Stop Freaking Out Over Google+

The new kid on the social media block, Google+ has been around for a few weeks now.   As is usual for social media sites, people are using it to post and upload creative content like imagery to their accounts to show their friends.  Also, as is usual, this is causing some people to dig into the TOS or “Terms of Service” a little deeper to look for any dark intent behind the provision of the service.  Which is fine – it’s good to be informed and cautious.  However, once you dig deeper and find some legalese, don’t freak out because there are terms like “royalty free license” or “wordwide” in there!  Read the entire TOS statements concerning content thoroughly.

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Google and Your Content

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Let’s take a look at the Google TOS clauses concerning content:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Google is a service.  You are using the service.  For them to provide you with the service, you need to allow them to … provide you with the service.  You have to grant them certain rights to be allowed to do what you want them to do.  Things like displaying images you’ve posted.

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So, 11.1 is about you retaining your copyright for your content.  They don’t need to hold copyright – they just need a license or a grant of rights to do what you want them to do, and that is what the next part is.  Basically, you’re allowing them an unrestricted right for the content so they can reproduce, adapt, etc. the content.  Without granting them this right, how do you expect them to hold the content on their servers, or back things up, or display it in India or where?  “Royalty Free” here just means that you aren’t going to come back later and try to charge them for using your content to provide you with the service you requested.  It doesn’t mean they are going to sell it on cds in Russia.   This is clearly stated in the last part: “This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services”. Sole purpose.  Got it.

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Google provides all kinds of services, but Google may outsource bits and pieces to other companies – thus 11.2 about allowing other companies the right to use the content to provide the service you requested.

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11.3 is no surprise in that Google needs the right to actually do technical things to the content to provide you with your requested service, like distributing it over public networks, like, say, the internet.

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11.4 may surprise some people, and may be where these kind of agreements may come into some sort of legal tussle.  You need to hold copyright on something to be able to grant rights.  Theoretically, this means you need to have created the content, or actually have bought the copyright for the content from somewhere/someone.  “Buying the copyright” is not the same as “licensing an image from a stock site”.  When you license and use stock imagery, you do not (typically) have the right to grant other rights to others.  So to use Google correctly, you should not be uploading images you license from stock sites, or find on the internet, etc.  Will Google be surprised when they get sued one day for uploaded content someone was not actually allowed to grant the rights for?  Probably not.

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Is This Something New?

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Heck no.  Pretty much any social media site wants/needs you to grant them a license to provide you with services regarding that license.  Some are better at it (less scary) then others.  For example, here are some good, restrictive clauses.

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By submitting Content to Automattic for inclusion on your Website, you grant Automattic a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting your blog. If you delete Content, Automattic will use reasonable efforts to remove it from the Website, but you acknowledge that caching or references to the Content may not be made immediately unavailable.


Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:  … solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available.

Model Mayhem:

We do not claim ownership rights over your Member Content. However, you grant us the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display Member Content through the Model Mayhem Services, solely for the purpose for which such Member Content was submitted or made available.

Now, here’s a few where things are a little more dicey, where they aren’t really specific about restricting to the services needed:


You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition: … For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.


By submitting material to any public area of this Site, you warrant that the owner of such material has expressly granted Groupon the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate and distribute such material (in whole or in part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed for the full term of any copyright that may exist in such material. You also permit any other end user to access, view, store or reproduce the material for that End User’s personal use. You also grant Groupon the right to edit, copy, publish and distribute any material that you make available on this Site.

Are those statements a bit wide open?  Yes.  Might Groupon or Facebook use content posted on the site for promoting their sites?  Possibly, but unlikely.  The furor that erupts when that sort of thing happens, pretty much bears out they won’t likely risk it.  Witness the twitpic eruption.   The “crowd” has become very effective in punishing companies that overstep their perceived bounds.  However, take a look at the TOS from linkedIn:

You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement.

You did catch that word in there, right?  “Commercialize”?  ie., to take anything you put on there and use it to make money for themselves?  Anything.  Your ideas, your information, your data.  Now that is one scary TOS.

Google Not So Bad?

So, when you look at it, the Google grant is nicely restrictive.  It isn’t anything that would scare me off Google+ .  I just don’t need yet another time waster 🙂 .  Could it be a little bit tighter?  Sure.

LinkedIn, on the other hand … start the crowd furor …

9 thoughts on Stop Freaking Out Over Google+

  1. P.S. Sharing your piece just got me banned as a follower from one @ScottBourne Twitter feed! He wrote this which I learned of via a friend. So I shared your article with both parties. My friend thanked me, and Mr. Bourne had only this to say (and banned me from following him) – @Risamaymay doesn’t in any way answer my concerns nor should it anyone who is a professional photog. The advice is bad misses the mark.

    • Well, I think the only advice I gave us to thoroughly read the TOS of the sites you are using. However, overall, I don’t see any threat from these social media sites, professional photog or not. I can’t see how using them (based on the more restrictive TOS) would affect your ability to license content. However I likely wouldn’t upload high rez, unwatermarked content to them anyways, so the opportunity for abuse wouldn’t be there. And I wouldn’t imagine anyone else would either. ‘Banning’ doesn’t make sense as well.

  2. In general anything I upload to Facebook/Google+/Blogger/Flickr etc is 800×600, watermarked and higher JPEG compression anyway. You don’t really need to upload anything higher than that anyway.

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