The Content in Google Apps Belongs to Google

The Content in Google Apps Belongs to Google

Summary: An alert reader, SentryWatch, commented per my last blog that the Terms of Service posted on the Google Docs and Spreadsheets site assigns content rights of anything saved on Doc and Spreadsheets to Google.

TOPICS: Apps, Google

An alert reader, SentryWatch, commented per my last blog that the Terms of Service posted on the Google Docs and Spreadsheets site assigns content rights of anything saved on Doc and Spreadsheets to Google. It’s almost too incredible to believe, so here’s the wording from the mighty Google maw itself:

“… you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services…”

Now, I’m not a lawyer, though I have been accused of that and more, so I encourage all you lawyerly types to check it out for yourself. There may be some wriggle room for Google on this, as they may have some internal distinction they mean to be making regarding the difference between services “intended to be available to the members of the public” -- which is the subject of this content land grab – and other unspecified “services” that aren’t intended to be available to the public. But as far as I can tell Google Apps are intended for the public, and their use gives Google the right to repurpose your content for their marketing or other purposes.

I’ve said it before – Google is the new evil empire – but now I really am beginning to believe it. I know that user agreements are typically ignored by most users, but anyone in the corporate world who ignores this risks seeing their IP in a Google marketing campaign, or worse.

All I can say is this: Are they out of their minds?

Topics: Apps, Google

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  • Horrible

    This is basically the same thing youtube's user agreement states. Terrible business practice.
  • inconsistencies

    Josh - I wrote about the inconsistencies between the apps TOS recently. I'll refresh with more detail.
  • could be worded better but...

    "Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public" says all content on email, spreadsheets, private groups, etc is not public, but say, content you mark as public like photos, different story.

    I think they covered themselves. Could be worded better.

    Google has always been good about transparency on rights, privacy, and has been known for protecting consumer data.
    • Follow the Grqammar

      I'm not a lawyer, but I have studied a fair amount of grammar, and the verb/noun complements show that the "are intended to be available" clause, because it is plural (are) refers to Google services, not Content, which would require a singular verb: is. Translation: the content that is posted on Google services that are intended for the public (i.e. Google Apps) is effectively Google's to use as it likes.
  • Josh, show me a vendor contract...

    which is not one sided... Ask MS, IBM, EDS etc for their standard think they do not have aggressive terms? Just not publicly visible...besides no corporation blindly signs a vendor standard template...they propose their own terms and things usually settle somewhere in the middle...
    • Vendor Contract Don't Claim Rights to Customers Data

      Vinnie: I've never seen or heard of a vendor contract that gave that vendor rights to use customers' content for that vendor's marketing purposes. Have you?

  • Read it more carefully

    I'm one of the founders of Writely, which became Google Docs. I don't think your reading of the terms of service is correct.

    As we state in our terms of service, we don't claim ownership or control over your content in Google Docs & Spreadsheets, whether you're using it as an individual or through Google Apps. Read in its entirety, the sentence from our terms of service excerpted in the blog ensures that, for documents you expressly choose to share with others, we have the proper license to display those documents to the selected users and format documents properly for different displays. To be clear, Google will not use your documents beyond the scope that you and you alone control. Your fantasy football spreadsheets are not going to end up shared with the world unless you want them to be.
    • Not the point

      There's a lot of ambiguity in the overall TOS so while others are right to pull other pieces out and you're right to point to the ownership question, it's highly confusing whichever way you cut it.
    • See my grammatical posting above

      I understand your desire to discuss the possible intent behind the terms of service, but that's not what the sentence says.
      • You're not on solid ground here

        This whole post is based on what you (incorrectly) perceive to be a sentence structure that says that "public" applies to the apps, not the content? Give me a break. I think you could run that sentence by a hundred people, and not more than one or two would interpret the way you did.

        This is made even more clear by the previous two sentences in the TOS:

        "Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate."
        • 1 smart lawyer > 100 people

          You're right, most people wouldn't get the gist of this sentence, which is what makes it so insidious. Either the language is deliberately structured to be confusing (because its grammatical and legal meanings are fundamentally clear) or Google's legal team made a mistake....

          You miss the point of the ownership clause -- they can deny any ownership claim and still claim the right to use the information: this indeed is a standard intellectual property action. I can retain copyright (ownership) of an article and still give rights to its use. In effect this is what the two clauses taken together say: you own it, but we have rights to use it.
    • here is a quote from their terms

      @schillace 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.
  • Evil empire?

    How about this <B>EVIL</B> Terms Of Use clause:

    "Our sites include ... content ... that our users create. All materials published on our sites...are protected by our copyrights or trademarks or those of our partners. You may not ...reproduce....or in any way exploit any of the materials or content on our sites in whole or in part."

    Guess whose site that TOU came from? Hint - you're on it. (

    I can't even copy my own comment on this ZDNet site or read it to my wife! Evil! [cue faraway screams]

    Mike At VMI
    • Hoo-wee, I didn't even see this part...

      <i>"This license shall apply to the distribution and the storage of Your Content in any form, medium, or technology now known or later developed"</i>.
      Mike At VMI
    • public versus private

      There is a huge difference between your participation in a public forum like this and Google's claims for the right to use PRIVATE corporate data created in the process of fulfilling specific corporate tasks. There is no assumption that public comments such as this are anything but public. But there is every assumption that private corporate data must remain private.
      • I don't think so.

        First, it's not at all clear that Google's language is as you claim. I certainly don't read it that way. I would suggest that they would never even use the word "public" anywhere within that clause if their intent was peek into private communications - it opens them up to an easy legal challenge. Now, IANAL, but I do know that if it gets into court the issue is what the parties intended, NOT what the grammar says. (According to lawyer friends of mine, anyways).

        Second, my point was not a public/private info debate. It was about your calling Google "Evil" for having vague or overly gratuitous contract language. This site's TOU tells me I can't use MY comments anywhere else, and it also tells me they can use MY comments FOREVER on ANY media they so choose whether or not that media has even been invented yet! That's not "Evil"? It certainly isn't a "reasonable" expectation.
        Mike At VMI
  • Like, Oh My God!

    Google reserves the right to display content to the public that you requested that they display to the public!

    Some one had better get the government involved in this, we can't have companies doing what you actually asked them to do!

    Really, do you need to make stuff up to get people to read your column or what?
  • please read the column again

    You must be missing something if this how you see what I'm writing about. Try reading it again...
  • Web 2 means you write, they own.

    Now you know the real meaning of Web 2 - have users create your content not realising it really is your content. Wasn't there something similar to this on Myspace that was shouted down?

  • This is standard

    Every company does this to protect themselves from liability. If you don't like the TOS then don't use the service. It is that simple.

    The only thing "evil" here is your apparent anti-Google bias. They are in business to make money just like ever other profit earning corporation, get over it.