What Can Google Do With Your Copyright Content & Photos?

Google logoWhat happens when you post your copyright material to Google+? What rights does Google “assume” from your sharing? Do you realise, that like Facebook, Google has the right to do just about anything it likes with your data, personal photos and prose?

There has been a lot of debate about what rights online services extract from users. Facebook’s rather cavalier treatment of users has landed it in trouble over this issue more than once. Google is more cuddly, but has also been tripped up. In both cases a fuss occurred mainly because of how the companies went about things—the wording in Facebook’s user agreement being one example, and Google’s presumption of publicly sharing Gmail connections on Buzz being another.

In each case the company responded with apology and changes, but the problem of licensing remains: both Facebook and Google extract from you the right to do just about anything they like with anything you place on their service.

Social network companies commodify your personal data and any copyright material you upload, make billions from it, and in return offer you something worth far less. The difference becomes their profit.

To see this you need to locate the relevant part of the service use agreement. Its not entirely their fault because our lack of willingness to pay for things on the net leaves them with few options for revenue generation. There are alternatives though, which I will come to in a moment.

Usage Terms for Google+ And Other Google Services

Here is a key part of Google’s usage terms (with some key sections highlighted, by me, in bold).

11. Content license from you

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. 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. 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.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

Source: Google Terms of Service

Now of course Google (and Facebook which has similar, but not identical, usage terms) need some of this or they would risk you suing them at some later date for misuse of data that you uploaded. For example, if you upload something to a service and later they add features to the service—new ways of using your data that you did not anticipate and so could not be deemed to have given implicit permission for.

But in protecting themselves in this manner, they acquire a much broader permission than is necessary. In addition, both Facebook and Google explicitly add extra permissions that extend the rights almost without limitation. For example, if you read the highlighted sections above, Google first says it wants permission only in connection with the provision of its services. Which actually means anything Google provides as a service, now or in future. Pretty damn broad I’d say, what else could they add!? Well, in the second highlighted section, they extend this to anything they “syndicate”, effectively allowing it to give any third party the same freedoms to use your data.

Google & Facebook “Own” You

According to the above agreement: once you upload your data to Google, it can be used (irrevocably and forever) by Google or anyone else they want to share it with, for any purpose connected with the services Google provides or syndicates. Wow! And all for free.

The situation with Facebook is similar.

You don’t have to allow this.

How To Stop Google & Facebook Profiting From Your Property

When I realised this was the case on Facebook I was not happy. So, I immediately stopped uploading my copyright material to Facebook. No more uploading of photos or posts and articles. Instead I place them elsewhere and link to them, which means that at any time I retain full control over their use. Facebook still make money from my personal data: status updates and connections etc. so it doesn’t entirely rectify the situation, but it is a significant improvement.

It means that I can remove my articles or photos from Google, Facebook, or the web, at any time. They  may still be accessible in Google’s web cache, but they will be much less accessible). The main point though is that nobody can legally re-use them without my explicit permission, and I have the opportunity to charge for their use.

It costs little host your own website or blog these days. There is setting up of course, but that is increasingly easy so some will be able to do this for free. If it is beyond you, or your need advice perhaps you know a friend who could set this up? Or if not, I can help.

So there is no need to use Facebook or Google to host your copyright material, even if you still use their network.

Non-Commercial Alternatives To Facebook, Google+ & Twitter Social Networks

Neither Facebook or Google respect my rights in this respect, which is a necessary ‘evil’ when a commercial company provides such a service. They rely largely on ignorance to make a profit: the ignorance of their users who do not understand the value of the data they are sharing, and so feel they are getting something for nothing. This is a dangerous business model because ignorance is easily overcome, at which point only apathy and inertia will save them.

At the moment there is no practical alternative to a model built around license of copyright (because Facebook & Google have to copyright their services, so they have to extract those same rights from you).

One alternative would be a non-commercial service—a peer-to-peer social network—where the owners are the participants and each copyright owner has the ability to withdraw their data from the service at any time. One such project is diaspora, but should this or a similar project come to fruition it will face the difficult task of gaining critical mass without powerful commercial backing, particularly given Facebook’s dominance.

However, there is an alternative which could overcome even these difficulties. A social enterprise in the form of a co-operative that redistributes profits to its users. Imagine how users would view an alternative to Facebook or Google, that made similar billions in profits, and distributed them all back to its users? I think there would be a stampede.

There is not such alternative at this point, at least not one that is a serious alternative to Facebook or Google+, but I hope there soon will be. Diaspora is one candidate, and while there are others, it remains to be seen whether any of them will be a success.

I discuss these alternatives and some means to promote them to success in my post: Consumer Cooperative Social Networks: An Alternative To Facebook & Google+

Own Your Photos, Blog, Magazine Website

In the mean time you still have the option of hosting your photographs and articles on your own website, out of the greedy clutches of Facebook and Google, but which you can still share on Facebook or Google through links rather than by uploading. Its cheap and relatively easy, but if you need some help or would like someone to do this for you please get in touch. I’d love to help!

The running cost of such a site is very low – check out my website hosting service for current costs and a special offer (50% off your first year’s website hosting):

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