Browsewrap Jujitsu

I’ve added the following text to the User-Agent request-header that my browser sends each time it asks for a web page:

By responding to this HTTP request, you accept legal responsibility for any resulting harm.

Big commercial websites use take-it-or-leave-it boilerplate lawyerese to demand that we give up our basic legal rights; why not give them a dose of their own medicine and take those rights back? So far, a few websites have remarked on my unusual browser, but none of them have turned me away. I guess that means they want my business enough that they’re willing to live with my terms.

Firefox users, if you’d like to join me in this little act of turnabout as fair play, you can use the User Agent Switcher extension to change your User-Agent string or RefControl to change the Referer [sic] request-header. If you’d rather make the change manually, point your browser to about:config, right-click, select New > String, enter “general.useragent.override” for the preference name, and type in the contractual conditions you want to impose on the websites you visit.

And now a warning: As a lawyer, I don’t think this trick works, in the sense that I couldn’t convince a court to agree with me and hold the proprietor of a crudtastic website responsible for making my computer explode. The law of browsewrap isn’t just dumb, it’s actively tilted towards powerful companies with expensive lawyers But if enough of us start changing our HTTP request-headers and demanding that our online interactions take place on fair and decent terms, we have a shot at reclaiming the law. As Arlo Guthrie said, “And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.”

Thanks to Ian Ayres for the idea.

Now I feel obligated to detect such HTTP requests on my own site, and redirect them to a page asserting that by making the request, you’ve agreed to such-and-such ludicrously overreaching standard form contract…