Reading the fine print, episode 2: Portable headphones


Marketing writes the big print; lawyers write the small print.

I bought some portable stereo headphones. The front of the box says you can use it "while in-line skating, power walking, biking, jogging, skiing, running, weightlifting, climbing and more." (Emphasis mine.)

The back of the box says that it should not be used "while driving or cycling."

(Episode 1.)

Comments (23)
  1. Carlos says:

    Tom Waits says it well in Step Right Up:

    "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away."

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Maybe they mean motorcycling?  It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle with headphones on.  I’m not sure if bicyclists are allowed to wear headphones when riding on the roadway.

    – Geoff

  3. Rick Scott says:

    They mean power cycling…you cannot use those while turning your computer turning off and on again.

  4. andy says:

    I remember something similar with the Nokia 5210 mobile phone which was advertised as something which should operate in rain too. But the fine print of course said that it should not be used in wet areas/rain/etc. :)

    Also it is shock protected to survive small "jumps", but that scenario was neither supported by the fine print. Yuck.

  5. Miles Archer says:

    In CA, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle or bicycle with both ears covered. This is only on the roads. If you ride off road, it’s ok to be deaf to what’s going on around you.

    The law is probably different in WA.

  6. IANAL says:

    Now I’m interested in the full text on the front of the box!

    The interesting part for me is whether the marketing text says "you can use it…for biking…". Are they your words or the marketeers?

    If they used the word "could", would that have conveyed a [slightly] different meaning? – compare the meaning of the statements, "you can", "you may" and "you could".

    Also, If you one day sued them and said you were ‘biking’ and NEVER used the word ‘cycling’, is there a chance you would win?

  7. bramster says:

    Biking is for pedestrians on bicycles.

    Cycling is serious stuff.

  8. Starfish says:

    I guess they intended to distinguish between on-road and off-road, and failed miserably. Sloppy at best and downright misleading at worst.

  9. James Curran says:

    I must related my favorite small-print story.

    Look at the fine-print on the back of a theater/concert/sport event ticket.  Generally, it goes like this (direct quotes from one ticket I saw)

    first line: "NON-TRANSFERABLE"

    translation: The ticket must be used by the person who bought it. If I plan on taking a date, I must bring her with me to the box office so she can buy her own ticket.

    second line: "RESALE PROHIBITED"

    translation: Not only can no one but me use this ticket, but no one can give me money for using this ticket, which they aren’t allowed to do.

    third line: "MAXIMUM RESALE PREMIUM: $5.00"

    translation: Not only can no one but me use the ticket, but the allowed of money they’re not allowed to give me for use of it cannot be more than $5 more than I paid for it.

  10. A Tykhyy says:

    Small print should be outlawed and punished by liquidation. Ain’t gonna happen though…

  11. witch says:

    "Small print should be outlawed and punished by liquidation"

    It’s just like Dire Straits said in the song Telegraph Road: "Then came the lawyers, then came the rules".

  12. Norman Diamond says:

    Small print should be outlawed and punished

    > by liquidation.

    How will you get that law made, printed, and enforced when the makers, printers, and enforcers all get liquidated?

  13. Jimbo says:

    James Curran:

    I agree, that makes no sense! But I suspect the reasoning is to give the ticket a notional monetary value – presumably making forgery of a ticket equal to forgery of currency.

    At least that’s why I always figured coupons had "Exchange value: 0.001p" or similar on them.

  14. A Tykhyy says:

    Oops, my mistake — I meant liquidation of the offending corporation. I didn’t mean to be bloodthirsty.

    BTW, small print is basically not so different from misleading ads and the like. Just as with the ads you can do your homework and find out the real facts about the product, you can grab a dictionary and a book of law and decipher the small print, but very few people actually do it.

    Small print is good for printing extra information like permit numbers, company urls and other items which are not essential to the buyer.

  15. monk.e.boy says:

    Perhaps they meant excersise bike(ing)…

  16. Tim says:

    I Am Not a Lawyer, But…

    In respect of the guy with the event ticket – could this be something to do with the US?  I mean, is it possible that in some states "not transferable" clauses aren’t permissible, but "maximum resale premium" ones are, so they slap on every permutation possible in the hope that at least one is enforceable?

    In the second case, I believe the ‘nominal value’ on coupons (0.001p) in the UK is something to do with a law that says if you buy something using coupons etc. you have guarantee rights (e.g. if the freebie is broken demand a replacement) or can demand the cash equivalent instead, provided your coupons are worth 25p or more.  The promoters give the vouchers an explicit nearly-worthless value to get around this.  (If you could be bothered to collect 25p’s worth of coupons though, you could try demanding the cash :-).)

  17. Norman Diamond says:

    Thursday, March 09, 2006 5:15 AM by A Tykhyy

    > Oops, my mistake — I meant liquidation of

    > the offending corporation. I didn’t mean to

    > be bloodthirsty.

    Liquidation of lawyers, lawmakers, etc., isn’t bloodthirst.  It’s just that if you liquidate them then you’ll have no one to make small print illegal ^_^

    Besides, if you liquidate lawyers, lawmakers, etc., I don’t think you’ll find a container strong enough to hold the toxic waste that coarsed through their vains.

  18. The FDA rats them out.

  19. i don't get it... says:

    Who the hell needs instructions how and where to use headphones?… why us this important anyway?…

  20. Just because "you can" doesn’t mean "you should."

    Non-transferable means you can’t buy a ticket for one movie and then use it for different movie.  It’s perfectly fine to give your ticket to a friend.

    For resale prohibited vs. maximum resale $5… I got nothing.  Unless they’re trying to emphasize the point, or go for harsher penalties if you (illegally) sell for (even more illegally) more than $5 of a premium.

    Kind of like freeways that have a 65mph speed limit… and then you come to a slight curve, and they put a "curve" sign with a 65mph speed limit on it.  They’re both legal limits, but the first one has less severe consequences (you’ll get a speeding ticket) than the second (you’ll flip over the barrier and die, and then you’ll get a speeding ticket)

  21. jeffdav says:

    monk.e.boy is right; I’m almost certain they meant stationary bikes in a gym.

  22. Jon Konrath says:

    Why is it illegal to use headphones when driving a car, if it’s legal to drive a car if you are hearing impaired?

  23. azimuth says:

    If you are hearing impaired, you’re not being distracted by techno music.

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