Soup Bowl for a Square Peg Part II – Content

In a continuing analysis of HOTSOUP!, today I’ll address some issues of content.
The proprietors of HOTSOUP! offer the following rationale for the site:

“There is no single place for Opinion Drivers to gather online. That was the day we set out to build HOTSOUP.com.”

Not entirely grammatical, but that’s picking nits. It’s arguably true that no “single place” exists online for the set of all “Opinion Drivers” – there are hundreds, thousands of those places, where for the most part like-minded people – assembled along measures of similarity in knowledge, politics, interests, kitten-photo-taking, etc. – gather. The Internet hasn’t been around forever, but it’s been around long enough for many of these sorts of communities to be born, die, and be re-born in dozens of different ways. There’s been plenty of opportunity for a “single place” to arise and by using some basic deductive logic one might easily conclude that the fact that one hasn’t might signal that people don’t want a “single place.”

But maybe I’m wrong, and there is room for such a general-interest community site. To that end, I’ll offer an e-mail that went out today to HOTSOUP! members from the site’s Editor-in-Chief, former Associated Press political reporter Ron Fournier. It read in part,

Look for Ian Broverman, a suburban Maryland robotics engineer and the first Hot Issues panelist drawn from the community, to join Applebee’s International Chairman Lloyd Hill, Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes, American Idol Judge Randy Jackson, and Civic Enterprises President John Bridgeland.

Since HOTSOUP.com premiered less than a week ago, we’ve been flooded with requests to include community Members in the homepage feature. Ian emailed us in July, shortly after we announced plans for the site, and asked to be a part of the HOTSOUP community. “Biased Internet has isolated and galvanized viewpoints like they never have been before,” he wrote. “I’m glad to see people coming together, as you are.”

We stayed in touch with Ian, and asked him to answer our first Hot Issues question. Ian, whose panel will remain “in the Soup” for several days, said polarization is the most important issue ignored by the mainstream media and leaders today.

“When you have people changing jobs quickly and talking in chat rooms to people who think exactly like them, they start forgetting how to deal with people not like them,” Ian says in his Hot Issues viewpoint. “That’s why it’s really important for people to come together and really talk to people that don’t quite think like them.” As you know, that’s a core value of HOTSOUP.com.

There are a few things going on here that I’ll return to later, but for current purposes by far the most important is the last paragraph. Fournier and the rest of HOTSOUP!’s proprietors enumerate such a wide range of topics for discussion as to be essentially meaningless in forming boundaries for usage, but are explicit that the very first “Hot Issues” discussant has been chosen because he is interested in an issue of the most interest to the site’s proprietors. It’s a community where you can talk about anything, but some – those who agree with the site’s proprietors – are more equal than others.

Secondly – what do a long-time Bush family political operator (Hughes), a CEO about whose corporation Fournier just wrote a book (Hill), Randy Jackson, and a former policy adviser to George W. Bush (Bridgeland) have to say about “polarization,” and why should anyone care? I frankly have no idea.

Getting back to the attitudes of the proprietors towards the users, there is a consitent thread running through what appears in the above e-mail from Fournier, and the Membership Agreement.

3. Fees. You acknowledge that Hotsoup.com reserves the right to charge for the Services and to change its fees from time to time in its discretion. If Hotsoup.com terminates your Membership because you have breached this Agreement, you shall not be entitled to the refund of any unused portion of subscription fees.

HOTSOUP! is currently a free service, but feels the need to include a “Fees” section in its Membership Agreement. The first principle of this service is its treatment of Members as, principally, revenue units. This is reinforced later in the same Agreement, in how HOTSOUP! treats the content produced by its Members. This is a long excerpt, but important:

5. Non-commercial Use by Users. The Services are for the personal use of Users only and may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by Hotsoup.com in writing prior to such commercial use. Illegal and/or unauthorized use of the Services, including collecting usernames and/or email addresses of Members by electronic or other means for the purpose of sending unsolicited email or unauthorized framing of or linking to the Website is prohibited. Commercial advertisements, affiliate links, and other forms of solicitation may be removed from Member profiles without notice and may result in termination of Membership privileges. Appropriate legal action will be taken for any illegal or unauthorized use of the Services.

6. Proprietary Rights in Content on Hotsoup.com.

a. By displaying, uploading, publishing or sharing (collectively “Posting”) any content, messages, text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, profiles, works of authorship, or any other materials or media (collectively, “Content”) on or through the Services, you hereby grant to Hotsoup.com, a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable and transferable license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, syndicate, broadcast and distribute such Content in any manner, in any medium, for any purpose, including, without limitation, commercial purposes. Hotsoup.com and its licensees reserve the right to display advertisements in connection with your Content and to use your Content for advertising and promotional purposes.

b. You represent and warrant that: (i) you own all right, title and interest (including all intellectual property rights) to the Content posted by you on or through the Services or otherwise have the right to grant the license set forth in this Agreement, (ii) the Posting of your Content on or through the Services does not violate the intellectual property rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, copyrights, contract rights or any other rights of any person or third party, (iii) you have already paid, and you will be solely responsible for paying (to the extent any later become due) all royalties, fees, and any other monies owing any person by reason of any Content posted by you to or through the Website or Services, (iv) if your Content contains images, video, audio or other media, you are the individual who appears or is heard in your Content, or alternatively, you have obtained from any and all individuals (including consent from parents or guardians for any individual under the age of 18) who appear and/or are heard in your Content to grant the rights described herein, (v) you agree to keep all records necessary to establish that your Content does not violate any of the foregoing representations and warranties and to make such records available upon request of Hotsoup.com, and (vi) that you have no outstanding agreement or obligation that is in conflict with any of the provisions of this Agreement or that would preclude you from complying with the terms and conditions found herein. You agree to pay for all royalties, fees, and any other monies owing any person by reason of any Content posted by you to or through the Services.

