Friday, June 5, 2009

Cosmic Contract Language

(Originally posted on October 29, 2009)
In Thursday's Wall Street Journal is an article about the trend of drafting contracts with cosmic language like that which was presented to a Bulgarian folk-singing group at a tryout for the TV show America's Got Talent. A clause in the contract warned that their actions that day could be "edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity."

This sort of language, relevant mainly in the context of the arts (but see the full article for an example, complete with an allusion to the Big Bang, of its use re: pickles), is apparently motivated by a desire to account for the unknown, and perhaps is reflective too of a very high confidence in the national space program. The Journal article notes that the members of the folk-singing group "briefly contemplated whether they should give away the rights of hurtling their images and voices across the galaxies forever." Then they signed the contract.

Of course professional opinions vary as to the desirability of using such cosmic (the use of 'global' doesn't seem to do justice) language in contracts. Attorney and law school lecturer Ken Adams thinks the use of such language is "silly", and suggests its use could be a way of drumming up business for lawyers. How so? "It [cosmic language] adds an aura of magic- you're dabbling in the occult and you of course need a lawyer to guide you through the mysteries."

But associate professor of law Eric Goldman has a different view. He thinks the cosmic language "could be 'a stroke of brilliant foresight.'" Goldman says in the future, folks looking at contracts drafted without cosmic language might say, "What were they thinking? Why didn't they get the Mars rights?" That would be embarrassing.

Whatever the case, this article comes a few years too late for me. I could have turned it into an entirely novel law review note: Cosmic Language in Contracts and its Ramifications, Toward a Theory of Inter-Galactic Unconscionability.

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