Friday, January 16, 2009

Should presentations come with disclaimers?

A disclaimer just is a lawyer’s version of Bart Simpson shouting his old catchphrase: “I didn’t do it!” Should every presentation have a disclaimer? Should every blog? This one does.

If you scroll to the VERY bottom of the page of this blog you will find that I have included the following (in very light type):


We don’t necessarily believe what we write, and neither should you. Information furnished to you is for topical (external) use only. This information actually may not be worth any more than what you paid for it (nothing). The author may not even have been either sane (or sober) when he wrote it down and posted it. Don’t worry, be happy.

My disclaimer is mostly a plain English translation from a 60-word disclaimer devised by the legal department at U. S. Steel. I first noticed this gem at the end of a magazine article from their research laboratory which appeared in the August 1980 issue of Corrosion magazine.Theirs was:


Note: It is understood that the material in this paper is intended for general information only and should not be used in relation to any specific application without independent examination and verification of its applicability and suitability by professionally qualified personnel. Those making use thereof or relying thereon assume all risk and liability arising from such use or reliance.

Now, I thought that already was slightly silly. However, recently things are getting much sillier. I just ran a Google search with the phrase “disclaimer for presentation”. One of the first pages on the results list was an Acrobat file of a presentation by the Swiss mining firm Xstrata from December 2008. Slide #2 of 16 contained the following 257-word disclaimer in very fine print. (I have broken their long first paragraph in two to make it slightly more readable, but still find their international legal gobbledygook to be quite appalling):


This presentation contains statements which are, or may be deemed to be “forward-looking statements” which are prospective in nature. Forward-looking statements are not based on historical facts, but rather on current expectations and projections about future events, and are therefore subject to risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results to differ materially from the future results expressed or implied by the forward looking statements.

Often, but not always, forward looking statements can be identified by the use of forward looking words such as “plans”, “expects”, or “does not expect”, “is subject to”’, “budget”, “scheduled”, “estimates”, “forecasts”, “intends”, “anticipates”, or “does not anticipate”, or “believes”, or variations of such words and phrases or statements that certain actions, events, or results “may”, “could”, “should”, “would”, “might”, or “will” be taken, occur or be achieved. Such statements are qualified in their entirety by the inherent risks and uncertainties surrounding future expectations.

Neither Xstrata, nor any of its associates or directors, officers, or advisers, provides any representation, assurance, or guarantee that the occurrence of the events expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements in this presentation will actually occur. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.

Other than in accordance with its legal or regulatory obligations (including under the UK Listing Rules and the Disclosure and Transparency Rules of the Financial Services Authority), Xstrata is not under any obligation and Xstrata expressly disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Those 257 words are beginning to approach the infamous 969-word STANDARD DISCLAIMER cobbled together by Don Descy and his students for their infamous, phony City of Mankato , Minnesota web page. (It is one of the longest running jokes on the Worldwide Web).

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