By Michelle Conlin and Brian Grow

NAPLES, Florida (Reuters) - Robert and Julie Davidson fell hard for the gleaming new house at the Valencia Golf and Country Club in Naples, Florida. They loved the way the palm-fringed, Spanish-style home backed up to the fifth-hole fairway. And they were taken with the three-bedroom's high ceilings and open plan. Plus the neighbourhood - with its power-washed driveways, blooming hibiscus and guarded gatehouse - seemed all "dressed up."

But when the Davidsons paid $255,385 in 2011 for the house on Birdie Drive, they didn't know that they had, in essence, bought only from the ground up, and that their homebuilder, D. R. Horton, had kept everything underneath.

"Wait a second, wait a second," Robert Davidson said after a reporter told him that a search of county records showed that D. R. Horton still owned the oil, natural gas, water and other natural resources beneath his and his neighbours' homes. "Let me sit down a minute here. They have the mineral rights to the land I'm on?"

In golf clubs, gated communities and other housing developments across the United States, tens of thousands of families like the Davidsons have in recent years moved into new homes where their developers or homebuilders, with little or no prior disclosure, kept all the underlying mineral rights for themselves, a Reuters review of county property records in 25 states shows. In dozens of cases, the buyers were in the dark.

The phenomenon is rooted in recent advances in extracting oil and gas from shale formations deep in the earth, fuelling the biggest energy boom in modern U. S. history. Horizontal drilling and the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," have opened vast swaths of the continental United States to exploration.

As a result, homebuilders and developers have been increasingly - and quietly - hanging on to the mineral rights underneath their projects, pushing aside homeowners' interests to set themselves up for financial gain when energy companies come calling. This is happening in regions far beyond the traditional American oil patch, which has a long history of selling subsurface rights.

"All the smart developers are doing it," says Lance Astrella, a Denver lawyer who represents mineral-rights owners, including homebuilders, in deals with energy companies.

Among the smart ones are private firms like Oakwood Homes in Colorado, the Groce Companies in North Carolina, Wynne/Jackson in Texas, and Shea Homes, which builds coast to coast. Publicly traded companies that engage in the practice include the Ryland Group, Pulte Homes and Beazer Homes, according to oil and gas attorneys and public land records.

HEAVY USER

D. R. Horton, the biggest U. S. homebuilder, is a heavy user of the practice. The Fort Worth, Texas, company has separated the mineral rights from tens of thousands of homes in states where shale plays are either well under way or possible, including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington and California. In Florida alone, the builder has kept the mineral rights underneath more than 10,000 lots, a review of county property records shows.

In most states, sellers aren't legally required to disclose to home buyers whether they are severing the mineral rights to a property. Builders sometimes flag the move in sales contracts or deeds and other documents they are required to file with local authorities. But buyers don't necessarily review their paperwork very closely, especially if, as real-estate agents say happens often, they don't hire a lawyer to help them with the transaction.

"This is a huge case of buyer beware," said Professor Lloyd Burton, professor of law and public policy at the University of Colorado Denver. "People who move into suburban areas are really clueless about this, and the states don't exactly go out of their way to let people know."

Multiple builders declined to respond to questions about severing minerals under lots. Pulte said of its mineral-rights business: "While not zero, it's immaterial in our history and is not typically a component of land acquisition transactions." Beazer Homes said its standard sales contract in the Dallas-Fort Worth area includes a clause that carves out mineral rights. The company said that it does not always retain those rights and that it is not in the business of leasing them out. It would not comment on whether it keeps mineral rights in other parts of the country.

Wynne/Jackson said that, as a developer, it wouldn't be in a position to disclose reserved mineral rights since it sells its lots to homebuilders long before a home buyer enters the picture.

Oakwood Homes, the Ryland Group and Shea Homes, all of which county records show have reserved mineral rights under housing developments, declined to comment. D. R. Horton also declined to comment.

Homeowners, once they find out they don't own the earth under their feet, are typically not pleased. Many worry about the potential health and environmental effects of fracking. Research has yet to resolve the fierce debate over whether the process leads to ground, air and drinking-water contamination.

Janet Damon lives in a Denver community where builder Oakwood Homes leased out the underlying mineral rights to Anadarko Energy. And though drilling has yet to occur, Damon says, the possibility alone "has caused so much anxiety for families living in this radius that people started having health issues, panic attacks, because they're so concerned about their kids and families." Anadarko said it has since assigned the lease to ConocoPhillips as a part of a larger transaction. ConocoPhillips confirmed that it holds the lease.

Others homeowners are angry that they cannot exploit for financial benefit something they thought they owned. Richard Goodrich, another Valencia Golf and Country Club homeowner in Naples, noticed D. R. Horton had severed his mineral rights while he was negotiating to buy his house in November 2011. He says he told the local sales rep that he wanted to keep the rights. "If somebody wanted the mineral rights, then obviously there was a value," says Goodrich, a retired transportation executive. He was rebuffed. "It wasn't negotiable. We either (gave up the minerals) or we didn't get the house."

Loss of mineral rights isn't the only hit homeowners take. Property-tax assessments don't take into account severed mineral rights. And "lenders may not be willing to extend mortgage loans on property that is subject to intensive gas extraction activities," according to a report last year by the North Carolina Department of Justice.

Wells Fargo, the nation's largest home lender, sometimes denies mortgages to homes encumbered by gas leases. And for the past year, Sovereign Bank has been including clauses in mortgages allowing it to declare borrowers in default if any part of the subsurface property has been "leased, assigned or otherwise transferred for use to extract minerals, oil or gas," according to a copy of the bank's mortgage addendum. If mineral rights are severed, "we would not move forward with financing a property," said a bank spokeswoman.

