Google claims license to user content in multiple products

Google asserts a right to use content from users in the terms of use for several of its products.

Google last week removed some language in its Chrome browser's terms of service that gave the company a license to any material displayed in the browser, but that language remains in several other Google products, including its Picasa photo service and its Blogger service.

The language came from Google's universal terms of service, the default license agreement for Google products.

The provision in the license agreement states that Google users retain the copyright to the content they post into a Google product, but then says, "By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display."

Similar language exists in terms of service for Picasa, Blogger, Google Docs and Google Groups. It does not exist in Gmail and no longer exists in Chrome.

The provisions raise security as well as privacy questions, said Randy Abrams, director of technical education at Eset, a cybersecurity vendor. "I wouldn't do anything that was personally sensitive or security-sensitive with most any Google product," he said.

Google removed the language from Chrome one day after launching the browser, following an outcry about the copyright implications of it asserting a license for everything posted or displayed in the browser. In some cases, Google needs the license to display content, Mike Yang, Google's senior product counsel, said in a blog post.

"To be clear: our terms do not claim ownership of your content -- what you create is yours and remains yours," Yang wrote. "But in lawyer-speak, we need to ask for a 'license' (which basically means your permission) to display this content to the wider world when that's what you intend."

Several critics questioned whether that language was appropriate in other applications provided by Google.

Google seems to be going in two different directions with these licensing terms, Abrams said. "One thing is to abide by their 'do no evil' creed, but also claim as many rights as possible," he said. "This is a typical corporate response: Try to get as much as you can and back off if forced to."

Yang also noted that similar language exists in the terms of service at several Web sites, including Amazon.com, eBay and Facebook. And the next sentence in that copyright provision limits what Google could do with a picture posted on the Picasa service or a blog post in Blogger, he said. It reads as follows: "This licence 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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