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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Writers -- Beware Google's TOS

   
Author Topic: Writers -- Beware Google's TOS
MattLeo
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In a recent exchange of emails Dr. Bob asked me about cloud (online storage) services, and it occurred to me that the writers should be aware of the rights they give to cloud service providers under their Terms of Service (TOS) before they use the service.

Cloud services by their nature are redundant and distributed; in order to make use of their service you have to give them the rights to copy your data to their various servers. Likewise, if the service offers the ability for you to share your files with other people, you naturally have to give them the right to provide those people with access to whatever it is you're sharing.

I've looked at the TOS for several popular cloud services (Dropbox, Google Drive, UbuntuOne). UbuntuOne's TOS ( https://one.ubuntu.com/terms/ ) mostly relates to acceptable use. They reserve the right to collect statistical (non-personally identifiable information) about you, and to relay your data to courts or government regulators of required by law to do so. Dropbox ( https://www.dropbox.com/terms ) explicitly limits the rights you give it to those necessary to provide the service you are using -- which should be considered best practices for all online service TOS.

Google's TOS ( http://www.google.com/policies/terms/ ), however, says this:
quote:
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).
(emphasis mine)

Now the terms also say
quote:
You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.
So what does this mean? Suppose J.K. Rowling had stored drafts of "Harry Potter" on Google Drive. Since she still owns "Harry Potter", she can publish it; but the terms of allow Google to do anything they want, including publishing their own competing edition without paying her royalties. Unlike other companies' TOS, they don't actually restrict their rights to those necessary to run their service (note "such as" is not the same as "limited to"). The key phrase here is "and to develop new ones." What if the "new one" was print on demand?

What about Google's privacy policy, does that help? Well, Google's privacy policy doesn't mean a thing because it has an exemption for anything you give them permission to do, and in the TOS you give them permission to do *anything*. And there's no way to get out of this perpetual grant of unlimited rights to Google. Even after you take your material off their service they still have the right to do what they please with it.

Now let me make it clear, I do not think Google intends to publish anyone's copyrighted material (at least the current management does not). I think these TOS are the result of Google's lawyers wanting to protect Google if in the future they develop some unforeseen scheme to monetize their access to your information. Unfortunately by avoiding *any* restriction on Google's future moneymaking schemes, the TOS gives them the right to do anything they please, even the things they currently don't intend to do. And since this grant is perpetual and irrevocable, this grant applies not only to Google, but any company they may choose to sell their service to.

Since these are now *standardized* TOS, they apply to *all* Google services, including GMail. If you are a GMail user and send a copy of your manuscript as an attachment, you've just made an irrevocable grant of publication rights to Google.

Google could clear this right up if they simply included an explicit limitation (as Dropbox does) to what is needed to provide their services, but despite the strong backlash against the new TOS they have not backed down. Until they do you're giving them (or anybody they sell the service to) the right to publish anything you put on their services.

I'll leave you with two recommendations. (1) Read and understand any online service's TOS, and if it doesn't explicitly restrict use of user content to what is necessary to provide the service don't use it. (2) Do not store manuscripts or sensitive data on, or transmit anything through, any Google service which requires you agree to their TOS (Google Drive, GMail, Google Apps). Sending manuscripts to GMail users is probably OK as long as you send it from a non-Google service.

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Meredith
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And given that Google is currently being sued over their determination to create a database of scanned published books--regardless of copyright--I think there's adequate reason to question their motives.
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axeminister
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Wow.
I'm uninstalling G-Drive after this post.

I backed them all my stories on there, which means they own them.

Not that I think they'll publish them now, but like Matt said, down the line, maybe? Who knows?

I can't believe they take the rights to all your stories and novels in perpetuity the instant you back it up on their "drive".

That's really nuts.

Axe

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rcmann
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I have never understood the "cloud" concept anyway. Why? For the cost, you can buy a usb hard drive and make your own backups. It's not difficult to download some open source backup software. What's the advantage? I'm a confused old geezer. Can some of you young folks enlighten me?
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Meredith
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Well, there has always been something to the idea of off-site backup. Businesses do it routinely. And usb drives are just as subject to accidents and theft as the computer itself.

