[whatwg] do not encourage use of small element for legal text

Eduard Pascual herenvardo at gmail.com
Sun Jul 19 04:26:27 PDT 2009

On Sun, Jul 19, 2009 at 12:29 PM, Ian Hickson <ian at hixie.ch> wrote:
> [...]
> On Fri, 3 Jul 2009, Eduard Pascual wrote:
> > It's clear that, despite the spec would currently encourage this
> > example's markup, it is not a good choice. IMHO, either of these should
> > be used instead:
> >
> > <p>Your 100% satisfaction in the work of SmallCo is guaranteed.
> > (Guarantee applies only to commercial buildings.)</p>
> >
> > or
> >
> > <small>Your 100% satisfaction in the work of SmallCo is guaranteed.
> > (Guarantee applies only to commercial buildings.)</small>
> In practice, if the author wants to make the parenthetical text smaller,
> he will. The question is whether we should encourage such small text to be
> marked up in a way distinguishable from other stylistic <span>s.

Indeed, making legal text clearly readable should be a goal. However,
I don't think it is too much a HTML5 goal: afaik, in most countries
there are general laws that define which kind of text can hold legal
value on different kinds of media, dealing with details such as
minimum size and color contrasts for each media, maximum speed for
running text (like bottom-screen text on TV ads), and so on. Of
course, these will vary from country to country and/or region to
region; but IMHO general law is the area where legal text should be
handled with. Authors hence should find advice about the actual
requirements for legal text to be legally binding (ie: asking their
lawyers for advice), and honor such restrictions when putting a
webpage together.
It is pointless to make specific encouragements or discouragements on
how to include legal text on an HTML5 document: a good advice may
backfire if it leads a good-intended author to do something that
doesn't match local laws on that regard; and evil-intended users will
ignore any advice from the spec and just push as much as they can to
the edge, looking for the most "hard-to-read-but-still-legal" possible

The basic task of HTML (the language itself, not the spec defining it)
is to provide authors with tools to build their documents and pages in
an interoperable way. HTML5 does well that job in the area of small
print, providing the <small> element to mark it up. That's exactly
enough, and IMHO there is no point on trying to go further.

> > I'm not sure if the word "legalese" was intended to refer to all kinds
> > of legal text, or just the "suspicios or useless" ones. In any case, a
> > more accurate wording would help.
> This wording is vague intentionally, because it is a vague observation. I
> don't know how we could make it more accurate.
If vagueness is intentional, just take thing explicitly vague, rather
than a term that some may just take as "vague" but others may take as
"catch-all" and others seem to even find offensive/despective.

> > First, leave the formal description "The small element represents
> > small print or other side comments." as is: IMHO it is accurate and
> > simple, and that's quite enough to ask from a spec.
> >
> > Next, replace the note that reads "Small print is typically legalese
> > describing disclaimers, caveats, legal restrictions, or copyrights.
> > Small print is also sometimes used for attribution." with something
> > like this: "Small print is often used for *some* forms of legal text
> > and for attribution. Defining which kinds of legal text should be on
> > small print, however, is out of the scope of HTML."
> >
> > This makes clear that HTML (technically) allows using <small> to put
> > legal text (or anything else) in small print, but it doesn't encourage
> > any specific usage of small print.
> I'm not convinced the suggested text is any better than the current text,
> to be honest. I'm also reluctant to start explicitly saying what is out of
> scope, because there's no end to that list.

I don't fully agree on that argument, but let's leave the "scope" part
out (it was quite redundant, anyway, just to be on the safe side).

The key on the sentence "Small print is often used for *some* forms of
legal text and for attribution." is the emphasis on "some": this
should be enough for any reader to understand that, if only some forms
go on small print, other forms just don't. The "some" achieves your
intended vagueness, and the emphasis makes such vagueness explicit
enough. The current wording "small print is typically used for
legalesse" is not just vague, but as ambiguous as the term "legalesse"
itself: a significant proportion of authors might miss-understand it
and assume that any form of legal text is legalesse, so it can be on
small print, but it isn't require to be so (because of the
"typically"). Addressing this potential missunderstanding is the exact
intent of my proposed text.

Eduard Pascual

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