Insurance policies usually exclude damage from "industrial operations," and some companies are denying coverage altogether for homes where the mineral rights have been severed. Title insurance companies have been exempting anything to do with mineral rights from their policies, too.

"VIRGIN LOCATIONS"

In many countries, only monarchs and governments are entitled to pull resources out of the earth. The United States is one of the few places where private owners hold title to what's above and what's below the ground. A handful of oil-rich states, such as Texas and Oklahoma, have a long tradition of split estates, whereby one party can own the surface rights, and another can own the subsurface rights.

Now, once-inaccessible stores of oil and gas - underneath bustling urban neighbourhoods and tree-shaded suburbs in places like Denver and Los Angeles - are within reach. Homeowners in these "virgin locations" are often untutored in the nuances of property rights and unaware they may be sitting atop oil and gas deposits that could be worth thousands or even millions of dollars.

In North Carolina, a group of distraught homeowners contacted the state Attorney General's office last year after they discovered that they had signed away their mineral rights when they bought their homes - just as the state was about to open its doors to fracking. "Everybody started to panic, because we were part of the area where there was potentially going to be fracking," says Jay Mosesson, a homeowner in the Legend Oaks subdivision in Chapel Hill.

Mosesson says he didn't learn that D. R. Horton was keeping the mineral rights under his home until his closing. "It was kind of hard to get out of it at that point because we had waited months for the house to get built and we were moving out," he says. "Plus we would have had to give our deposit up. We couldn't say, 'Oh, we're not going to buy the home. We don't have mineral rights.' "

As part of an inquiry into the matter, the state Department of Justice sent a letter to D. R. Horton, on April 12, 2012, asking for "a description of all oral and written disclosures made to home buyers," as well as the forms to back them up. "Our feeling was that normally, when North Carolina consumers were buying homes, their expectation was that they were purchasing all the normal rights with the home - as well as the land," said state Deputy Attorney General Kevin Anderson.

D. R. Horton said in a statement it released at the time that it intended "for its home buyers to be fully aware that the mineral rights under their lot have been severed and retained." It said it instructed sales agents to disclose the reservations prior to signing a contract. It also said it disclosed them in the deed, title and sales contract. A copy of a sales contract, reviewed by Reuters, showed it has a clause giving D. R. Horton "all geothermal energy and resources" located "on, in or under the Lot."

D. R. Horton agreed to return the rights to 700 aggrieved homeowners, including Mosesson. It also said it would suspend the practice of reserving the rights until the state legislature implemented a regulatory framework for fracking, which North Carolina is expected to allow in 2014.

"No one is actually reading these real estate contracts," says James Smith, a real-estate agent with Charlotte-based Executive Sellers Realty. "A lot of homeowners didn't realize their rights were stripped out." He and other agents say the problem is compounded because home buyers often don't hire a lawyer to help them with their deals.

Publicly traded homebuilders aren't required to disclose details of their oil and gas income or activity until the business becomes "material," investor relations professionals say. A review of U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings turned up no such disclosures, suggesting that the companies have yet to turn their retained holdings into profit centres by leasing to energy companies.

The potential is there. Selling or leasing mineral rights has become a multibillion-dollar U. S. industry. A typical drilling lease can generate bonuses for its owner worth thousands of dollars per acre and a share of production profits as high as 25 percent. In 2012 alone, energy companies paid out more than $20 billion in natural gas royalties, according to the National Association of Royalty Owners.

As drilling has moved into more densely populated areas, energy companies have typically sent teams of so-called land men to knock on homeowners' doors to try to persuade them to lease their mineral rights. Each lease can have different terms, depending on the negotiating skill of the homeowner. Now, by dealing with builders and developers, energy companies can lock up entire neighbourhoods via a single lease.

"We thought about it, and thought it was probably better that the mineral rights not be in so many different pockets," says Van Groce Sr., founder of the Groce Companies, a homebuilder that is currently reserving mineral rights underneath homes in the Copper Ridge Subdivision in Sanford, North Carolina.

D. R. Horton deeds the mineral rights it retains to a subsidiary called DRH Energy. The deeds contain language barring the disturbance of the surface of the lot - to a depth of 30 feet - but allowing for "developing, drilling, producing, withdrawing, capturing, pumping, extracting, mining or transporting the minerals, resources and groundwater" under or around the property through "wells or other structures at surface locations situated outside the boundaries" of the property.

In most cases, D. R. Horton appears not to have inked many agreements with energy companies. However, county property records show that it has done at least four mineral-rights deals in the Fort Worth area, home to more than 1,675 oil wells. The most recent was in February, when D. R. Horton leased the mineral rights under the Fairways at Fossil Creek development to XTO Energy, county property records show. Terms weren't disclosed.

XTO Energy, a unit of ExxonMobil, said it has drilled in the area.

TOO LATE

In February, chiropractor Mark Schreibman bought a new house for his family of four in the upscale Fox Run subdivision in Greeley, Colorado. Having once lived in a 300-square-foot bungalow, he saw the 3,600-square-foot adobe as a palace: two kitchens, five bedrooms, a three-car garage.

Schreibman thought he had considered every aspect of the purchase. "When I was sitting down at my closing, I mean, the last thing I was thinking was: 'Do I own my mineral rights?' " he says. "That was just a non-issue."

