The struggle over how to generate more money from MySpace without killing its freewheeling style burst into the open Wednesday when the social networking site blocked videos its users had created with the aid of another popular website.
News Corp.'s MySpace said it barred videos and slide shows created by some of Photobucket Inc.'s 40 million users. The problem is that some of the slide shows violated MySpace’s no-outside-advertising policy because they contained paid promotions for “Spider-Man 3.”
The photo-sharing site posted an angry condemnation of MySpace’s decision on its corporate blog, prompting complaints from many people who use the service to decorate their MySpace profile pages. They accused News Corp. of overreacting as it tries to preserve an ad monopoly on MySpace, which shows more pages than any other site.
Suzanne Brozek, a single mother and accounting clerk from Huntington Beach, had a video of her 2-year-old daughter wiped off her MySpace page without warning because she had used Photobucket.
“It was something happy and uplifting for people to see, and, all of a sudden, it disappeared,” said Brozek.
But to MySpace, the fight was less a clash between freedom and commerce -- and more a game of Chicken 2.0.
MySpace pointed out that its terms of service have always prohibited unapproved advertising, because the site earns money by selling ads. News Corp. shelled out $580 million for MySpace parent company Intermix Media two years ago.
MySpace executives said they contacted Photobucket on Tuesday and asked for help identifying the offending Spider-Man slide shows, so they could block only that material. When Photobucket didn’t, MySpace blocked all its slide shows and videos. “By and large our users understand that MySpace has to have a set of terms in place in order to protect our platform and preserve their experience,” the company said in a statement.
In what may be the result of technical issues, Photobucket said Wednesday that many slide shows could still be posted on the social networking site. The company’s basic photo service was not affected.
Photobucket Chief Executive Alex Welch nevertheless urged users to ditch MySpace for rival online communities.
“By limiting the ability of its users to personalize their pages with content from any source, MySpace is contradicting the very ethos of personal and social media,” Welch wrote in a statement.
In an interview, Welch noted that many MySpace users used background graphics promoting television shows or movies without penalty. He also said that Photobucket wasn’t getting paid by Sony Pictures Entertainment based on how many people see the “Spider-Man 3" campaign, which he referred to as “branded content” that users chose to wrap around their own work.
For its part, MySpace said it had to clamp down to limit the amount of advertising and protect its users’ experience.
“It’s a business,” said Robert St. Onge, a 27-year old student and stay-at-home dad in Fresno. “Why would you want other people to be linked away from your site when you offer a comparable service?”