Microsoft wants you, too

Amid protests of Yahoo's ownership claims to Geocities' home pages, Microsoft debuts its "Windows Way" community.

Published July 2, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

On the very same day that Wired News exposed Yahoo's astonishing claim to own all the content posted on Geocities members' home pages, Microsoft announced its own free home-page service. Twelve free megabytes of Web space are there for anyone's taking, if you're willing to endure a nasty MSN pop-up ad and the ignominy of living in such neighborhoods as "Windows Way."

At first glance, you might think that Microsoft's move was a canny and timely attempt to exploit the likely mass emigration of Yahoo-Geocities members -- a suggestion quickly raised by at least one geek news Web site. But not so fast -- a close examination of the terms of use that any prospective Microsoft home-page builder must agree to reveals a couple of clauses that sound quite similar to the original Yahoo language (which Yahoo has since backed away from).

"By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication through this Web site," read the rules, "you are granting Microsoft permission to: 1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication."

Is Microsoft really saying it owns the right to make a "derivative work" out of that cute picture of your 3-year-old eating ice cream that you just had to post on your Web page? "Absolutely not," said a Microsoft public relations spokeman. "It is Microsoft's position that they do not own any of that. It has more to do with the fact that sometimes they have to move the information around from server to server." However, Microsoft is "examining the language" of the terms of use, "in light of what happened with Yahoo."

Whether Microsoft is guilty of the same sin Yahoo committed isn't the real issue, though. The point to note here is that the Yahoo land-grab was hardly an isolated instance of a Web company reaching too far with respect to intellectual property on the Net. Such language is commonplace at corporate Web sites today -- so watch where you post. You never know who might be staking a claim to ... you.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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