Doesn't mean you shouldn't do that, too. Or make print copies for that matter. Just that an offsite backup is another and better level of protection.

I'm seriously considering signing up for one that will do automatic backups. I currently use msn live's sky drive, but it's a bit of a pain in the ass. You can't back up a file you actually have open at the time. Something a little more robust is probably in order.

Anyone have any experience with McAffee's backup service? I like the encryption features. [Smile]

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axeminister
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Rc, the Google drive isn't as much for back up as cloud, as you say. The advantage is, any computer with that "drive" can work on the files in there.

And you can have your work in two places.

I have a logbook for all my Customs entries, if I kept that on Google drive, and worked on it from there, I could access it from my laptop a hundred miles away without having to put it on a flash, back it up or upload it etc.

Plus it's illegal for me to share it! (glad I didn't stick it on there)

Cloud is "always on" as long as you work on the files from there and not your own hard drive.

So this extra sucks that Google says anything you put there is there's and their buddy's to use, copy, distribute, etc.

Granted you are parking your car in their garage, and possession is 9/10ths of ownership, but I still don't think this should give them the right to claim its theirs long after you've stopped parking there.

Weird analogy. But this goes for intellectual property too such as stories. I'm pissed they own all my hard work now because I backed my stories up on their hard drive for a few weeks.

Banks don't copy stuff in your safe deposit box and pass it off as their own.

Grrr.

Axe

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redux
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I don't think Google can go ahead and publish their version of Harry Potter - at least not in the traditional sense of publishing. What I mean by this is yes - they can "publish" Rowling's copy of Potter if she uploads it to the Cloud drive then wants to view it on another device so it gets "published" on that device. But Google cannot publish their own Potter book and distribute it to the public because Rowling owns it, not Google.

Edited to add:
At any rate, I can't picture a single court of law upholding Google's rights over the actual owner's.


rcmann - The advantage is that you can access your content from any device connected to the cloud and you don't have to be tied to your home PC. Or to put it another way, it's like a D&D pocket dimension [Smile]

[ June 17, 2012, 10:13 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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MartinV
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You can store stories by e-mailing them to yourself.
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Rhaythe
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Simple solution - encrypt.
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Robert Nowall
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You could just print out what you want to keep.
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MattLeo
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redux wrote:
quote:
I don't think Google can go ahead and publish their version of Harry Potter - at least not in the traditional sense of publishing.
Well, I agree it's not the most immediate concern here, because it would be so obviously unreasonable that it would put Google's reputation in the dumpster. I raised that particular point to illustrate two important aspects of their TOS: (1) the rights you are granting Google are not explicitly limited to providing the service you are receiving and (2) that grant is permanent and irrevocable; you have no way to get those rights back. If in the future Google does something which harms your financial interest in your works, you'd have to convince the judge that the TOS are unconscionable.

A much more likely problem would be Google doing something which undermines your ability to exploit your copyright for financial gain. There is no getting around the fact that Google is reserving for itself the right to do things with your work that are considered "publishing". That means they can do things which undermine your legal right to control of your unpublished works.

The courts have ruled that the right of an author to control first publication of his works is particularly strong. The landmark case in this area was Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises, in which *The Nation* magazine's used Gerald Ford's unpublished memoirs caused Time Magazine to withdraw from a deal for exclusive pre-publication rights.

Risking loss of first publication rights might not matter for your work on the church newsletter, but if you are dealing with creative works you plan to make money from, you ought to apply the same abundance of caution protecting your financial interest that Google's lawyers apply to theirs.

axeminster writes:
quote:
Rc, the Google drive isn't as much for back up as cloud, as you say
I agree that *any* cloud service is no replacement for an actual backup on media, but it can be a valuable and convenient adjunct to your regular backup routine. It is valuable in that it protects you from events like fire which threaten both your backup media and working copy. It is convenient because you always have ready access to the very last version you've made.

