500 Billion Reasons Why A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

Eric Goldman points to a highly enjoyable filing by one David Stebbins against Google, claiming he has won an arbitration award of, wait for it, $500 billion. Even with the tax cuts still in effect, I assume that the government’s cut of this award will help the deficit a good deal. How did Stebbins win this remarkable sum? Let’s see:

  1. Stebbins has two YouTube channels. The YouTube terms of service state they can be modified unilaterally at any time. Stebbins takes YouTube at its word.
  2. Stebbins sends YouTube an e-mail modifying their terms of service. He gives them 30 days to delete his accounts; otherwise, he treats the modification as accepted.
  3. In Stebbins’ new terms, he has an arbitration provision, with a twist: if Google does not accept his offer to arbitrate within 24 hours, he wins! (Talk about your penalty defaults.)
  4. Stebbins sends Google an offer to arbitrate his claim for compensatory damages (from what?) of $500 billion.
  5. Google does not respond within 24 hours.
  6. Ergo, Stebbins wins.

Now, this claim is obviously nuttier than a squirrel pantry, and I’m sure the presiding judge and his clerks will have fun with it. Google can certainly afford to send a very junior attorney down to deal with this. The problem, though, is that this is the sort of matter that clogs the courts a bit, and it is sort of like a barnacle on a ship: one barnacle is irrelevant, but with enough barnacles, the ship slows down. I’d prefer Stebbins and his squirrel compatriots not get in the way of Google, so I sort of hope the court will dump this quickly.

Just for fun: the contract doesn’t work. First, YouTube’s ToS give YouTube, not Stebbins, the power to alter them at any time. Second, failing to delete Stebbins’ channels isn’t acceptance – those are still governed by the original ToS terms. Third, the 24-hour arbitration window is plainly unconscionable; the purpose of arbitration is to avoid surprise and unfair procedures, not to create them. Fourth, Stebbins’ content likely isn’t worth five dollars, let alone five hundred billion.

It sometimes surprises non-lawyers that the law is not a trap. You don’t get very far in telling a federal district court judge that he doesn’t have the power to invalidate an obviously bogus claim. Stebbins should spend less time watching “People’s Court” re-runs and more time on his YouTube channels, or maybe going to law school. Still, good fun, and here’s a bonus squirrel link.

2 Responses to “500 Billion Reasons Why A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing”

  1. Just to clarify, he actually asked for 500 TRILLION, not 500 billion. It makes a difference, because I’m pretty sure the world’s total wealth is <$500 trillion. Eric.

  2. Ah, I’ve gotta change the title. I assume he’s willing to take a check?