Who owns your files on Google Drive?

Google Drive's terms of service do indeed allow you to own your own files, but grant the company a license to do as it wants with your uploaded content.

Within hours of Google launching its new online storage service, the terms and service have come under heavy fire by the wider community for how it handles users' copyright and intellectual property rights.

After Dropbox and Microsoft's SkyDrive -- the two most popular online storage services on the web -- Google was late to the party by a number of years. While Google needed no advertising to drum up support, what may hold back uptake is that as per the company's terms and conditions, the rights to the files you upload to Google Drive will be passed on to the search giant.

A quick analysis of Google's terms of service shows how far the search company goes in 'owning' your files, and how it can do anything it wants with them.

But there is a small catch. Here's what the terms say:

Dropbox -- terms can be found here:

"Your Stuff & Your Privacy: By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, "your stuff"). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don't claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below."

Microsoft's SkyDrive -- terms can be found here:

"5. Your Content: Except for material that we license to you, we don't claim ownership of the content you provide on the service. Your content remains your content. We also don't control, verify, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the service."

Google Drive -- terms can be found here:

"Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps)."

The last sentence makes all the difference. While these rights are limited to essentially making Google Drive better and to develop new services run by Google, the scope is not defined and could extend far further than one would expect.

Simply put: there's no definitive boundary that keeps Google from using what it likes from what you upload to its service.

Having said that, it also states:

"Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours."

According to its terms, Google does not own user-uploaded files to Google Drive, but the company can do whatever it likes with them. ZDNet's Ed Bott has more.

The chances are Google's terms will never be an issue -- and it is likely over-zealous lawyers making sure Google doesn't somehow get screwed in the long run by a lawsuit -- but it may be enough to push away a great number of entrepreneurs and creative workers who rely on holding on to the rights to their own work.

It always pays to read the fine print.

I asked Google to see if they can shed light on how its terms of service translates in comparison to other, rival services. Google did not respond at the time of publication.

Updated on April 24 and again on April 26 to match changes made to the original story, posted at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "How far do Google Drive's terms go in 'owning' your files?"

 

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