Two weeks later, a neighbour came to his door handing out leaflets: It was an invitation from an energy company in Greeley called Mineral Resources to attend a community gathering the next night.

Schreibman and about 65 neighbours gathered at the Family Funplex, where officials from Mineral Resources told them that the company was about to begin drilling under their neighbourhood - and that it was putting 22 well heads right across the street (the number has since been reduced to about 16). The officials assured residents that they would have a say in choosing the shrubs and trees to be planted to conceal the drilling operation and minimize noise.

Unbeknownst to the residents, many of whom had missed the mention of the mineral-rights disclosure on their deeds, the developer had spun off the rights and leased them to Mineral Resources. They say they don't remember hearing anything about it when they bought their houses.

"We were shell-shocked," says Schreibman, who is now running for city council. "No one ever thought they would frack here - for any reason."

The residents quickly mobilized, hiring a lawyer and filing an appeal with the city of Greeley. With 425 wells that lie within city limits, Greeley has become a drilling town. But the residents argued that such a sprawling operation, so close to a residential neighbourhood, was unprecedented, and that the possible health risks were too great. They also said that they were blindsided by the proposal, that they would never be able to sell their homes once drilling started, and that they feared the consequences of an accident, explosion or flood.

At a packed hearing last spring, the city rejected the appeal, seven to zero, on the grounds that the plan met the criteria under local land-use laws. "The city is committed to continuing to work with the community to find the right balance of land uses," says Brad Mueller, Greeley's director of community development. "It's a balance between competing values."

Since the drilling plan came to light, two neighbours have sold their homes. Two more have put theirs on the market; one just cut the price by $50,000.

Mineral Resources Chief Executive Officer Arlo Richardson said he wasn't sure when the drilling would begin. "We appreciate and recognize their concerns," he said. "But it doesn't change what the state of Colorado allows us to do."

Fox Run developer Mike Donaldson did not respond to requests for comment.

NO DISCLOSURE

Split estate laws emerged more than 100 years ago, long before any energy company had the ability to drill horizontally for miles. That's why mineral-rights owners in many places can now extract hydrocarbons from beneath a property even if doing so is against the will of the homeowner.

State laws are at best murky on what sellers must tell buyers about mineral rights. A bill expected to be introduced in 2014 in Colorado would require sellers to disclose mineral-rights ownership to buyers before a sale. But for now, all that exists is two sentences in the standard sales contract underneath a section called "Title Advisory," warning the buyer of the possibility that mineral or water rights may have been transferred.

The disposition of mineral rights is rarely explained to buyers before or during closings, real estate professionals say, and title searches don't always pick up the information, either. Many states also don't require home buyers to have their own lawyer present at closings.

"We were surprised to find that a lot of the laws in other states didn't seem to approach the issue from a consumer protection standpoint," said Deputy Attorney General Anderson in North Carolina, which enacted a law requiring a separate written disclosure about mineral rights for home buyers. "To a large extent, there weren't always good models for us to look at."

Real-estate agents say many buyers miss any notifications buried in the multipage sales contracts they sign. And even though builders and developers sometimes file mineral deeds with county registrars, homeowners may not know to sleuth through county property records to find that information. Title insurance policies may disclose the reservations, but buyers often miss those, too.

In 2008, drillers moved into the Bossier Parish, Louisiana, area and started to pen leases worth thousands of dollars. In the Golden Meadows development - a quiet community of no-frills, one-story brick homes - energy companies filled residents' mailboxes and dropped flyers on their doorsteps.

Charles Richard Casares was in the middle of negotiating a deal to lease his own mineral rights when an energy company representative informed him that he didn't own them. The builder of his home, James M. Brown Builder, did. Before selling Casares his house in 2006, the company had transferred the rights to company officers and their wives. It had also allegedly inked leasing deals with two energy companies.

Casares and six other residents filed suit against James M. Brown Builder in Louisiana District Court, alleging their deeds made no mention of the mineral-rights reservations. "It was the principle of the thing, is what made me mad," says Casares. "The way they did me."

In 2011, after gas prices crashed, the lawsuit was settled confidentially.

Doug Brown, president of James M. Brown Builder, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality agreement.

Severed rights are usually not factored into tax assessments. Thus homeowners who don't own their mineral rights often end up paying just as much in property taxes as those who do - even though their properties are worth less. Owners of severed mineral rights pay no property taxes at all. Only when minerals are extracted from the ground are they usually taxed, according to Jerry Simmons, the executive director of the National Association of Royalty Owners.

Appraisers and tax assessors rarely ask about mineral rights when they assess properties, especially in states with little experience of oil and gas drilling, says John S. Baen, a professor of real estate at the University of North Texas, who has studied the impact of drilling on property values. "The tax offices have no clue what to do," he says. "They don't understand it at all."

FRACKING THE FAIRWAY

Davidson didn't have his own lawyer present at the closing for his house in Naples, Florida. The Vietnam War veteran, who runs a hearing-aid company, says he doesn't remember hearing or reading anything about mineral rights at his closing. Nor did he do his own search of local property records at the Collier County Recorder of Deeds.

If he had, he would have found out that, four years before he bought his house, D. R. Horton filed a mineral deed granting its DRH Energy subsidiary the right to exploit whatever resources it could underneath Davidson's house.

In September, local authorities approved a plan for Dan A. Hughes Co of Texas to begin drilling near Golden Gate Estates, a neighbourhood 10 minutes from Davidson's home. It's the first time south Florida has allowed horizontal drilling so close to a residential area. Neighbours there received a letter last April from an emergency preparedness company called Total Safety, requesting household information for a hydrogen sulfide contingency plan should the area need to be evacuated due to an explosion or leak. Dan A. Hughes Co declined to comment.

