July 2, 1999 7:15 AM PDT

Warner Bros. targets Yahoo backlash

With Yahoo reeling from an expanding boycott of its Yahoo-GeoCities community sites, Warner Bros. Online plans to lure irate members with less-demanding terms, using banner advertisements touting its AcmeCity destination.

The ads, which will appear on the Web this weekend at sites targeting teenagers and young adults, will exclaim: "Protest! Move out of GeoCities."

Late last night, Yahoo added a link from its terms of service page to an explanation detailing the company's reasons for its controversial rule.

"Yahoo does not claim ownership of the content on your site. We never have," the page declares.

It explains that Yahoo sought certain rights from people building home pages only "for the purpose of hosting [their] GeoCities site and providing and promoting the Yahoo GeoCities service."

Despite the explanation page, the terms that many GeoCities members felt gave away rights to their intellectual property were not altered.

As reported, Yahoo Wednesday modified new terms of service that many GeoCities members felt gave away rights to their intellectual property. But some members have continued to boycott the site, claiming that the changes are cosmetic.

Like Yahoo-GeoCities, AcmeCity allows its members to build home pages and communities. Oriented around Warner Bros. celebrities and entertainment programming, the site provides authorized, high-quality photos and other material for fan pages.

Controversies like the Yahoo-GeoCities flap may threaten to undermine the foundation of communities at home page sites, which market their membership information to advertisers. And if membership traffic declines, so does sponsorship revenue that is key to the bottom line.

AcmeCity has seen a 25 percent increase in membership in the past three days, according to Warner Bros. Online.

"Considering the backlash against Yahoo's terms of service and the fact that many members built their sites around our programming and celebrities, we think the marketing campaign will be quite successful," president Jim Moloshok said.

"It's ironic that GeoCities got to generate revenues by slapping banner ads on pages that had our characters. We hope to draw those members to our site where they can build pages without onerous terms," he said.

Yahoo's page now explains that it means to use content for marketing reasons, not to draw revenue by repurposing member-created content. "Yahoo does not own content you submit, unless we specifically tell you otherwise before you submit it. You license the content to Yahoo as set forth below for the purpose of displaying and distributing such content on our network of properties and for the promotion and marketing of our services," according to the explanation on its Web site.

But as the boycott entered its third day, Boycottyahoo, a site devoted to protesting the terms of service implemented on June 25, had garnered more than 300,000 page views. Previous GeoCities members are hoping to have Yahoo withdraw or change the conditions that users must agree to before they can edit or update their Yahoo-GeoCities Web pages.

Boycottyahoo yesterday claimed only a "partial victory," noting that previous language for the terms of service remains intact.

Protesters fear that, under the new terms of service, Yahoo could turn their material into movies or other electronic forms of entertainment to which they would have no rights. The concerns have been heightened by Yahoo's acquisition of video streaming firm Broadcast.com and the growing collaboration between Internet companies and traditional media firms. Yahoo's explanation specifically denies that it has any such intention.

Yahoo acquired GeoCities for an estimated $5 billion in January. The portal said at the time that it plans to integrate e-commerce throughout GeoCities as well as reach home page builders through direct marketing. Yahoo completed the acquisition of GeoCities at the end of May.

Broadly written terms are not unique to Yahoo, but other sites are beginning to rethink similar guidelines. Lycos's Tripod, for example, revised its terms of service to make clear that is will use member content "for the limited purposes of displaying and promoting the user's personal home page and for displaying the content of such personal home pages elsewhere within the Lycos Network."

Xoom added language indicating that it reserves the right to use the content for the "promotion and marketing of Xoom's services."

Several other community sites, including Crosswinds Communities and HobbyHost, don't ask for the terms in question. Crosswinds has seen its membership rise 40 percent since the protest began, the company said.

 

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