic, I just didn't sign that form. Handed back the clipboard with the rest of the forms filled out. Either no one noticed, or they didn't care.

My doctor thinks I have high blood pressure because things like this really get under my skin. I - like Stalman - have a bad habit of arguing with the admitting nurse over stuff like this.

Very glad I'm not a pedantic extremist. Seems like a horrible life to live.

The hardest thing is picking which battles to fight. Fighting all the battles possible isn't an effective use of ones time.

If the office accepts Medicare, they are required to have those privacy notices on hand. You could definitely report them. It's a huge violation.

Doesn't this pretty much sum up all software licenses? No one reads pages and pages of text and then clicks "agree". They just click "agree".

Contracts and legal notices are like code. They spend most of their effort worrying about edge cases.

3000 pages (1500 two-sided pages) would require a ~7" thick binder. Never seen one, just saying.

So this is what the Occupy movement is so upset about!

Grimmy things happen there. They ask Doctors to lie.

Kudos to Stallman for standing up to that nonsense.

Makes perfect sense that someone who is a binary thinker wouldn't be able to see that it was fine to sign this document in this particular case.

Richard Stallman: Consummate Pain in the Dupa.

why does this have anything to do with hacknews?

People sign contracts in their daily lives and in a variety of situations. Particularly hackers who are likely to work on a contract basis.

The valuable lesson here is that one should not feel shy about calling attention to the contents of a contract nor suggesting a change.

I remember years ago I was looking for an apartment through an apartment finding service. That wanted me to sign a contract that stated I would would be "fined" if I were to rent ANY apartment outside their service. I quickly called attention to it and asked them to print out a new version. They agreed.

case study of a badly designed system

If anyone is ever wondering why nerds never rule the world, this is a perfect example of why.

Pedantry is the brakes that the universe puts on the very smart to stop them acquiring too much power.

nerds do rule the world

Not that I really disagree with you, but to wax platonic, maybe that the people who both rule the world and are nerds aren't really acting as perfect nerds as they rule the world?

Just an unneeded rant IMHO

In a practical sense, sure, people do this everyday.

In an ethical sense, it should disturb us that we are being required to lie as a matter of course to lead our everyday lives.

Interesting nonetheless. It draws some analogies with software license agreements. I start out trying to read them, but if they exceed a few paragraphs - I skip to the bottom, check the checkbox and proceed. I lie.

I guess one good thing about picking an off the shelf license to accompany software, is that at least it's probably more likely that I'll read and try to understand it.

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