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Does Google+ Terms of Service let them steal my content?


Scared look
Marziah Karch
Question: Does Google+ Terms of Service let them steal my content?

Lately there's been an article linked around on Facebook that points out a particularly scary sounding clause in the Google+ Terms of Service.  The article calls out the clause:

"By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

Does that mean what I think it means? Is Google stealing people's content forever?


The author of that piece was engaging in a bit of sensationalism, but maybe we all expect services like Google or Facebook to steal our content using sneaky boilerplate.

In this particular case, the author was citing a sentence from a paragraph in Google's Terms of Service (TOS.) It's actually in the TOS for most Google services, and it's pretty similar to the TOS for just about any Web service outside of Google's control. For instance, you grant Yahoo! the right to "...the perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other works in any format or medium now known or later developed." 

To clear up the mystery of why Internet services use such scary terms, let's look at the sentence right before that one and the sentence right after Google's clause as found in Google's actual TOS (Section 11.1)

"You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

That already sounds a little less scary, doesn't it? You still own the copyright. The sentence after the one describing the non-exclusive rights you give Google:

"This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services."

In order for Web apps like blogs and photo sharing sites to work, they need your permission to publish the content, modify it for new formats (like when YouTube converts your video to an mpeg video), and make copies of it for publication on different screens. That's all. It goes on in the Terms to explain that the license ends when you close your account.

Ironically, it was Facebook that faced controversy over their changes to TOS several years ago. Even so, Google's "perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free" phrasing seems to generate controversy every few years as it's rediscovered. Recently it was when Google used the same boilerplate for Google Chrome's TOS.

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