Warning: The following statements should not be taken as legal advice, life coaching, spiritual guidance or used as a flotation device. They are intended for humorous or entertainment purposes only, and are not intended for internal consumption. Prolonged exposure to the words on this page may result in chuckling, head-nodding, and eventual eyestrain and drowsiness. Operating heavy machinery after reading this column is not recommended, particularly if you’ve never operated heavy machinery before but always wanted to after a childhood spent playing with Tonka trucks.
Someone asked me the other day why I was not on Twitter. I joked that as a typical wordy lawyer, I didn’t know how to communicate in 140 characters or less, especially with a lawyer’s built-in need to include all kinds of disclaimers about what I’m about to say.
Whether it’s “void where prohibited,” “some restrictions may apply,” or “prolonged use may result in harmful irritation or rash,” the need to “overlawyer” something with disclaimers is everywhere.
On a children’s coloring and activity book, I recently saw the following disclaimer: “The illustrations and information contained and conveyed in this book are not intended to be exhaustive for educational purposes and are merely examples of activity to stimulate fun. Readers are advised to acquaint themselves with all the relevant facts and circumstances which may give rise to harm or loss of any nature and however arising.”
Seriously? It’s a coloring book, for crying out loud! Are they worried that a kid is going to be emotionally scarred for life after coloring a giraffe blue and finding out they don’t look that way in real life?
I prefer the legal disclaimers that have a sense of humor about them, like this one from a comedy website:
“By definition, this website presents humorous material which is outside of the mainstream. This may be offensive to some. If it offends you, too bad. Stay home. Turn off your TV, radio and computer. Read the religious book of your choosing, huddle in a ball and hear voices for all we care. You have no right not to be offended if you choose to enter this site and view the materials here.”
Sometimes humorous disclaimers come in response to stupid or oppressive laws, as in this disclaimer by Spark Networks after the state of New Jersey passed an “Internet Dating Safety Act” requiring online dating sites to disclose if they performed background checks or not:
“Thanks to the great state of New Jersey, the Garden State, Home of the Turnpike, going down to the shore, mythical home of Tony Soprano, and the only place where people greet each other with ‘Really, what exit you from?’, we are telling you, Spark Networks Limited does not conduct background checks on the individuals whose profiles can be accessed through this site. The Home of the Boss has got your back and we support them 100%! Now don’t fugetaboutit.”
And, speaking of New Jersey, what is it about particular quirks of state laws that always make one or two states the odd men out that have to be highlighted in certain disclaimers? Any kind of contest or promotion is bound to run afoul of at least one state’s laws when it comes to sweepstakes, games of chance or gambling.
For example, a recent National Geographic photo contest featured (in small print, of course) a disclaimer about those who were not eligible and where the contest was void. The prohibited locations included “Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and the states of New Jersey and Vermont.”
Are you kidding me? What did New Jersey and Vermont do to warrant being included on the “forbidden” list along with the Axis of Evil? Does Bruce Springsteen know about this?
And there are those disclaimers that keep you guessing. I saw a TV commercial for a product called “Veramyst” not long ago, and in the small print right at the end of the ad appeared the phrase “The way Veramyst works is not fully understood.”
Really? In this day and age of commercials touting FDA approvals and scientific studies, you want consumers to ingest something whose workings are “not fully understood?”
It reminds me of the old “Saturday Night Live” parody commercial for “Happy Fun Ball,” which featured some of the best disclaimers I’ve ever seen, such as “Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core, which if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at;” “Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space;” and the ominous “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball."
My favorite humorous disclaimers, though, come from Hollywood, where it seems the creative filmmaker types just can’t resist having some fun tweaking the legal disclaimers mandated by their attorneys.
Everyone has seen the anti-piracy warnings on DVDs, but you may not have known that the DVD for the movie “Borat” features the disclaimer “Selling piratings of this movie disc will result in punishment by crushing.”
The Kevin Smith film “Dogma” included a literal definition of the word “disclaimer,” along with the studio’s own musings:
“Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one’s own ass; 4) a foresaid word for not being blamed later. Though it’ll go without saying ten minutes or so into these proceedings, View Askew would like to state that this film is from start to finish a work of comedic fantasy, not to be taken seriously.”
And in the Stanley Kubrick Cold War black comedy “Dr. Strangelove,” (in which a rogue Air Force pilot initiates a nuclear war), the studio felt compelled to add this disclaimer: “It is the stated position of the United States Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film.”
Ah, disclaimers. They’re just like the lawyers who write them—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.