A Microsoft attorney who goes by DonkeyXote has posted a discussion of the Microsoft Content Usage Rules in his blog. Before reading my continued commentary on the issue, you should probably read his five clarification points.
The clarification process, I can only imagine, will continue for quite some time as new issues continue to pop up from the Machinima community. There are a couple issues that specifically need some attention in the near future.
1. The Universe Expansion Rule
I suppose the real question is how remote is remote enough to be allowed? While I can understand the point DonkeyXote makes in his post, it doesn't speak to the machinimist trying to develop his story. It was a point Laird and I specifically discussed in the recent podcast. For example, I'm certain making use of any of the game's characters is not allowed. But what about a story going on in the same timeframe in another part of the universe? What about a parallel universe? Do you need to re-name all of the character models? Speaking to a more practical level, is the Red vs. Blue storyline remote enough? Sponsors vs. Freeloaders? Halo Unyielding? It would be much easier on the community if a clear framework were applied to this rule.
2. Reverse Engineering/Modifying the Engine Rule
The rule itself is vague enough that "reverse engineering" could involve modifications made using, for example, the tools in Halo CE, Halo 2 Vista, or what appears to be in the Halo 3 Forge. While I would anticipate that this isn't "modifying" the engine, I think the community would feel more comfortable if Microsoft said that these things were allowed.
3. The Contest Rule
Are all contests disallowed? And if so, what is a "contest?" Is entering a video in the YouTube Debates a contest? You do have the basic elements of a "contest," but the prize has no monetary value. A clarification as to the term contest (for example, that it has to have a prize worth $XXX) would likely be quite helpful.
All in all, it is nice to see one of the drafters of the rule address the issue in his blog, and hopefully he will continue to field questions like these as they arise.