Davidson worries that if the project is successful, oil and gas operators will pounce on more mineral-rights leases in suburban Naples, including under his home.

He says he also "would have a problem with them generating income off of something which theoretically I should own." Davidson, who is the secretary of the board of the Valencia Club development, says he and the rest of the club's board plan to contact their lawyer about the mineral rights under their homes and add the issue to the list of grievances they have with D. R. Horton, from unpaid homeowner dues to cul-de-sacs lacking sufficient drainage.

Recently, Davidson unpacked a stuffed plastic file folder that contains all of his house paperwork. He pored over every page. In the title to his home - provided by D. R. Horton's in-house title company - he found minerals mentioned between information about easements and tax parcel numbers. It read: "minerals, resources and groundwater (with rights of egress and ingress, springing surface waiver) in favour of DRH Energy."

(Editing by John Blanton)

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  1. All intellectual property in relation to Material on the Site belongs to the Publishers or its licensors, advertisers or affiliates. You obtain no interest in that intellectual property. All Material on the Site is protected by international copyright and other intellectual property laws. You may not do anything which interferes with or breaches those laws or the intellectual property rights in the content. You do not have any right, title or interest in or to any proprietary rights relating to the Material or the Site. All individual articles, blogs, videos, content and other elements comprising the Material or the Site are also copyrighted works, and the Publisher (subject to the rights of its licensors and licensees under applicable agreements, understanding and arrangements) has all rights therein. You must abide by all additional copyright notices or restrictions contained on the Site.

  2. Without limiting clause 11.1, by posting or submitting Contributed Material , you are giving the Publisher, and its affiliates, agents and third party contractors the right to display or publish such Contributed Material on the Site and its affiliated publications (either in the form submitted or in the form of a derivative or adapted work), to store such content, and to distribute such content and use such content for promotional and marketing purposes. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, with respect to any video submissions to the Publisher made by you from time to time, you understand and agree that (unless you and the Publisher agree otherwise) the Publisher may, or may permit users to compile, re‑edit, adapt or modify your video submission, or create derivative works therefrom, either on a stand‑alone basis or in combination with other video submissions, and (unless you and the Publisher agree otherwise) you shall have no rights with respect thereto and the Publisher or our licensees shall be free to display and publish the same (as so compiled, re‑edited, adapted, modified or derived) for any period.

  3. You shall be solely responsible for your own Contributed Material and the consequences of posting or publishing the Contributed Material. Without limiting clause 11.3, in connection with each of your Contributed Materials, you affirm, represent, and/or warrant that: (I) you own or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to use and authorize the Publisher to use all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other intellectual property or proprietary rights in and to any and all such Contributed Material to enable inclusion and use of such Contributed Material in the manner contemplated by the Publisher and these Terms and Conditions; and (II) you have the written consent, release, and/or permission of each and every identifiable individual person in such Contributed Material to use the name or likeness of each and every such identifiable individual person to enable inclusion and use of such Contributed Material in the manner contemplated by the Publisher and these Terms and Conditions; and (III) the Contributed Materials and their use do not infringe any intellectual property rights or other rights of any person. In furtherance of the foregoing, you agree that you will not submit Material that is copyrighted, protected by trade secret or otherwise subject to third party proprietary rights, including privacy and publicity rights, unless you are the owner of such rights or have permission from their rightful owner to post the material and to grant the Publisher all of the rights granted herein. Publisher reserves the right to remove or not publish Contributed Material without prior notice. You understand that when you submit Material in any form to the Publisher, the Publisher may authorize such content to be distributed or syndicated to or published on other related branded environments.

  4. You may download and view or print a copy of Material on this Site for personal, non‑commercial use provided you do not modify the Material in any way (including any copyright notice). All rights not expressly granted under these terms of use are reserved by the Publisher. Unless expressly stated otherwise, you are not permitted to copy, or republish anything you find on the Site without the copyright or trademark owners' permission.

  5. All trade marks and logos that appear on the Site are owned by either the Publisher or its related bodies corporate or their licensors. Other trademarks may be displayed on the Site from time to time. These may belong to third parties. Nothing displayed on the Site should be construed as granting any license or right of use of any logo, trademark or masthead displayed on the Site, without the express written permission of the relevant owner.

Third party websites, content links, advertising and activities

  1. The Site may feature or display links and pointers to websites operated by third parties on the Site. Such websites do not form part of the Site and are not under the Publisher's control. The Publisher does not accept any responsibility in connection with any such website. If you link to any such websites, you leave the Site entirely at your own risk. The appearance of those links on this site does not indicate any relationship between the Publisher and that third party or any endorsement by the Publisher of that third party, its site or the products or services which it is advertising on this Site. The Site may include third party content which is subject to that third party's terms and conditions of use. Nothing on the Site should be construed as granting any license or right for you to use that content. You must not link to the Site from any other website (or otherwise authorize any other person to link from a third party website to the Site) without the Publisher's prior written consent.

  2. The Site may feature or display third party advertising. By featuring or displaying such advertising, the Publisher does not in any way represent that the Publisher recommends or endorses the relevant advertiser, its products or services. If you contact a third party using functionality provided on the Site, including via e‑mail, the Publisher does not accept any responsibility for any communications or transactions between you and the relevant third party.

