Google+ & Content Ownership: A Non-Issue?

My Stream is filled with articles on whether Google+ takes a weird kind of ownership of your content—especially your photographs. I’m no intellectual property lawyer, but I’ve done some amateur sleuthing and think everything’s going to be OK. Here’s why.

First, the offending Term of Service. Mostly, the articles take issue with the following sentence from the main Google TOS:

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.

That does seem pretty rough, but it’s not the whole story. None of the articles I’ve seen mention the second and final sentence of the dreaded Paragraph 11.1, which reads:

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.

So, individual services can override the clause giving Google the right to do whatever with your content.

Two other documents seem to take advantage of that override capability by giving rights back to the user. First, all photos are uploaded to Google+ via Picasa. The following, quoted in its entirety, appears in the Picasa Terms of Service:

Your Intellectual Property Rights: 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.

That’s pretty good: Seems like all pictures in the Picasa account are totally yours.

But what about content besides photographs? Google’s thought of that, too. (Of course.) The Google+ section of Google’s awesome Privacy Center (which I hadn’t known about) lays out how they use your content in great detail. It’s too long to reproduce here, but it’s very encouraging in that the only uses of your content they mention are basically the minimal stuff that they’d need to do to create and run a service like Google+: e.g., sharing your public profile information publicly. Real no-brainer stuff.

That document does refer to the main Google Privacy Policy as extending Google’s usage rights. The good news: That policy, in turn, has an “Information Sharing” section that sets pretty strict limits on when they share your personal information: (1) when you give consent, (2) when—under terms of confidentiality—they turn to third parties to process their data, and (3) when they’re required to by law.

Again: I’m no expert, but this stuff all seems pretty well locked-down in favor of the user to me.

4 thoughts on “Google+ & Content Ownership: A Non-Issue?

  1. Bence Gerber July 20, 2011 / 5:20 pm

    Thank you for allaying my fears.


  2. Asthenis June 17, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    Thanks for this interesting Article Devan,

    So, just to confirm, any photos uploaded on Google+ from my Picasa program are still remaining my property, and not the property of google,

    or are they my property until they leave my computer and go online ? :)) Thanks!


    • devangoldstein June 18, 2015 / 1:29 pm

      You’re welcome! And yes, my conclusion in the article was that photos uploaded to Google+ via Picasa remain your property.

      That said:

      1. I am not a lawyer, and
      2. I haven’t revisited these documents in the four years since I published this post. I know that in that time, Google has made significant changes to Picasa, Google+, and the ways that they interact—and even launched a new service, Google Photos, on whose relationships to the other two I am not clear.

      All told, I’d say further research to re-confirm these policies would be useful for those very interested in being absolutely certain about their content ownership and privacy.


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