Apple's iTools: Fraught with Licensing Perils?

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Thinking of launching your media empire using Apple's new Web-based iTools? Be careful: that eye-popping photo you place on your Apple-hosted home page could end up in the company's advertising--or other vendors' advertising--whether you like it or not.

iTools, which Apple unveiled at last month's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, is a series of Internet services that allow Mac OS 9 users to set up free e-mail accounts, personal home pages, and file-storage space on Apple Web servers. Buried deep in the iTools membership agreement--which all members must accept to join the service--is a provision that appears to give Apple unlimited rights to use any content posted on an iTools-hosted home page or other public iTools areas. Apple can also grant other companies the right to use posted content.

"By submitting or posting content on public areas of iTools," the agreement reads, "you are representing that you are the owner of such material or have authorization to distribute it. You hereby grant Apple a worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise all rights, under copyright, publicity and related laws, in any media now known or not currently known, with respect to any content you post in any public site within iTools."

By comparison, the membership agreement for Yahoo's GeoCities--which also offers free hosted home pages--appears to be much less onerous. Although Yahoo claims some limited rights to use posted content in Web site promotions, the agreement clearly states that, "Yahoo does not claim ownership of the Content you place on your Yahoo GeoCities Site," and that the "license exists only for as long as you continue to be a Yahoo GeoCities homesteader."

Apple has not publicly discussed the license provision or any plans it might have to use members' content. Apple representatives were not immediately available for comment.

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