  3. From time to time, the Publisher may promote, advertise, or sponsor functions, events, offers, competitions or other activities that may be conducted offline and may be conducted by third parties. These activities may be subject to separate terms and conditions. You participate in any such activities entirely at your own risk. The Publisher does not accept any responsibility in connection with your participation in activities conducted by any third party.

Liability and Idemnity

  1. To the extent permitted by law, you use the Site at your sole risk. The Publisher does not warrant that the Site will be uninterrupted or error‑free. There may be delays, omissions, interruptions, and inaccuracies in the news, information or other Material available through the Site. To the extent permitted by law the Publisher excludes all warranties, representations, conditions and guarantees, whether express, implied or statutory, including, without limitation, those of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, with respect to the Site or any Materials or goods that are available or sold through the Site. The Publisher does not exclude any statutory or implied warranty, condition or guarantee that it is prohibited by law to exclude under applicable law of any jurisdiction. The Publisher does not make any representations, nor does the Publisher endorse the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other material or database supplied, uploaded or distributed on the Site or available through links on the Site. The Publisher reserves the right to correct any errors or omissions on the Site. Although the Publisher intends to take reasonable steps to prevent the introduction of viruses, worms, ‘trojan horses' or other destructive material to the Site, the Publisher does not guarantee or warrant that the Site or Material that may be downloaded from the Site do not contain such destructive features. To the extent permitted by law, the Publisher is not liable for any loss, damage or harm attributable to such features. If you rely on the Site and any Material available through the Site you do so solely at your own risk. The Publisher does not warrant the accuracy of the Material on the Site, and the Material is provided to you “as is” and on an “as available” basis and on the condition that you undertake all responsibility for assessing the accuracy of the Material and rely on it at your own risk. You recognize that the Site may contain various combinations of text, images, audiovisual productions, opinions, statements, facts, articles, market data, stock quotes or other information created by the Publisher or by third parties. Such Material, including market data, is for your reference only and should not be relied upon by you for tax or investment advice and it does not advocate the purchase or sale of any security or investment.

  2. The Publisher does not necessarily hold the opinions expressed by Material contributors. Opinions and other statements expressed by Users and third parties (e.g., bloggers) are theirs alone, not opinions of the Publisher. Material created by third parties is the sole responsibility of the third parties and its accuracy and completeness are not endorsed or guaranteed. You acknowledge that by providing you with the ability to view and distribute Material through the Site, the Publisher is not undertaking any obligation or liability relating to the Material. The Publisher and its affiliates, successors, assigns, employees, agents, directors, officers and shareholders do not undertake or assume any duty to monitor the Site for inappropriate or unlawful content. To the extent permitted by law, the Publisher and its affiliates, successors, assigns, employees, agents, directors, officers and shareholders assume no responsibility or liability which may arise from the Material thereof, including, but not limited to, claims for defamation, libel, slander, infringement, invasion of privacy and publicity rights, obscenity, pornography, profanity, fraud, or misrepresentation. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Publisher reserves the right to block or remove communications, postings or Materials at any time in its sole discretion.

  3. To the extent permitted by law, the Publisher will have no responsibility or liability in relation to any loss or damage that you incur, including damage to your software or hardware, arising from your use of or access to this Site.

  4. The Publisher does not warrant that functions contained in the Site content, such as hyperlinks, will be uninterrupted or error free, that defects will be corrected or that the Publisher or the server that makes it available, are free of viruses or bugs.

  5. The Publisher may be legally compelled to disclose certain Information. You agree that in the event the Publisher receives a subpoena issued by a court or from a law enforcement or government agency, the Publisher shall comply with such subpoenas without your consent or prior notice to you and may disclose your IP address, username, name, IP location or other information in response thereto.

  6. Subject to clause 30, to the extent permitted by law, the Publisher and its affiliates, and their respective members, directors, officers, managers, employees, shareholders, agents and licensors are not liable for incidental, indirect, consequential, special, punitive, or exemplary loss or damages of any kind, including, without limitation, lost revenues or profits, loss of business, opportunity or goodwill, or loss of data, arising in any way in connection with this Site or Material on the Site, the use of (or inability to use) the Site or Material, or the Conditions, whether in contract, tort (including negligence), in equity, under statue or otherwise, including but not limited to any claim, loss or injury based on errors, omissions, interruptions or other inaccuracies in the Site, or as a result of breach of any warranty or other term or condition of the Conditions. To the extent permitted by law and subject to clause 30, the Publisher's liability shall be limited to the amount you paid, if any, for use of the Site.

  7. You will be responsible for any harm the Publisher suffers as a result of your violation of these Terms and Conditions or any breach by you of your representations and warranties. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Publisher and its affiliates, and their respective members, directors, officers, managers, employees, shareholders, agents, and licensors, from and against all losses, expenses, damages and costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees, resulting from any violation by you of the Conditions or any breach by you of your representations and warranties thereunder. The Publisher reserves the right to take over the exclusive defense of any claim for which the Publisher is entitled to indemnification under this Section 29. In such event, you shall provide the Publisher with such cooperation as is reasonably requested by the Publisher.

  8. To the extent that the Publisher's liability for breach of any implied or statutory warranty, condition or guarantee, cannot be excluded by law, to the extent permitted by law the Publisher's liability will be limited, at the Publisher's option, to:

    1. in the case of services supplied or offered by the Publisher:

      1. the supply of the services again; or

      2. the payment of the cost of having the services supplied again; and

    2. in the case of goods supplied or offered by the Publisher:

      1. the replacement of the goods or the supply of equivalent goods;

      2. the repair of the goods;

      3. the payment of the cost of having the goods replaced; or

      4. the payment of the cost of having the goods repaired.

