Abe Hassan (burr86) wrote in lj_biz,
Abe Hassan

answers to your questions about sponsored communities

Some of you might be interested in more detailed explanation of our stances on various issues surrounding sponsored communities. The previous post described what we're going to require of our sponsors, and we wanted to make those points clear without bogging them down in explanations and justifications. If you're interested in reading some more of the logic about this, or if you have questions about details that weren't covered by the previous post, then this post is for you. :)

* Commercial Activity: Our policy has always been that limited commercial activity confined to an individual journal or community is acceptable; they can't post clickthrough links, user-provided banner ads, and things of that nature. This allows users to do things like create individual "selling journals" for their crafts, for instance. And if someone wants to create a journal dedicated to how great their Gerbil Sweaters are, and you can buy one for $8, well, more power to them.

However, this particular portion of the Terms of Service also gives us the ability to grant permission to engage in commercial activity on a case-by-case basis. This is how we're going to do this: we will be more strictly enforcing this policy for bigger business ventures (for example, ones that obviously turn over a million dollars in revenue); we're not going to allow them to engage in any commercial activity on LiveJournal unless they go through us. This allows us to hold them to the same guidelines we're holding all other sponsored communities to, and it means that you won't be surprised by the actions a community is taking. (It also gives us recourse in the event that a communiy *does* do something we wouldn't allow an officially-sanctioned sponsored community to do.)

* Community Invites and Spam: Although sponsored communities do enjoy many of the same permissions that regular communities do, we're going to be very strict about how they interact with users. In particular, we're going to specifically prohibit them from sending out community invites (although maintainers of other communities can still do so). We're also not going to allow them to initiate any sort of contact with you outside of their community; this means that you won't get comment spam inviting you to join a sponsored community. (If you get comment spam from any user or community, you can delete it and mark it as spam and we'll take action against them.)

* Visibility to Users Logged-out, Basic, and Plus users will see these communities highlighted on the main LJ page and in interest searches. All users will be able to see these communities and participate. They're not going to be 100% invisible to you (you may see them on your friendsfriends page, for instance). We also changed the icon to make it clear that you're looking at a sponsored community (and we'll change it again to address the concerns you brought up in the comments to that post). The community's profile and layout will also clearly designate the communities as sponsored communities. We recognize that some people don't want to interact with these communities at all, so we'll do what we can to minimize that.

* Placement in Interest Searches If you're a paid or permanent account holder, sponsored communities won't get "priority listing" in interest searches. You'll probably still see them amidst the other results, though. They're still legitimate communities -- whether they're run by a company or run by a fan, they get equal access to being listed in an interest search. (They'll be distinguished with a different icon, though, just as they are elsewhere in the site.)

* Access to User Data I honestly have no idea where this rumor came from, but to be clear: we will never compromise the security of your protected or private content under any circumstances, unless we're legally obligated by law (that is, unless we get a court order). To that end, we're not going to give sponsored communities -- or any other communities -- access to anything they can't already see in your journals. We're not going to sell them your email address, either. (We can't prevent them from seeing what's already public, though, but we're not going to help them do so, either.) Let me repeat that, though, because it bears repeating: no advertiser or sponsor is going to get access to your protected content.

Also, because I know some people brought this up: we have very strong security precautions in place to prevent anyone -- sponsored community or not -- from entering in malicious code into their journal styles to gain access to your account or content. If we find that anyone -- again, sponsored community or not -- is exploiting a security hole, we will close that security hole and we'll take aggressive action against the person or persons who took advantage of it.

* Usernames We're very clear with companies that are interested in creating sponsored communities when they let us know which username they'd like to use for their community. We let them know that our namespace is limited, and that their requested username might not be available. We're not going to "eminent domain" a username for an advertiser, especially not if someone's actively using that account. We might ask a user to see if they're willing to give up their username (and offer a free rename token, of course), but ultimately the decision rests with the owner of the journal, not with the advertiser.

* Anti-advertiser content One of our core principles is that of free expression. We're privately held, and so we don't have to offer a great deal of freedom, but it's something that every single one of us believes very strongly in. If a company wants to promote something on LJ, they don't get the privilege of "censoring" anything they don't agree with. However -- just like any other community -- they're welcome to run their communities as they wish. This does mean that they can delete comments or entries that they don't want in their sponsored community. (This is no different than the maintainer of a community about bundt cakes deleting entries that describe how to knit sweaters for gerbils or deleting entries that talk about how awful bundt cakes are; that's at his or her discretion.)

To be clear: Unless an account is already in violation of our Terms of Service, we will not take down journals, communities, or content that is offensive or objectionable to a sponsor. They are aware (and still want to advertise here) that users can write anything that they want. What's permissible on this site is governed by the policies we've had for years, not our advertisers. Their position as a sponsor doesn't give them extra "clout" in that respect.

* Fandom Someone asked that we specifically address this, so: Along the same lines as the previous bullet point, we're not going to "shut down" fandoms or RPGs just because a sponsor said they wanted them shut down. We find that idea repulsive. However, we are (and have always been) legally obligated to act if we receive complaints indicating that someone is violating copyright or infringing on a trademark. This is a long-standing practice; we *have* to do this to avoid getting into legal trouble.

That said, we also enjoy legal freedoms by not actively seeking this sort of thing out -- a sponsor can't ask us to search for all communities of a given fandom so they can report them to us. If they want to do that, they have to do it on their own; we can't and won't help with that. So ultimately, our existing policies on copyright and trademark aren't going to change if a sponsor is on LJ; if they want to report icons or screencaps, the copyright holder will always have a legal right to do so. We're neither going to encourage them to do that, nor are we going to discourage them, either. LiveJournal needs to remain neutral in this type of situation, due to existing United States laws. We still have to enforce these laws whether or not we have sponsored communities.

We understand your fears about having your fandoms disrupted by large media corporations, and so we want to make this clear: just because they've paid us money doesn't mean that corporations will have any extra rights or leverages to censor what you do as a part of fandom. I know a lot of people are worried that they'll "find you" and destroy your communities that way, but their having a community here doesn't give them any extra visibility into LJ; they're "in your neighborhood", yes, but the guildelines we're making with them make it clear that we don't want them interfering with established communities in ways that everyone can agree would be disruptive.

* Sock Puppet Accounts We don't want advertisers to "trick" you in any way; to that end -- and this hasn't been a problem (but there have been suspicions and questions) -- we're going to ask them to clearly designate any associated account (maintainer accounts, company representatives, whatever) as affiliated with the community, if they're not already listed as maintainers of the community. We don't want there to be any ambiguity in this regard; if an account is associated with the community, it will clearly say so. If it doesn't say so, then it's a regular LiveJournal user.

I think that covers some of the biggest concerns people had. If you have questions, feel free to comment here, and we'll try to address them as best as we can. Please don't comment if you just want to say "u sux lol sellouts". (Disagree all you want! Just explain why.) We're very interested in making sure you understand how we're handling this -- whether or not you like the idea, we want to be clear about how we're implementing it.
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