(UPDATED) Storyofmylife.com goes beta: Their Terms of Service Stopped Me Cold

The promise of storyofmylife.com is compelling. Store information about your life. Forever. They’re thinking way far ahead– they’ve established a non-profit foundation to store the stories in perpetuity. Sounds great. But I’m not going to use the site. (Well, beyond a quick signup and look see.) The Terms of Service has a big gotcha in it: You grant storyofmylife.com and its parent company, Eravita, a 6% (minimum) royalty of any money you make on the proceeds of any commercial creative endeavors of the story of your own life.

UPDATE: I heard from the site’s COO. They’ve changed the TOS and deleted the objectionable part. Continue reading the original post and, at the end, the relevant portion of email from Storyofmylife.com’s COO.

The TOS was brought to my attention by my friend Cynthia, who visited the site the first day it was open.

Today’s the first day I’ve had a chance to visit, and I’m rockin’ back on my heels. I’m scared to even sign up to see what is behind it. 

Here’s the part of their TOS in the big capital letters (side note: Why oh why does the most important stuff get printed in all caps, which, when presented in paragraph form, make the most important stuff the hardest to read?)

Note: They updated their TOS, view note at end of this post for more info.

NOTWITHSTANDING ANYTHING HEREIN TO THE CONTRARY, USER HEREBY GRANTS TO ERAVITA, INC., A ROYALTY IN AN AMOUNT TO BE NEGOTIATED BUT CONSISTING IN NO EVENT OF LESS THAN 6% OF THE PROCEEDS DERIVED BY USER FROM THE COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION (WHETHER IN THE FORM OF A MOTION PICTURE, TELEVISION PRODUCT, BOOK, MAGAZINE ARTICLE OR OTHERWISE) BY USER, OR WITH USER’S CONSENT, OF CONTENT POSTED BY USER TO THE STORY OF MY LIFE WEBSITE. SAID ROYALTY SHALL BE DUE WHETHER OR NOT THE CONTENT REMAINS ON THE WEBSITE AT THE TIME OF SUCH COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION. EXPLOITATION OF CONTENT SHALL BE DEEMED TO OCCUR IF THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THE COMMERCIAL PRODUCT IS DERIVED FROM OR [sic] BAASED UPON THE CONTENT WHETHER OR NOT THE [sic] EXPOLOITATION TAKES A FORM IDENTICAL TO THAT IN WHICH THE CONTENT WAS POSTED AND INCLUDES, WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY PLOT, THEME, TITLE, SUBTITLE, CHARACTER, FORMAT, TRANSACTION, SCENARIO, OUTLINE OR OTHER ARTISTIC, CREATIVE AND MUSICAL MATERIAL OF ANY KIND BASED UPON OR DERIVED FROM SUCH CONTENT.

Plot, theme, title, subtitle, character, format, transaction, scenario. That’s pretty all-encompassing. Characters: Let’s see, there’s the Susan character. If I write a little story about one thing on their site, that concerns myself, Susan, and then later on write, say, a memoir about events wholly unrelated to the story I wrote there, they’ve got me on the “character” issue. I’ll have to hand over 6% of my take. They have it. Now, I can see the logic in the “form identical to that which the content was posted” part. I mean, they have a “forever vault” obligation to fulfill, and they need to stay viable to do so. But “derived from and based upon” is like saying, we own six percent of your life story if you even check us out and post anything concerning yourself on our site.

If you write anything, anything about yourself and characters, even to explore the site for a bit, and then decide not to continue on the storyofmylife site, and take your stories down, or let them “disappear”, you still owe them royalties “said royalty shall be due whether or not the content remains on the website at the time of such commercial exploitation.”

I’m stopped before I’ve even begun. I’m scared to even go and sign up and poke around the site and see what options are available as a registered user. In a writing workshop, someone said, “There’s no risk in writing, there’s risk in publication.” Storyofmylife.com changes that, because they place themselves between writing and publication. They are now an intermediary in any future creative endeavor of yours. It’s all risk. Writing is risk. This is a great way to give a case of writer’s block. Don’t go there to putter around or explore. Any character, theme, transaction or scenario that you write there is now something that the company is entangled with. Forever.

In practical terms, it’s an accounting nightmare. Suppose I write a story on the site, and then re-work it and submit it to a publication that pays “do it more for love than money” rates; say the pub pays me $50. Now I owe Eravita $3. (Enjoy the latte). When the low end of “commercial exploitation” consists of such rates, one’s life just turned far more complex in terms of tracking six percents of nickel-and-dime amounts. And how does the company intend to enforce their six-percent rights?