  9. If a jurisdiction does not allow the exclusion or limitation of liability in accordance with clause 30 but allows a limitation of a certain maximum extent then liability is limited to that extent.

No reliance, other Users

  1. Except where expressly stated otherwise, Material on the Site is provided as general information only. It is not intended as advice and must not be relied upon as such. You should make your own inquiries and take independent advice tailored to your specific circumstances prior to making any decisions. To the extent permitted by law, the Publisher will not be liable for loss resulting from any action or decision by you in reliance on the Material on the Site.

  2. You acknowledge that the Publisher is not responsible for, and accepts no liability in relation to, any other User's use of, access to or conduct in connection with the Site in any circumstance.

Termination

  1. In the event of termination of your access to the Site you must immediately cease accessing and using the Site and Materials on the Site and (at Publisher's option) return any (hard or electronic) copies of such Materials to the Publisher or destroy any copies within your control or possession. All licences granted by you and all disclaimers, indemnities and exclusion and limitations of liability set out in the Conditions will survive termination.

Severability

  1. If any provision of the Conditions is deemed invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, the invalidity of such provision shall not affect the validity of the remaining provisions of the Conditions, which shall remain in full force and effect.

No waiver

  1. No waiver of any term of the Conditions shall be deemed a further or continuing waiver of such term or any other term. Any failure to assert any right under the Conditions shall not constitute a waiver of such right.

Affirmation regarding age

  1. By using the Site, you affirm that you are 18 years or over or otherwise possess legal parental or guardian consent.

Applicable Law

  1. These Conditions shall be construed in accordance with and governed by the laws of the Isle of Man. You consent to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts in the Isle of Man to determine any matter or dispute which arises under the Conditions.

Definitions

  1. In these terms and conditions:

    1. "Material" means text, illustrations, photos, audio, video, or any combination of these or other content, information, data or material.

Publishing Services International Limited Privacy Policy

1. Privacy

The Publisher recognizes the importance of protecting the privacy of its customers. For the purposes of this Privacy Policy, "customers" includes visitors to the Site, subscribers to and users of the Publisher's services, purchasers of its products and advertising customers. This privacy policy is intended to inform you about the personal information that is collected from you when you visit the Site, and in the other circumstances described under the heading "Collection of personal information" below, how this information may be used and disclosed, how you can control the use and disclosure of your information, how your information is protected, and how you can access that information. The Publisher may, from time to time, review and update this Privacy Policy, including taking account of new or amended laws, new technology and/or changes to its operations. This Privacy Policy applies only in respect of the Site. This Privacy Policy does not apply to information collected through any other website (other than by or on behalf of the Publisher in the circumstances described under the heading "Collection of personal information" below) or to the practices of companies that the Publisher does not control. Please note that the Site may contain links to other websites. For example, if you click on an advertisement on the Site and link to another website, then this Privacy Policy will not apply to any information collected on that website. The Publisher is not responsible for the privacy practices of other websites, and the Publisher recommends that you read the privacy policies of each website that you visit. All personal information held by the Publisher will be governed by the most recently updated Privacy Policy.

2. Collection of personal information

The Publisher collects personal information when the Publisher provides its services to you. When you visit and interact with the Site, certain information may be collected automatically, including:

  • your computer's Internet Protocol (IP) address;
  • your browser type and operating system;
  • the web pages you were visiting immediately before and after you came to the Site;
  • activities within community discussions;
  • web pages and advertisements that you view, and links that you click on, within the Site;
  • your bandwidth speed and information about the software programs that are installed on your computer;
  • aggregated data about email click‑through rates and user video viewing;
  • standard server log information; and
  • information collected through HTML cookies, Flash cookies, web beacons, and similar technologies.

The Publisher usually collects personal information directly from you, although sometimes the Publisher may use agents or service providers to do this for the Publisher. The Publisher may also acquire lists from other sources, both from other companies and from other public documents. This may include advertisers, mailing lists, recruitment agencies, contractors and business partners. The Publisher may also access information about you from third‑party sources and platforms (such as social networking sites, databases, online marketing firms, and ad targeting firms), including:

  • if you access third‑party social networking services (such as Facebook Connect or Twitter) through the Site, your username and connection lists for those services;
  • demographic data, such as age range, gender, and interests;
  • advertisement interaction and viewing data, such as ad click‑through rates and information about how many times you viewed a particular ad; and
  • unique identifiers, including mobile device identification numbers, that can identify the physical location of such devices in accordance with applicable law.

Please note that the Site may combine the information that we collect with information that the Publisher may obtain from third‑party sources. The Publisher may collect your personal information when you request or acquire a product or service from the Publisher, register with the Publisher as a member (including user name and password and contact information such as name, email address, postal address, phone number, and mobile number), provide a product or service to the Publisher, complete a survey or questionnaire, enter a competition or event, contribute in a fundraising event, participate in one of the Publisher's services (including blogs, forums, community discussions and other interactive features), search queries conducted on the Site, or when you communicate with the Publisher by e‑mail, telephone, or in writing.

The Publisher usually collects personal information such as your name, address, telephone number, and in some instances, your financial details, including your credit card information, in addition to the other specific types of information described above. The Publisher also collects information about you that is not personal information. For example, the Publisher may collect data relating to your activity on its websites (including IP addresses) via tracking technologies such as cookies, or the Publisher may collect information from you in response to a survey.

As a general rule the Publisher does not collect sensitive information, however it reserves the right to do so. If the Publisher does, it will usually be for the purposes of providing its goods or services and if the law requires the Publisher to, the Publisher will seek your consent to collect it.