It falls short of backing up in that it doesn't protect you from corruption and unwanted changes in your working copy. For example if a virus overwrites the file holding your manuscript with kiddie porn, the cloud service will automatically replace your real manuscript with the corrupted one.

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redux
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An informative article:
http://ibnlive.in.com/news/does-google-own-your-google-drive-content/252409-11.html

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MattLeo
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quote:
An informative article:
http://ibnlive.in.com/news/does-google-own-your-google-drive-content/252409-11.html

Maybe not so informative. No, I don't think Google has designs on users' intellectual property, but the terms clearly grant them the right to use your work in as-yet-unspecified-ways which can be construed as "publication". If they do that, you lose your first publication rights. Period, full stop.

The problem with the clarifications in Google's statements (and the TOS itself) is that they sound reassuring while not actually clarifying anything, because the issue here isn't *ownership*. It's Google using your work in ways that might damage your economic interests in it. All the reassuring things Google is saying about its TOS are entirely beside the point.

Suppose I'm a house painter and I hand you a contract for services. You notice that the contract grants me the right to set fire to your house as I strip the old paint. If I said, "I don't *intend* to set fire to your house, and in any case you still *own* the house," I doubt you'd find that very reassuring.

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rcmann
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Advantage? I can stick my usb stick in my pocket. I can keep my external hard drive connected to my file server at home, and schedule automatic backups every day, or twice a day, or whenever. If the internet goes down, |I still have my files. If my system crashes, I still have my files. If a cyberterorist launches a DOS attacked against google, I still have my files. If I need to borrow someone else's computer, and they don't have a good internet connection, I still have my files.

Other than not being forced to take responsibility for actually backing up your own data, how is letting a stranger dig into your files and hoard them on their system giving you an advantage? The more I hear, the weirder this sounds.

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MattLeo
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quote:
I still have my files. If my system crashes, I still have my files.
Your backup scheme leaves much to be desired.

Any backup scheme for important data must have defense-in-depth. That means regular archival (permanent) backups stored offline. That's a matter of considerable inconvenience to achieve by hand with removable media. At a minimum I'd suggest at least three or four thumb drives in rotation (say daily and fortnight-ly A/B switching) and periodic (no less than quarterly) backups to optical media stored off site and never overwritten.

quote:
Other than not being forced to take responsibility for actually backing up your own data
This is the wrong way to think about it. Every computer security plan is a trade-off between convenience and effectiveness. Since no system is entirely without risk, "responsible" management is merely reducing risk to the point where it's not cost effective to drop it any further.

In that context convenience is nothing to sneer at, provided the marginal gain in security exceeds any new risks introduced.

quote:
how is letting a stranger dig into your files and hoard them on their system giving you an advantage?
There is no particular risk in an author using the cloud storage services of a reputable vendor, provided the terms of service are reasonable.
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extrinsic
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I prefer relying on myself, trusting myself. Thumb drives, discs, personal, protected, off-site Web server backups, notebooks, hard copy copied redundantly and filed off site. Data stored on my cell phone, on my cameras, on my music player, on my spare laptops. Occasionally on acquaintances' systems or servers.

Better yet, for my writing, my on-board memory, the old brain box, nearly eidetic. Best yet, if I lose or misplace some important creative writing, reconstructing my work is better from my ever advancing skills. I remember the gist and drift of the first narrative I wrote so many decades ago. I wrote it again several times since for practice.

Hemingway lost a satchell of his trunk writing in progress on a train platform, much to his immediate chagrin. He reconstructed the lot and felt the results were better and were then published where before he didn't feel they were ready for debut. A valid revision lesson to be learned from dusty old bones Hemingway.

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History
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I never thought to compare myself to Hemingway....

I like it, but I'd never consider doing it.

And as I age, I'd choose having the back-up available than trusting my ever decreasing grey matter. [Smile]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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rcmann
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TO me, 'reputable vendor' is a contradiction in terms. I have seen too many supposedly rock solid companies go under. And I've been screwed over by companies that I trusted for years, just because some kid in customer service was in a bad mood. Paranoid? Maybe.
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