July 7, 1999 5:25 PM PDT

Yahoo resolves GeoCities conflict

Buckling to pressure from a week-long boycott of its Yahoo-GeoCities site, Yahoo revised its terms of service for the second time, bringing the standoff to an end.

Last week, previous GeoCities members realized that they had to accept new terms of service before they could work on their home pages on the newly integrated Yahoo-GeoCities site. The outrage snowballed into a boycott with members bitterly complaining that the portal was asking for terms that took away rights to their intellectual property.

Members flocked to the BoycottYahoo site to pressure the portal to change or withdraw its conditions.

The newly revised terms of service ask users to "grant Yahoo the worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt, and publish the content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing, and promoting your Yahoo GeoCities site on Yahoo's Internet properties."

In addition, the agreement applies only while a user remains a member and "shall be terminated at the time your Yahoo GeoCities site is terminated."

The original terms that caused the furor demanded the rights to use member content in any way, allowing Yahoo "to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed."

While the first revision was considered only a partial victory by the protesters, the revised terms have satisfied most.

Boycott participants had demanded that Yahoo seek only limited rights for marketing purposes and relinquish all rights once a member leaves the service.

"The new GeoCities [terms of service] addresses each of these concerns in a clear, positive, and concise manner which may well serve as a blueprint for similar Terms of Service agreements throughout the young Internet community," reads a message on the BoycottYahoo site.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit civil liberties group that concentrates on computers and the Internet, held discussions with Yahoo after the flare-up last week hoping to help shape terms that would be clear and fair to members and the company.

"Many consumers online are confused about a lot of things, and we think it is important that companies be up-front and clear in their [terms of service]," said EFF president Tara Lemmey, expressing approval of the changes implemented by Yahoo. "There's a lot more clarity about who owns the content."

Yahoo acquired GeoCities for an estimated $5 billion in January, looking to shore up the portal's community features. The portal said at the time that it plans to integrate e-commerce throughout GeoCities as well as direct-market to home page builders.

Controversies like the Yahoo-GeoCities dispute 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 the sponsorship revenue that is key to the bottom line.

The original wording that first offended users still applies, however, in the terms of service for the wider Yahoo network.

"If you are a homesteader on Yahoo's GeoCities service, please note that Yahoo provides a different Terms of Service for you," reads a message on the Yahoo terms of service page. "These TOS do not apply to the Yahoo GeoCities service."

"If companies have different relationships with consumers in different product areas, they have to make sure the terms are not blanket terms, which may not necessarily be appropriate," Lemmey said.

Since Yahoo first listed its new terms of service June 25, members were concerned of their implications given Yahoo's recent acquisition of video streaming firm Broadcast.com and the growing collaboration between Internet companies and traditional media firms. Many home page builders said they were nervous that, under the new terms of service, their material could be turned into movies or other electronic forms of entertainment to which they would have no rights.

Other community sites that had terms similar to Yahoo's also revised their terms late last week hoping to poach Yahoo's members. Lycos's Tripod added language that clarified that content could be used for marketing purposes. Xoom stakes the right to also use member material for marketing purposes but disclaims any ownership of the content.

 

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