TheirSpace not YourSpace

THE WEB is all about "sharing", these days, isn't it? Not quite. People who promote their work - whether songs or pictures - through websites like MySpace are handing over effective control of that work to media moguls like Rupert Murdoch.

We've already warned about the standard BBC terms and conditions for "citizen journalists" and other contributors at www.bbc.co.uk/terms. They demand:

a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licenseable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, play, make available to the public, and exercise all copyright and publicity rights with respect to your contribution worldwide and/or to incorporate your contribution in other works in any media now known or later developed for the full term... waive any moral rights in your contribution

That is, they can do anything at all with people's work. That would include selling on licences for loads of money, and keeping it. And they demand that the person submitting words or pictures agrees to pay the BBC's legal fees if it's sued or prosecuted for publishing. Strictly, this "indemnity" applies only if the person breaks the terms and conditions. But since these include a warranty that the work "does not infringe any law" that looks academic.

Now we come to MySpace, the "social networking" site owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International. It's widely mentioned as a route to grassroots (and "astroturfed" - that is, engineered fake-grassroots) fame for musicians.

At collect.myspace.com/misc/terms.html we are exhorted "If you do not agree with [this], you should leave the Website and discontinue use of the Services immediately." In the interests of research, we cheated.

By displaying or publishing ('posting') any Content, messages, text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, profiles, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, 'Content') on or through the Services, you hereby grant to MySpace.com, a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute such Content on and through the Services.

That's not good, particularly if you're a band hoping to make a living from your work. The terms are, however, slightly less bad than the BBC's, in that they go on to say: "This license will terminate at the time you remove such Content from the Services.

But how on earth do you enforce that? Once MySpace has, for example, licensed your song to Bollywood, who is supposed to own and control the Gujarati translation?

MySpace has an "indemnity" - that is, in English, "we foul up, you lose your house" clause, too.

Now to online retailer www.amazon.co.uk which demands that amateur reviewers:

(a) grant Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates a non-exclusive, royalty-free and fully sublicensable rights to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media; and (b) Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose. You agree that the rights you grant above are irrevocable during the entire period of protection of your intellectual property rights associated with such content and material. You agree to waive your right to be identified as the author of such content and your right to object to derogatory treatment of such content. You agree to perform all further acts necessary to perfect any of the above rights granted by you to Amazon.co.uk, including the execution of deeds and documents, at the request of Amazon.co.uk.

Like the BBC, then, Amazon wants the right to do anything at all, forever.

And there's an indemnity, too. Oddly, the contract offered to professional reviewers - who should be expected to be better at avoiding lawsuits - appears even stricter on this.

Readers who have picked through the legalese will notice some amazing similarities between the words used in these legal documents. Far be it from us to suggest that some lawyers might have breached others' copyright. Perish the thought.

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