If you do not provide the Publisher with information described above, the Publisher may not be able to its services to you.

If, at any time, you provide personal information about someone other than yourself, you warrant that you have that person's consent to provide such information for the purpose specified.

If you are located outside of the Isle of Man, please note that personal information provided by you or otherwise collected as described above will be transferred to the Isle of Man.

3. Use of personal information

The Publisher uses personal information to provide its services (which may include the display of personalised content and advertising) to you, to fulfil administrative functions associated with these services, for example billing, to enter into contracts with you or third parties and for marketing and client relationship purposes. The Publisher also generally uses personal information to report statistics, analyse trends, diagnose problems and target and improve the quality of its products and services. By accessing the Site, you agree that the Publisher may use your personal information for the purposes and by the means described in this Privacy Policy, and you agree that the Publisher may use your mobile number to send you promotions, notifications, or other services. In order to provide readers with free access to content, the Publisher displays advertisements on the Site, many of which are targeted based on information about you. For example, using information collected through cookies, web beacons, and other sources, the Publisher may use demographic data or information about your online activities or interests to display targeted advertising that may be relevant to your preferences. Through this process, advertisers reach Site visitors who are most interested in their products, and you see advertising for products or services in which you may be interested. Third‑party advertisers and advertising platforms also may serve targeted ads on the Site. Please remember that the information practices of third‑party advertisers or platforms collecting data on our Site are not covered by this privacy policy. The Publisher may also use the information that it collects to prevent illegal activities, to enforce the Site's Terms and Conditions, and to otherwise protect its rights and the rights of its users. In addition to the uses identified above, the Publisher may use the information that it collects for any other purposes disclosed to you at the time it collects your information or pursuant to your consent. Where your personal information is contained within an advertisement which the Publisher publishes for you, the Publisher may also use your information for publication of that same advertisement in other media, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the initial publication. The Publisher may also use your personal information to assist the Publisher in improving its products and services and to let you know about goods, services, or promotions which may interest you.

4. Disclosure to and use by Third Parties

The Publisher values your privacy, and shares information about its users only under certain circumstances. The Publisher may share your information with other companies which are related to the Publisher. The Publisher may disclose your information to its service providers and contractors from time to time to help the Publisher to provide and market its goods and services to you. The Publisher may also share your information with third parties who provide prizes for competitions or reader offers. If the Publisher does this, the Publisher generally requires these parties to protect your information in the same way as the Publisher does.

The Publisher will make information about you available to other companies, applications, or people in the circumstances listed below:

  • The Publisher may share aggregated information or information that does not directly identify you with third parties to help the Publisher develop content, services, and advertising that the Publisher hopes you will find of interest. Please note that the Publisher does not share contact information with third parties that advertise on the Site.
  • The Publisher may employ third parties to perform Site‑related services, including database management, maintenance services, analytics, marketing, data processing, and email and text message distribution. These third parties have access to your information only to perform these tasks on the Publisher's behalf.
  • If you choose to engage in public activities on the site, such as posting comments on community message boards, any information you submit can be read, collected, or used by others. Please exercise caution when deciding to disclose any personal information in public activities or submissions.
  • The Publisher may share information about you in the event that the Site is acquired by or merged with another company or a similar corporate transaction takes place. However, the Site will notify you by placing a prominent notice on the Site or sending a notice to the primary email address specified in your account before your information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy.
  • The Publisher may share information about you to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud, situations involving potential threats to the physical safety or other rights and interests of any person, violations of the Site's Terms and Conditions, or as otherwise required by law.
  • The Publisher may share information about you to respond to subpoenas, search warrants, judicial proceedings, court orders, legal process, or other law enforcement measures, to establish or exercise our legal rights, or to defend against legal claims.
  • In addition to the scenarios identified above, the Publisher may share information about you for any other purposes disclosed to you at the time the Publisher collects your information or pursuant to your consent.

Please note that third parties may independently collect data about you, including your IP address and information about the websites you visit and the links you click, through cookies, clicks on links, or other means when you visit or view ads on the Site.

To customize your experience on the Site and to simplify the Site's registration process, the Publisher provides you with the opportunity to access or interact with third‑party services, such as Facebook and Twitter. When you connect to the Site through these third‑party services, the Publisher may share information about you with these third‑party service providers and they may share data about you with the Publisher. When you allow the Publisher to access your data through a third‑party service to create a Site profile, the Publisher may use this data for several purposes, including:

  • For example, if you connect to the Site via a service with a public friend list, like Twitter, the Publisher may check to see if any people you follow on Twitter are also Site members. If the Publisher finds a match, the Publisher will replicate your Twitter relationship with those members, setting them to be fans, followers, or friends on the Publisher Site.
  • For example, if you connect via a service that has a private contact list (like Google and Yahoo!), the Publisher checks for people in your contacts who are Site members and suggest that you become a fan of these users.
  • When users share content with their friends, the Publisher may use friend lists from third‑party services to create a list of contacts to whom you may choose to send the email message.
  • For example, the Publisher may use friend lists from a third‑party service to create a list of contacts to whom you may choose to send an invitation to view an interactive slideshow.
  • When you are connected via a third‑party service, the Publisher may access certain account information, such as your profile picture, what stories are popular in your network, and what your friends are saying about certain articles or blog posts, in order to enhance and personalize your experience on the Site.

In addition, if you connect to a Facebook account, your experience on the Site may be personalized. For example, you may automatically see what stories are popular in your network, and what your friends are saying about particular stories. Please note that you may disconnect third party accounts at any time.

