Microsoft fixes Hotmail service agreement

Hotmail users around the world are hurriedly checking their sent mail because the content of their transmissions may belong to Microsoft.

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By  Rob Corder Published  April 9, 2001

Hotmail users around the world are hurriedly checking their sent mail because the content of their transmissions may belong to Microsoft.

The Terms of Service agreement that Hotmail users agree to when signing-up for an account contains clauses that legal professionals say give the software giant the rights to use any message, such as a business plan, book or screenplay. “Arguably, this does simply give Microsoft the right to use any of the data you send through it,” said Steven Fullman, a solicitor specialising in the Internet, in an interview with The Independent daily newspaper in the UK.

Microsoft insists the Terms of Service are being revised and that the original wording was an “unfortunate oversight,” according to a statement published in The Independent.

The original wording of the contract, which is accessed through Microsoft’s Passport site, states that by “inputting data … or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site or any of its associated services, they would grant Microsoft the rights to use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer or sell any such communication.”

Fullman told The Independent that the clause could have been devised to allow Microsoft to protect itself if Hotmail were used for offensive or illegal communication. “It could mean that by claiming the copyright, they could delete any information that they deemed was inappropriate for public consumption,” he suggested.

Middle East e-mail service providers face even greater pressure to prevent subscribers sending and receiving inappropriate material. Their solution, however, is diametrically opposite to Microsoft’s. Rather than claiming ownership of transmissions, they categorically state they want nothing to do with it.

Maktoob.com, for example promises that the “owner [Maktoob] shall not monitor or disclose the contents of the electronic messages and transactions via this service.”

Arabia.com’s policy on e-mail is even clearer. “You understand that all information, data, text, software, music, sound, photographs, graphics, video, messages or other materials ("Content"), whether publicly posted or privately transmitted, are the sole responsibility of the person from which such Content originated. This means that you, and not arabia.com, are entirely responsible for all Content that you upload, post, email or otherwise transmit via the Service,” says the company in its Terms of Service.

Arabia.com’s policy on content posted to its publicly accessible “clubs” area is different. Here, users should be aware that they are signing over ownership of their material. “With respect to all other Content you elect to post to other publicly accessible areas of the Service, you grant arabia.com the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed,” the company states.

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