Drafting a EULA Using Only the 1000 Most Common Words in American English

A few months ago, my son-in-law showed me the simple-word explanation of a Saturn 5 rocket (the up-goer space car). It can be found at http://xkcd.com/1133/. More recently, there was a discussion on the ULC Listserv concerning Google’s terms of use, with an allegation that they are harder to understand than Beowulf. David Ma, who is one of my favourite IT lawyers, pointed to the Up-goer Five explanation and it got me thinking that it might be possible to use a limited number of words – namely the 1000 most common words in American English – to write a EULA.

I went through the process of drafting a EULA using the Up-goer Five text editor (http://splasho.com/upgoer5/) because as I thought about the question, I found myself challenging my assumptions about what simple drafting really is. I had always assumed that simple drafting was achieved through the use of “you” and “your”, “we” and “us”, a simple vocabulary and indicative mood sentences. I now believe that simple language is really straightforward language. The words can even be long – but they have to be the right ones for the purpose.

I now have more questions than answers, of course, but I had fun trying to write the EULA. It might be fun for people to convert this EULA back into legal English to see if it parses correctly.

These words are promises between us (“Promises”). “Us” or “We” means the owner of the groups of hidden working words that make computers work the way we want them to work. There are other things that are part of those hidden working words. Those other things are the things that the hidden working words are on or stuck to or inside of, the words on papers or other kinds of word-holding things for computers that go with the hidden working words and the on line computer working words (all together, the “Working Words”).

By putting the Working Words into your computer, by making more working words that are the same as the Working Words or by using the Working Words, you agree that these Promises are Promises that you have made to us. If you do not agree with the Promises in these words, you must not use the Working Words.
These free Working Words are being shared with others as free computer working words for people to use at home, in business, in groups that do not try to make money and for sharing facts with other people who try to learn things in any kind of school or outside a school. The Working Words may be part of word-holding things for computers that you share with other people, even if those word-holding things for computers have other working words and things on them.

You can NOT make people pay you money for sharing the Working Words, not even so that you can get back the money you paid for the word-holding things for computers. Also you can not make people pay you money even if our Working Words are part of other working words for computers that you make. Also you can not make people pay you money if you use our Working Words only to help the people who pay money to your business for other reasons.

You can share the Working Words as much as you want in any way you want but only if you do not ask anyone to pay you money for them or if you do not change any of our Working Words in any way.

1. GIVING YOU RIGHTS. These Promises give you these rights; you can put the Working Words into your computer and make as many word-holding things for computers as you want with the Working Words in them; you can use the Working Words and share the Working Words with other people as much as you want, as long as you do not change the Working Words. You have to make sure that the warning about Us owning the Working Words and about us being the first to think up and make the Working Words for computers is there for people to read with each of the word-holding things for computers that you give out.

You may want to learn how our Working Words work. That would be bad, and you can not do it. We do not allow that. We mean that you can not try to work in the going back direction by looking at how our Working Words work. Also you can not try to learn how our Working Words work by taking the parts of them away from each other. You can not change our Working Words at all. But if any of the things that we say in this group of words numbered 2 turns out to be against the rights you have as a person in a place, then you can do it.

Taking the Working Words away from each other is bad. You must not do it. We give you the rights to use the Working Words as one thing. You are not allowed to break it and use the pieces.

You can give your rights to use the Working Words to someone else, but only if the other person agrees with these Promises. You have to make the other person agree or you are not allowed to let them have the Working Words.

If you do not keep the Promises, we can take away your right to use the Working Words. But that is not all we can do. If we are allowed to do other things, then we may do those things also. That could mean that you must pay us money for doing bad things that are against your Promises. If we tell you that you can not use the Working Words any more, you must break all the Working Words you have so that no one can use them any more, and also the pieces of the Working Words.

We own everything about the Working Words, and all the pictures, groups of working words, art and show-how that are parts of the Working Words. We also own all the words that show you how to use the Working Words. We also own every thing that has the Working Words in it. There are strong words and things that make the Working Words to be part of our stuff, stuff we own. The strong words and things work between lands too because just about all the lands have made promises to each other about looking after the rights of the people who make and own words and books and art and moving pictures and music and other stuff. We have rights under those strong words and things.

We tell you now in a straight way that we do not make any promises to you or anyone else about what the Working Words can do. We give you the Working Words “as is”. We also give you other things that go with the Working Words “as is”. You are not allowed to make us pay you anything if anything goes wrong. We will also not pay anyone else anything. You are all on your own when you use our Working Words. We do not even agree with the words that are in the important books of the people we all put in big leading jobs, who make important books that say what are the promises that we are supposed to make to each other, and the things we must do and the things we must not do. There are words in those books that say that the things we make must work, or must work in a way or ways, or must work for a reason or for a type of job. We do not agree with those words.

There are also words in those books that say that our Working Words must not be like other people’s working words for computers and must not take from other people in a bad way. We do not agree with those words and those promises are not our promises, even if you think they are. If you try to make us keep those promises, we will fight you and you will lose.

You take your own chances when you use our Working Words. If there is a problem, we do not care about that and we will never have to pay anything. You know that is true and you say it for all people to hear when you use our Working Words.

WE NEVER HAVE TO PAY FOR THINGS WE CAN NOT SEE BEFORE THEY HAPPEN, EVEN IF WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THEM. We never have to pay you or anyone else you do business with for any reason. We will not have to pay for things that go wrong that are too far away from us for us to see before they happen. If you lose money in your business because of us, that is not our problem and we do not have to pay. This is true even if your business stops because of us. This is true even if your business loses its words and other things that are inside your computers. This is true even if our Working Words stop working or never work as they should. This is true even if we should have seen that bad things would happen to you or your business. All this is true, no matter how stupid we have been, and we do not have to pay, even if we have been stupid.


  1. This text is a lot easier to read than the usual EULA. It may be a bit clearer than ‘We’ would like.

    “You take your own chances when you use our Working Words. If there is a problem, we do not care about that and we will never have to pay anything. You know that is true …”

    George Orwell wrote that it was hard to lie, or to gloss over a lie, in Basic English.

    Basic English had a core vocabulary of 850 words but allowd some addtional technical and work terms as well, bringing the total to 1000, or maybe 1200, or maybe even 2000 (depending on the technique.)

    If one were to replace some of Don’s clever workarounds from the top 1000 list with well-known current vocabulary, e.g. ‘software’ for ‘working words’, one could make the text above sound pretty natural.

    With due respect to XKCD, of whom I’m a fan, it’s not rocket science…

  2. This is fantastic! What a useful exercise. I suspect we would be far better communicators if we started from a simple language version like this and edited for flow rather than going to old templates and standard boilerplate.