We're not sure what in house lawyer drafted the new terms of service for Amazon's Lumberyard product, but we like their style. Amazon's Lumberyard is a free game engine that gives designers a host of orc-killing, mine-crafting, princess-in-the-castle-freeing tools, should they agree to some simple terms of service.
And those terms include a hidden zombie clause, relaxing restrictions on Lumberyard should the world be overrun by brain-eating reanimated corpses.
In Case of Zombie Attack, Gamify Nuclear Reactors
Tucked into the terms of service of Amazon's Web Services, following information on operating restrictions, licensing, and registration, is item 57.10, "Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems." That item reasonably prohibits systems made with Lumberyard from being used to operate medical equipment, manned spacecraft, or nuclear facilities, among other "life-critical or safety-critical systems."
Lumberjack, after all, is just for games.
But the prohibition is not universal:
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.
But don't think that a zombie apocalypse is suddenly a free-for-all. The terms won't be waived if the zombie apocalypse is merely bacterial in origin, for example, or if causes a lust for bone, not brains, or if the CDC is overwhelmed before being able to certify the outbreak or establish a successor agency.
Someone Read the Terms of Service!
What's really surprising here is not the zombie clause itself, but that it was ever discovered. The idea that anyone reads the terms of service is widely acknowledged to be one of the biggest lies on the Internet.
Most terms of service and end user licensing agreements are too legalistic and, frankly, too complexly written, for the average consumer to understand them. A 2014 study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that many websites' terms of service had a readability score of 14.8 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, or best-suited for a reasonably smart college sophomore. (Amazon's 26,542-word AWS terms are a bit easier, with a score of 10.2, appropriate for a high school sophomore.)
Indeed, terms of service are so widely ignored that Easter eggs like Amazon's are, if not normal practice, not wholly uncommon. In 2004, PC Pitstop's license agreement included an offer of $1,000 for the first person who emailed the company at a specific address. It took five months for anyone to collect.
In 2010, Gamestation released an April Fool's version of its terms of service under which users agreed to grant to company "a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul," unless they clicked a specific link. Despite 7,500 sales that day, the link went unclicked.
And finally, there's the Herod Clause. Internet security expert Mikko Hyppönen once set up a free WiFi hotspot whose terms required users to "agree to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity." Six people did.
In comparison to all that free money, soul trafficking, and child sales, Amazon's zombie apocalypse clause almost seems kind of boring.
- If Zombies Attack, Ignore Amazon's New Terms of Service (Wall Street Journal)
- Don't Have Time to Read the Terms of Service? Here's a Tip (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Microsoft, Outlook Terms of Service Translated (FindLaw's Technologist)
- GoDaddy's User Agreement Takes a Hit in Court (FindLaw's Technologist)