In higher education, the imposition of “civility codes” and the institutional appropriation of the intellectual property rights formerly assigned to faculty have both started to emerge as major issues.
What most faculty may not be aware of, however, is that many corporations have already imposed versions of both of these things not just on their employees but on their customers.
Many sales and service contracts now contain so-called “disparagement clauses,” language that prohibits the consumer from publicly criticizing the corporation for providing a product or a service that does not meet the customer’s expectations. But it is worse even than that. Many contracts also contain language that assigns the “intellectual property rights” of all customer communications with the corporation to the corporation. In effect, once the customer sends a written complaint to the corporation, the corporation “owns” that complaint and can, ostensibly, prevent the customer from repeating the complaint in other venues and from citing the complaint in any subsequent legal action taken against the corporation.
To date, California is the only state to ban both types of clauses in sales and service contracts. Last year, Democrats in the federal House introduced such legislation, but it received no bipartisan support. This year, such a bill has again been introduced, this time with some bipartisan support.
This is a link to a statement by Public Citizen in support of the bill: http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=5492