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Billy Bragg prompts Myspace rethink

All your content belongs to Rupert?

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Myspace says it's revising its legal terms and conditions after songwriter Billy Bragg withdrew his songs from the website in protest.

Myspace is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International, a bete noir for Bragg for more than 20 years. On 18 May, Bragg's management withdrew the song files, citing the T&Cs.

Bragg said the terms allowed News International to reuse his content without remunerating the artist.

"The real problem is the fact that they can sub-license it to any company they want and keep the royalities themselves without paying the artist a penny. It also doesn't stipulate that they can use it for non-commercial use only which is what I'd want to see in that clause. The clause is basically far to open for abuse and thus I'm very wary."

It's the return of the old favorite, the ambiguous ownership contract. Myspace is actually using a boilerplate text designed to allow it to republish the content. Five years ago Microsoft was forced to change a similar, but even more acquisitive click through contract. Microsoft's Passport sign-on permitted the company to:

Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication.

The terms included the right to grab trademarks and business plans. Microsoft retreated after a storm of protest.

But Redmond wasn't the first to attempt this, nor has it been the last. Apple had introduced a similar click through before retreating, and two years ago Google attached almost identical terms to its Orkut service. That was in 2004, the bloggers' love affair with the ad giant was still untarnished, and very little protest was heard.

In response to Bragg, Myspace says the T&Cs are confusing and affirmed that it had no claim on artists' materials.

"Because the legalese has caused some confusion, we are at work revising it to make it very clear that MySpace is not seeking a license to do anything with an artist's work other than allow it to be shared in the manner the artist intends," Jeff Berman told the New York Daily News. "Obviously, we don't own their music or do anything with it that they don't want."

All clear? Not quite.

In the much hyped "Web 2.0" world of "user generated content", punters are expected to contribute their works for commercial exploitation for nothing. While MySpace is pretty unambiguous about copyright, exploitation isn't so much a distant temptation, but an integral part of its business.

You can find the T&Cs here

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