I’m pained to pan this company, right out of the gate. They are doing something that I find totally admirable—offering a means of storage in perpetuity. That’s a hard problem in the digital space. Digital lasts forever, or 5 years, whichever comes first. And they’re staking their claim in “forever” territory. For that reason, I want to embrace them.

Digital last forever—but how do you pay for it?

When it comes to online storage in perpetuity, the business models are still being worked out. There’s the Brewster Kahle Internet Archive method. Man gets rich off of tech boom, creates entity to store information forever. (OurMedia.org is tied in with that).

Then there’s the Buy your own space on a server forever. I think that Dave Winer expressed the desire to have that service. Don’t know if Amazon S3 is that.

There’s donating things to an archive or university or library or historical society.

And then there’s this new storyofmylife.com service, dedicated to preserving life stories, but taking a potential bite out of any income you might make off of any creative endeavor related to your life story.

I think that the practical business models that tackle the problem of paying for perpetual storage are still in their infancy. 

I admire Eravita for taking a stab at it and thinking long, long term. But I cannot embrace (or participate in) their efforts when their terms of service are so terrifying.

UPDATE: I had posted a story on the site, discussing how terrifying I found the TOS to be. I received an email from the COO of the site in response. Here are the revelant portions:

You have received a message from Kristen S Kuhns.
hi Susan,

Thanks for writing to us about your suggestion regarding your Terms. I left a
comment on your Story about this. The original context for which this was intended
was actually no longer relevant, and we have removed it in the Terms.

I would very much appreciate it if you would continue sending me any further
suggestions that you have to improve the site.
[snipped portion of email re: amending my story on the site and where to send more suggestions]

Kristen

COO
Eravita, Inc.
STORY OF MY LIFE

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 07, 2007 in • DigitalityFamily History SoftwareLongevityPersonal History
4 CommentsPermalink

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Comments

hi Susan,

I love your blog and what you do! I’m very glad that you got in touch when you found that. Without boring everyone to tears, some initial concepts in our site, which have since been dropped in favor of the current direction we’re heading, were relevant to those terms. When you brought this to our attention, we agreed with you that it was discouraging to anyone wanting to write their Story on our site.

I like also that you bring up the point of losing data (and a side note, we have a double back-up redunant back-up on Amazon’s S3, which comes after our mirror server location and tape back (which are all our “first” defense levels against loss)). We think so much data is lost whether through accidents, natural disasters, inattention etc., all of which lose history and can instigate regrets from those who say “I wish I’d gotten my father/mother/grandmother to tell me about ....”

We are extremely serious about thinking long-term. While we are in Silicon Valley where companies, owners, “hot” topics seem to switch as fast as the tide, we want to work with people like yourself who care about capturing and preservation of the Stories of people.

Your input is (and hopefully there will be more to come) appreciated.

Regards,
Kristen
COO, Eravita, Inc.

Kristen Kuhns  on 07/08  at  06:44 PM

Hi Susan,
Great spot ! It is outrageous that companies can insert such draconian conditions in the fine-print. How often do we scrutinize the TOS? Especially when it is the users who are providing the content to keep the site running and they insert such fraudulent terms to take ownership of the content forever - atleast to the extent of 6% of the money we might make out of OUR content. Anyway, it is a 2-bit company nobody has heard of. I dont see how anyone will pay them good money to “preserve” their story for posterity.

Romney Goldman  on 09/23  at  08:22 PM

Romney, thanks for your comments. I’d like to tell you—StoryOfMyLife.com immediately made changes to the Terms of Service when I brought this to their attention.

I’ve worked for a software company that’s in, well, a similar situation, so I understand how some remnants of outdated thinking and text remain, are caught, and then are changed when attention is brought to the situation (which I did pretty strongly). Sure, you’d like to not even come across really icky terms of service, but the best one can hope for is to say “Huh? Say what?” and get an immediate “You’re right, that’s old, and we got rid of it.”

Susan A. Kitchens  on 09/23  at  10:32 PM

Hi Ron, it’s a start-up smile We’ll make mistakes and try to fix them as fast as we can. But we’re not doing things lightly, and we’re taking our time about trying to make sure we’re not just a flash in the pan. We didn’t put together our site in a week (it took 18 months) and we’re moving with the full thought of the user’s content being our most precious resource.

Which does, by the way, belong fully to you. Not us.

-Kristen

Kristen  on 10/09  at  02:52 PM

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