Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, April 11, 2001
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

How To Read "Terms of Use" Agreements

Jack Russo
Russo & Hale, LLP
About the talk:

This Colloquium departs from the usual presentation of research results and new and innovative products to spend some time learning about the nitty-gritty legal details of web-based services.

Web-based services utilize "Terms of Use" agreements which you, as a user, presumably assent to when you use the site. Every service-providing site (Yahoo!, Hotmail, Passport, and others) has such agreements. Most users pretty much ignore reading Terms of Use agreements and simply assent.

Recently, Microsoft's Terms of Use agreements for Microsoft's Passport website have been at the center of controversy between Microsoft and both privacy and intellectual property watchdog groups.

While Microsoft claims the particular Terms of Use agreements in the spotlight are intended for and apply only to the Passport product, the fact that "Passport Technology" is a component of the recently announced HailStorm and .NET product lines has suggested to many observers that the Passport agreements are indicative of what Microsoft intends to use with these new products.

There has been substantial discussion in the press and on the web. See, for example, the comments posted on Dave Farber's IP (Interesting Persons) list, on, and articles elsewhere in the trade press.

Recently (April 5), Microsoft changed the published provisions of the Passport site's Terms of Use, perhaps in response to criticism in the press, perhaps not. Microsoft has been silent on the Terms of Use controversy and has issued neither Press Releases nor White Papers discussing their position.

Today's Colloquium speaker is Jack Russo, a partner in Russo & Hale in Palo Alto. He will walk us through the two versions of Microsoft's Passport's Terms of Use agreement, and examine, in detail, point by point, paragraph by paragraph, what he understands are the obligations and rights of a user under this agreement.

Before the Colloquium, we recommend that you browse the Passport site, and read the various versions of the Terms Of Use agreements, including the most controversial one fetched from Google's cache:

  Current Live Version
Snapshot of April 5, 2001 -- the New Version
Snapshot of April 4, 2001 -- the Controversial Version

The original controversial Microsoft Terms of Use agreement has been withdrawn (at least in the United States) and presumably will not be enforced by Microsoft. Microsoft PR spokesperson Tom Pilla explained to us, as we were organizing this Colloquium, that the posted Terms of Use that touched off the controversy were "outdated" and that they should have been replaced because they had been superseded by the privacy policy statement with its TRUSTe privacy certification.

Microsoft has been invited to participate in this Colloquium. We asked that they provide a spokesperson with detailed knowledge of provisions of the Terms Of Use agreements. Embarrassing as it must be to be embroiled in controversy over user privacy, intellectual property ownership, and other elements of the Terms of Service agreement, proactive explanation and clarification seems to us to be most effective As of this posting (Friday, April 6, 2001, 10PM) Microsoft has been unable to identify anyone who could act as a spokesperson and address the Colloquium. They have promised to continue searching.

If you received this abstract via email, you may want to visit the colloquium website, The version of the abstract posted there has active links to much of the cited material.

Slashdot article links (latest first): 1   2   3   4  

About the speaker:

Jack Russo is a partner in Russo & Hale LLP. Russo & Hale LLP, located in Palo Alto, California, specializes in computer software cases in state and federal courts, including disputes involving copyright, trade secret, patent, trademark, licensing and other proprietary rights issues.

Mr. Russo is admitted to practice in California, New York, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii as well as the U.S. Supreme Court and a number of federal courts. He was educated at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College (B.A./M.A. Joint Degree in Urban Management and Computer and Information Science, 1977. Magna cum laude) and the University of California at Los Angeles (J.D., 1980. Order of the Coif).

Mr. Russo is a frequent speaker on computer law issues and has given presentations to the American Bar Association, the Practicing Law Institute and the Computer Law Association. Mr. Russo serves as an arbitrator and mediator for the U.S. District Court (N.D. California), the Santa Clara County Superior Court, and the American Arbitration Association, as well as a Judge Pro Tempore of the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Contact information:

Jack Russo
Russo & Hale, LLP
401 Florence Street
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Vox: (650) 327-9800
Fax: (650) 327-3737