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Warning – read Google’s Terms of Service before uploading photos

Google’s terms of service

We recently reported on Google’s rebranding of photo sharing site Picasa to Google Photos which has come with much fanfare. Photographers, hobbyists and laypeople alike are excited that Google+ offers unlimited storage for photos which is a tremendous draw for photographers and people with a high volume of pictures (like hundreds of photos per listing).

Who has rights to your photos?

With unlimited storage as a draw (or fish hook, if you will), in Section 11 of Google’s Terms of Service, you can feel safe when you upload images because “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

So why are we warning you to read the entire terms of service? Because the very next sentence after the feel good line above directly contradicts, “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.”

Further, the terms note that “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.”

Also, “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.”

Forfeiting photo rights?

Photographers seeking to sell their images or to retain rights are forced to forfeit those rights when uploading images into the Google system, as are Realtors who upload their images.

When a Realtor uploads a file with a family at the closing table (ragged and worn out from packing, but excited to get the keys), that tired makeupless mom may appear in a Google ad because the Realtor gave up rights to the image, or in any of Google’s “related” companies’ (is that any company they’ve invested in? There are hundreds, if not thousands) sites or ads.

We are not offering any legal advice, rather noting that with any technology, the terms of service should be carefully considered before use of said technology.

188 Comments

188 Comments

  1. mfm

    July 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    i don't see anywhere, regardless of terminology, where users who upload "Content" such as images are forfeiting their rights to their image. The user DOES retain ALL the Rights to their image.

    What the user IS agreeing to in Google+'s Terms of Service is retaining the rights of the image in order to agree to the Terms of Service which lets Google take an image that you uploaded from your cell phone, or maybe Rupert Murdoch did, and do with it what they will.

  2. BawldGuy

    July 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Who was it who said not to trust Google to easily last year?

  3. Jason Stoddard

    July 10, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Thanks for the PSA. Now, how about a follow-up about your undying love for Net Neutrality. Geez. AG's flip-flop position on property rights and privacy Is like Aquinas' on again, off again Jesus Taxi Cab dialectic.

  4. Joe

    July 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Should also be noted that Google does not support their services. We have paid for Google Storage to store our photos and videos. After 9 months of seemingly uneventful and stellar service, most of our videos were converted to a single image .jpg screenshot file. The videos were family and real estate videos. There is no available support except through the Google forums, and thus, our videos are lost. Probably could be the subject of your next blog entry, as we know many real estate agents that use Google Storage to store the many photos and videos for their real estate business.

  5. Riyadh

    July 11, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Well, same goes for all other popular networks. At least I would put Google ahead of Facebook in this regard. Facebook's privacy policy and ToS is much worse.

    And one more thing,

    It's a social network, where society means the world. If you don't want to do networking, do not sign up here and keep your things private in an enclosed box.

  6. kb

    July 11, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    >We are not offering any legal advice, rather noting that with any technology, the terms of service should be carefully considered before use of said technology.

    That's _really_ good considering the incredibly selective an inaccurate reading of that contract necessary to reach your conclusion. Take a close examination of what's meant by "provision of syndicated services" and you'll see what I mean. It means that if they partner with someone like Weebly to provide a service for Google Apps, you can still access pictures you uploaded to Picasa in an integrated way, instead of having to re-upload them to Weebly. Surrendering copyright for professional photographers, this is not.

    Seriously, legal documents have specific meanings which may be different from casual, colloquial meanings. If you don't know what you're talking about, don't presume to comment on it. Then again, sensationalist headlines are great for driving traffic, huh?

  7. Lizze

    July 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Has anyone been able to find a response FROM Google on this whole disaster? I for one am with kb on this but that't just my opinion and we all know what those are like…lol.

  8. Jefrf D

    July 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Is this article deliberately misleading or just not properly researched?

    You left off the last sentence off the section of the Google Terms of Service you quoted. The last sentence is "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."
    The Picasa specific policy can be found here: picasa.google.com/legal_notices.html It states that "Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Picasa account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service."

  9. Egypt Urnash

    July 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Every time a new image sharing site starts up, someone reads the TOS of a site that shares images for the first time in their life, and they freak out. People who haven't ever read similar TOSs also freak out and share links to it. A week later, the site makes a public post that basically boils down to "chill dude, this is lawyerese for 'when someone points a web browser at your stuff we will send it over the Internets to them".

    Go read the TOS for Flickr, Picasa, Deviantart, Facebook, Blogger, WordPress.org, Livejournal, whatever, and you will find much the same text.

  10. Devan Goldstein

    July 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    This issue is a non-starter.

    1. From the page you cite (https://www.google.com/accounts/TOS): "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."

    2. From the Picasa Legal Notices page / Your Intellectual Property Rights section (https://picasa.google.com/legal_notices.html): "Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Picasa account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service."

    1 and 2 combine to eliminate any problem here.

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