February 17, 2016
And Jesus wept …
by Dennis Johnson
In its twenty year history, the three most notable things about Amazon may be: 1) That it didn’t even try to make a profit for those twenty years and somehow was heralded by Wall Street as a result; 2) that it avoided taxes for those decades and got away with that, too; and 3) that it was (as points one and two might might seem to imply) so viciously self-serving that it was one of the most humorless organizations to come down the pike in many a moon. This, despite the fact that its CEO constantly laughs like a hyena on Adderall.
(By the way, note that the extremely popular video compilation of Jeff Bezos’ truly freakish laughter during his Jon Stewart interview a few years ago has been—unlike a bazillion other Daily Show clips still on YouTube—mysteriously taken down. No worries, though. There are plenty more where that came from.)
In any event, what to make of the following, buried deep in Amazon’s 26,000-word AWS (Amazon Web Services) service agreement—clause 57.10, which dictates the rules for game designers using Amazon’s Lumberyard development software:
57.10 Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems. Your use of the Lumberyard Materials must comply with the AWS Acceptable Use Policy. The Lumberyard Materials are not intended for use with life-critical or safety-critical systems, such as use in operation of medical equipment, automated transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, aircraft or air traffic control, nuclear facilities, manned spacecraft, or military use in connection with live combat. However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.
It’s a joke, right? Of course it is. It’s a joke.
People at Reddit thought so, at least … even as they took it rather seriously:
Even if parts of a ToS is unenforcable/invalid, that does not in any way affect the validity of the rest of the ToS, so even if a judge would rule the zombie apocalypse exception invalid, the ToS would still be the ToS.
To add to your point, contracts often contain a “severability” clause, which you’ll usually see if you read your lease or credit card agreement and so forth. Broadly, these clauses have the signatory agree that invalidity of part of the contract does not result in invalidity of the whole.
This is quite problematic. It is extremely unlikely that a zombie illness could be caused by a virus. It would almost certainly be a eukaryote of some kind. Likely a multi-cellular parasite, but possibly a fungus or protist.
A few of the lamer mainstream outlets that have never seriously reported on Amazon—Newsweek, for example—remember Newsweek?—also thought it was hilarious. Business Insider, owned by, er, Jeff Bezos, also thought it was a scream.
The Wall Street Journal, in a blog post by Sarah E. Needleman, was one of the few to observe that the “joke” was masking the “threat” that Lumberyard poses—and “a significant one”—to “other free game-software engines such as Unity and Unreal,” because Lumberyard is linked to Amazon’s cloud service. That, says Needleman, is “one way the company hopes to monetize the product. Developers who build games with Lumberyard and want to host them online must use Amazon’s servers or their own. Lumberyard is also integrated with Twitch, Amazon’s popular live-streaming site.”
But what the hell, let’s ignore the evidence of Amazon once again threatening small business (in this instance, to monetize something that’s currently free) and let’s just say someone at Amazon—employer of the year, 2015—does indeed have a sense of humor. Much more likely, of course, is that someone barked something at that benighted apparatchik to do something about humanizing such a famously heartless company …
But whatever. People are now lol-ing all over the place at Amazon’s funny.
It’s good to be king.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives