CompuServe Owns Your Thoughts

(This column first appeared in the October 15, 1996 issue of PC Graphics Report)

Are you a CompuServe subscriber?

Does your company operate a CompuServe Forum?

Do you or your company post messages and files in public areas on CompuServe?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, in particular the last one, then you should be aware that CompuServe now has complete rights to redistribute and modify any software, text, or graphics content in CompuServe’s public areas, whether placed there years ago or today. And, there’s nothing you can do about.

If this isn’t causing warning bells to ring in your head, imagine that you’ve licensed a time-limited utility or program to ship with your product and posted up in your company’s support forum on CompuServe. If it so chooses, CompuServe now has the legal right to modify the time-limited software and remove the time-lock so that it’s an unrestricted release of the same software. In the same vein, CompuServe, or its designated agents, could also legally reverse engineer driver code, screen utilities, and whatever else you put in their public fora.

Similarly, you post some licensed copyrighted photography on CompuServe with specific restrictions that the image only be downloaded and viewed as a whole image, those restrictions wouldn’t apply to CompuServe – they could sell t-shirts with the image and not owe you a cent. They could also use the image as part of a collage, in print advertising, and in any way they choose. For that matter, it could be altered in any way CompuServe chooses and redistributed.

How did this all come about?

A few weeks ago, CompuServe posted a news item in their “What’s New” list, entitled “Notice of Online Change Agreement”. According to the executive summary for this news item:

CompuServe has reorganized the agreement terms and operating rules for the CompuServe Information Service to make them easier for customers to read and use. At the same time CompuServe has also modified and updated those rules with a number of important changes aimed at keeping the rules up-to- date with the industry.

The summary goes on to suggest that people read the new agreement carefully (GO RULES on CompuServe), but how many users normally bother with a whole bunch of legalese they probably won’t understand? Apparently some CompuServe SysOps are asking the same question in the SysOp-only Forum on CompuServe, and are wondering when the proverbial crap will hit the fan, once the word gets out that CompuServe has usurped the rights to all their thoughts, works, and everything else they post on the service. Some of the SysOps have already removed everything they have ever uploaded to the service to make sure that CompuServe doesn’t trample on their rights.

The offending language in the new customer agreement is below, with key parts highlighted:


Each Member, and any user of a Members account, who places or has placed software, a file, information, communication or other content on, in, over or through the accessible areas of the Service grants to CompuServe (and to CompuServe’s designated licensees, transferees, designees and contractors) a non-exclusive, paid-up, perpetual and worldwide right to copy, distribute, display, perform, publish, translate, adapt, modify and otherwise use in connection with CompuServe’s business (and that of CompuServe’s designated licensees, transferees, designees and contractors), such software, files, information, communications and other content, regardless of the medium, technology or form utilized by CompuServe in exercise of  this grant. Subject to this grant, each Member who places software, files, information, communications or other content on the Service retains any rights Member may have in such content.

They were nice enough to let people who post anything on CompuServe retain the rights they had before, except for the license granted CompuServe.

The implication of the above paragraph is that this all applies to only the public areas of CompuServe, but the phrase “accessible areas” could be construed to include all private parts of CompuServe, including e-mail, since even private areas are accessible, albeit it to a privileged few.

If you use CompuServe regularly, you may want to switch to some other service that’s not as predatory. This all sounds like something that Microsoft might do if they had a commercial on-line service. Wait! They’ve got MSN. I wonder how their customer agreement reads…

Planning for COMDEX

On a happier (or perhaps sadder) note, it’s almost time for our industry’s annual schmooze-fest, COMDEX/Fall, in Las Vegas, NV, the week of November 18-22. If you happen to be going, I’ve got a few tips for those looking for diversions above and beyond the show floor.

If gambling is your thing, and are as good at it as I am (the casinos love me and my perpetual contribution to their coffers), I’d like to recommend that you pick up a copy of Masque Publishing’s Deluxe Casino Pak (DCP). DCP has two parts to it: a lame superficial story line about an “adventure” to win a million dollar poker jackpot, and a much more worthwhile complete set of gaming simulations. The latter are well worth the $39.95 price of the software. Gambling game simulations include several poker variants (Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hold ‘Em, Let It Ride, 7 Card Stud, Caribbean Stud, Pai Gow, several versions of computer poker etc.), Black Jack, Roulette, Big 6 Wheel, Craps, a variety of slot machines, and more. (303.290.9853)

If you’re into the more prurient side of Las Vegas, I’ll let you find your own cab driver to recommend sleazy joints. However, if you are into high-tech smut, AdultDex ’96 (the Adult entertainment version of COMDEX) will be held for the second year at the Sahara Hotel, coinciding with COMDEX’s schedule. Keeping in line with the latest PC trends, the AdultDex flyer intimates that we’ll see the latest in multimedia, 3D virtual reality, video, and the Internet if we stop by. Dates are set for November 19-22, and a $5 admission fee is all that it takes to get in. They also claim to have hotel rooms available, a scarce commodity in Las Vegas during COMDEX. I don’t want to know what amenities come with the rooms, though. (317.651.9872)

If you’re an exhibitor at COMDEX, or just someone who wants good publicity for your products, I can highly recommend getting a table at the annual Silicon Northwest event, always held on Tuesday nights. Original started by Ginger Brewer, a public relations expert, Silicon Northwest was the first post-show hospitality event exclusively for the press sponsored by a collaborative group of Ginger’s clients, and has since been duplicated by many others. Silicon Northwest’s hallmark is seafood from the Pacific Northwest, flown in fresh for the event. Silicon Northwest is now operated by InSync PR, and based on personal observation, last year’s event attracted several hundred known members of the press.  Exhibitor tables cost $3,500, if they have any left. Oh, and it’s going to be at the Alexis Park this year.

Finally, you’re only a shaker and mover in the PC graphics industry if you know about the invite-only Graphics Bowling Night at COMDEX/Fall, held the Sunday night before the show opens, and after the VESA and Ziff-Davis benchmark presentations. If you know what this event is, please note that it’s on again. If you don’t know, but still consider yourself a shaker and mover, drop me a note, and I might tell you about this exclusive soiree, offering perhaps the best food and entertainment you’ll have all week.

By the way, if you don’t already have a hotel room for COMDEX, good luck!


One Response to “CompuServe Owns Your Thoughts”

  1. Luckyschool says:

    The implication of the above paragraph is that this all applies to only the public areas of CompuServe, but the phrase “accessible areas” could be construed to include all private parts of CompuServe, including e-mail, since even private areas are accessible, albeit it to a privileged few.