Tiny, tiny type


Are there any laws about how small "fine print" can be in a contract?

Broadly speaing, where there is a legal mandate that a document, label, warning notice, etc. be legible, the standard is simply that the information be "clear and conspicuous." The wording is taken directly from the Federal Trade Commission's 1975 Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act. An FTC spokesman says some provisions of the Truth in Lending Act and some industrial trade regulations are more specific As a general guideline, the FTC considers 8-point type the minimum legible. For comparison's sake, I'll tell you that Matt Alice is brought to you each week in 7.5- or 8-point type; most newspaper classifieds are 6-point.

But "clear and conspicuous" is also a function of typestyle, ink and paper colors, line length, spacing between lines, and other factors, which aren't addressed in the law. And while the FTC has jurisdiction in interstate commerce and most banking and credit-related documents, "C and C" has many guardians. The FDA is responsible for overseeing the laughable fly specks they call "labeling" on over-the-counter medications; the Treasury Department polices booze bottles; and the states themselves oversee another whole set of consumer information. And how about those lines of bitty type that wing past you on a TV screen, most notably in car-lease commercials? The info is required by law to be in the commercial and is subject to the old C and C standards. The FTC recommends that 5 seconds out of each 30-second commercial be devoted to full consumer warnings if the commercial contains one of a list of "trigger" terms (e.g., "monthly payments"). In five seconds, the average person can read 20 words�. Lawsuits have helped clarify exactly what constitutes "clear and conspicuous" for specific documents, products, etc., but you'd have to track those case by case. It's all pretty much a mice-type nightmare.

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