Google Owns the Content you Upload to Google Drive?

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Earlier today I wrote about Google Drive. I was quite happy with this new service from Google. However, my excitement has almost died down now. Reason: I read an article on CNET about Google Drive’s Terms of Service, and I am disappointed with those.

CNET analyzed the Terms of Service of Google Drive related to ownership of the content that you upload to Google Drive. You can see complete terms of service here. And the relevant extract is quoted below:

Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

These are quite interesting terms of service. They start by clarifying upfront that content remains yours, and you hold IP rights to them. However, right after that, they start explaining that Google can use the content in any way they want. And the best part is at the end: they can keep using the content even when you stop using the service!

I am quite surprised by these terms. What I understand from this is that any content I host on Google Drive can be used by Google in any way it wants. For example, I might upload my own private video on Google Drive, and find that on YouTube, without me granting a permission for that.

Now, Google might not really want to use the content in the manner that I have described above, and it might just be its lawyers trying to guard against any type of lawsuit. However, the language that has been used in terms of service is quite ridiculous and open-ended.

There have been instances earlier that Google used their far reaching terms and conditions to breach privacy (remember the incidents with Google Buzz?).

There have been alternate takes on interpretation of these terms. Here is an interesting one from a comment on original CNET article:

The fact is, Google does more than Dropbox does. Because they’re hooking Google Docs into this, it means that when I upload a Word document, it can be translated into Google Doc’s own format if I choose — that’s a “translation,” a “derivative work” (a very specific copyright term) that would be illegal if you don’t grant them permission to do so. Some of those rights are clearly necessary, for functionality that’s already in place.
So you can clearly see that they do get the rights to use your content — which can be a legitimate issue. But they don’t “own” it, you still do. If they owned it, you’d have to get their permission to copy it somewhere else or use it elsewhere — but you don’t, because you still own your IP. You’re just giving them a rather large, open-ended blanket permission to do whatever they want to do with it, so long as they can justify it as improving their product, promoting their product (an incredibly vague thing), or to develop any new product — which can be scary, since they could use it for things nobody has even considered yet, and you have no rights to say no.

Personally, I am now not very excited to use Google Drive. If I use it, I would limit the use to things like photos, songs, etc; for which I don’t have to worry about they getting out in the public. For my other content, especially documents, I would stick to good old Dropbox.

Let me know what you think of these terms and conditions.

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