Please remember that the Publisher does not control the privacy practices of these third‑party services. The Publisher encourages you to read the privacy policies of all third‑party service providers. You can deactivate your account at any time by visiting the preferences page for your profile. When you deactivate your account, your user profile will be disabled, but your public comments will remain on the site. The Site has no responsibility to take down, remove, or edit any of your public activities or any submissions that are a result of your public activities. If you opt out of these technologies, you will continue to see advertising displayed on the Site, but the advertising may not be targeted to your interests. Please remember that the Publisher does not have access to, or control over, advertisers' or service providers' cookies, and the information practices of third parties are not covered by this privacy policy.

5. Use of Aggregate Data

The Publisher may collect and use certain non‑personal information (e.g., the identity of your Internet browser, the type of operating system you use, your IP address and the domain name of your Internet service provider) to optimise its goods and services (which may include the display of personalised content and advertising) including the Publisher's web pages for your computer. The Publisher may use personally identifiable information in aggregate form to improve its goods and services including its web sites and make them more responsive to the needs of its customers. This statistical compilation and analysis of information may also be used by the Publisher or provided to others as a summary report for marketing, advertising or research purposes.

6. Security

The Publisher strives to ensure the security, integrity and privacy of personal information of its customers. The Publisher may hold your information in either electronic or hard copy form. The Publisher uses a variety of physical and electronic security measures including restricting physical access to its offices and firewalls and secure databases to keep personal information secure from misuse, loss or unauthorized use or disclosure. Unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet can be guaranteed to be totally secure. The Publisher limits access to contact information about you to employees or service providers who the Publisher believes reasonably need to come into contact with that information to provide products or services to you or in order to do their jobs, and subject to section 4 of this Privacy Policy. The Publisher also has adopted commercially reasonable technical, physical, and administrative procedures to help protect information about you from loss, misuse, and alteration. Personal information is destroyed or de‑identified when no longer needed. Please note that no data transmission or storage can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. The Publisher wants you to feel confident using the Site, but the Publisher cannot ensure or warrant the security of any information you transmit to the Publisher.

7. Access to Personal Information

You have a right to request access to personal information the Publisher holds about you. Where the Publisher holds personal information that you are entitled to access, the Publisher will endeavour to provide you with suitable means of accessing it (e.g. by emailing or mailing it to you). If the Publisher denies access in some circumstances, the Publisher will tell you why. To request access, please contact the Publisher's privacy officer as set out at the end of this document. If you believe that personal information the Publisher holds about you is incorrect, incomplete or inaccurate, then you may request amendment of it. The Publisher will consider if the information requires amendment. If the Publisher does not agree that there are grounds for amendment then the Publisher will add a note to the personal information stating that you disagree with it.

8. Public Information

Any information posted on bulletin boards and/or communicated in chat areas becomes public information. While the Publisher strives to protect and respect your privacy, the Publisher cannot guarantee the security of any information you disclose in a chat room or bulletin board.

9. Cookies

Cookies are data that a Web site transfers to an individual's hard drive for record‑keeping purposes. Cookies can facilitate a user's ongoing access to and use of a site. They allow the Publisher to track usage patterns and to compile data that can help the Publisher improve its content and target advertising. If you do not want information collected through the use of Cookies, there is a simple procedure in most browsers that allows you to deny or accept the Cookie feature. But you should note that Cookies may be necessary to provide you with features such as merchandise transactions or registered services.

10. Online Links to Third Party and Co‑Branded Sites

The Publisher may establish relationships with business partners that allow visitors to the Publisher's web sites to link directly to sites operated by these partners. Some of these sites may be "co‑branded" with the Publisher's logo - however, these sites may not be operated or maintained by or on behalf of the Publisher. These sites may collect personal information from you that may be shared with the Publisher. This Privacy Statement will apply to any personal information the Publisher obtains in this manner. The Publisher is not responsible for the content or practices of web sites operated by third parties that are linked to the Publisher's sites. These links are meant for the user's convenience only. Links to third party sites do not constitute sponsorship, endorsement or approval by the Publisher of the content, policies or practices of those third party sites. Once you have left the Publisher's site via such a link, you should check the applicable privacy policy of the third party site.

11. What else you should know about privacy on the Internet

Remember to close your browser when you have finished your user session. This is to ensure that others cannot access your personal information and correspondence if you share a computer with someone else or are using a computer in a public place like a library or Internet cafe. You as an individual are responsible for the security of and access to your own computer. Whenever you voluntarily disclose personal information over the Internet this information can be collected and used by others. In short, if you post personal information in publicly accessible online forums, you may receive unsolicited messages from other parties in return. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for maintaining the secrecy of your username and passwords and any account information. Please be careful and responsible whenever you are using the Internet. The Publisher does not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13. If the Publisher learns that it has collected any personal information from a child under the age of 13 without verifiable parental consent, the Publisher will delete that information from its database as quickly as possible. If you believe that the Publisher may have collected information from a child under 13, please contact the Publisher at privacy@publishingservicesinternational.im.

12. For further information

Please contact our Privacy Officer to ask for access to your information or if you have a complaint concerning your information privacy or if you would like more information about our approach to privacy at privacy@publishingservicesinternational.im.

13. Changes to the privacy policy

The Publisher reserves the right to update this Privacy Policy at any time to reflect changes in the Publisher's practices and service offerings. The Publisher will use it best endeavours to update the Privacy Policy on the Site, however it does not warrant that it will post these updates immediately.

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