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AOL: Spam and chat don't mix

In a revision to its terms of service agreement, the Web portal expands the definition of spam to include instant messages and chat postings.

America Online has released a revision of its terms of service agreement that expands the definition of spam beyond e-mail to include messaging and chat postings.

Under the new terms of service--AOL's first revision in five years--the company says it will cancel memberships or prosecute members or others who send bulk messages through means other than e-mail.

"You may not use AOL's communication tools, such as e-mail, instant messaging and chat services to send unsolicited bulk communications, including through e-mail or instant messages," the new agreement reads.

AOL has been on a campaign to cut down the amount of unsolicited e-mail landing in members' in-boxes. The company has sued alleged spammers and has supported legislation favoring harsh penalties for those accused of spamming.

The terms of service are meant to give AOL members guidelines about what's acceptable and what's prohibited on the site. They also serves as a legal framework for the limit of rights that AOL members have in exchange for using the service, and they include community guidelines and AOL's privacy policy, both of which were unchanged.

Other than the redefinition of spam, the new terms of service include changes that are mostly superficial rather than substantive. AOL made no major policy overhauls to the text, which will affect only U.S. members and will go into effect on Aug. 3.

"Most of the changes here are cosmetic and housekeeping ones, not changes to policy itself," said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein.

In addition to new spam measures, the new terms of service include updates to existing language found in its previous document. For example, AOL said it is not responsible for supplemental telecommunications fees beyond its control as an Internet service. The changes now also include additional wireless and cable modem fees as a reflection of the different ways people use AOL outside of its core dial-up base.

Other revisions include a restatement of the company's policy toward content. AOL has the right to retransmit content produced by members and posted on its service, though the content producer remains the owner of the copyright.

In addition, AOL restated that content available on its service may not be redistributed outside of legal boundaries. This includes via peer-to-peer services that have been sued by the recording industry.