c. The Services contain Content of Hotsoup.com (“Hotsoup.com Content”). Hotsoup.com Content is protected by copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret and other laws, and Hotsoup.com owns and retains all rights (including all intellectual property rights) in the Hotsoup.com Content and the Services. Hotsoup.com hereby grants you a limited, revocable, nonsublicensable license to reproduce and display the Hotsoup.com Content (excluding any software code) solely for your personal use in connection with viewing the Website and using the Services.

d. The Services contain Content of Users and other Hotsoup.com licensors. Except for Content posted by you, you may not copy, modify, translate, publish, broadcast, transmit, distribute, perform, display, reproduce, use, license, create derivative works from, transfer or sell any information or Content contained in the Website or any Content appearing on or through the Services. You may not develop or derive for commercial sale any data in machine-readable or other form that incorporates or uses any substantial part of the Website or its Content. You may not transfer to or store any data residing or exchanged over the Services in any electronic network for use by more than one user unless you obtain prior written permission from Hotsoup.com.

e. You grant the rights hereunder whether or not your Content is used by Hotsoup.com, any other Users or HOTSOUP.com?s licensees. You acknowledge that your consideration for the rights you grant to Hotsoup.com and its licensors under this Agreement in and to your Content is, among other things, the tools and functionality provided for your use of the Services. You will not receive any further compensation of any kind for your Content and you will not receive credit on or in association with your Content. Your Content will not be acknowledged, returned or held “in confidence” by Hotsoup.com or its licensors. Hotsoup.com and its licensors reserve the right in their respective sole discretion to remove or not post any Content, for any reason. Your Content will not be returned, and Hotsoup.com and its licensors have no obligation to inform you of any decision to remove or not post such materials.

7. Content Posted.

a. Hotsoup.com may delete any Content in its sole discretion, including, without limitation, any Content that in the sole judgment of Hotsoup.com violates this Agreement or which may be offensive, illegal or violate the rights, harm, or threaten the safety of any person. Hotsoup.com assumes no responsibility for monitoring the Services for inappropriate Content or conduct. If at any time Hotsoup.com chooses, in its sole discretion, to monitor the Services, Hotsoup.com nonetheless assumes no responsibility or liability for the Content, no obligation to modify or remove any inappropriate Content, and no responsibility for the conduct of the User submitting any such Content.

b. You are solely responsible for the Content that is posted on or through any of the Services through your Member account, and any material or information that is transmitted through your account to other Members and for your interactions with other Users. Hotsoup.com does not endorse and has no control over the Content. Content is not necessarily reviewed by Hotsoup.com prior to Posting and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Hotsoup.com. Hotsoup.com makes no warranties, express or implied, as to the Content or to the accuracy and reliability of the Content or any material or information that you transmit to other Members.

I’m no lawyer, but on the face of it this Membership Agreement seems possibly illegal – certainly unenforcable – and, most importantly, incredibly insulting. In essence and in English, the text of this Agreement says:

  1. It is the responsibility of Users to make sure that they own content that they post – we are not liable if this isn’t the case.
  2. Once Users post content that they’ve certified that they own, WE own it. You can still use your own content, but so can we, for whatever we wish.
  3. You can’t use any other User’s content. For anything.

Section 6(d) is really one of the more remarkable clauses one could include in a Membership Agreement for what seeks to be a high-profile blog/social-networking service/something, as it purports to prohibit blogging. You’re not allowed to excerpt and link to HOTSOUP! content:

Except for Content posted by you, you may not copy, modify, translate, publish, broadcast, transmit, distribute, perform, display, reproduce, use, license, create derivative works from, transfer or sell any information or Content contained in the Website or any Content appearing on or through the Services.

It’s blogging and social networking as sharecropping, basically – all production for the benefit of the owners.
Of course, HOTSOUP! can’t actually enforce these terms, as many of the uses they prohibit are explicitly covered by Fair Use. But given this sort of draconian and insulting view of what its Users are there to do – provide Fees, due dilligence and Content for the site’s owners – I can’t imagine that enforcing the terms is going to be much of an issue – who in their right mind would bother dealing with or providing content for HOTSOUP!?

Well, the site’s owners do have an intended audience, as it turns out. I’ll return to that issue in the next installment.

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2 Responses to Soup Bowl for a Square Peg Part II – Content

  1. rosie says:

    I actually like rizzleweb.com more, its got a much better concept of allowing everyday people to write performance reviews for their senator/congressmen etc. I hear they’ve actually put their money where their month is by estabellishing a pac which will give money to the highest ranked politicians based on user reviews- can be found at http://www.rizzleweb.com

  2. Peter says:

    Brilliant Website. Please take a look at my website. Let me know what you think.
    Maybe you will link to it…Thank You.

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