Google can do anything it wants to content you store in Drive

The more kinds of data Google wants you to give it, the more it promises to abuse the privilege

With every new service or change in policy it becomes more clear that the version of Google led by co-founder Larry Page rather than Eric Schmidt doesn't understand that it's not Facebook's more evil, less subtle or competent twin.

The recently revamped Terms of Service it applies to the new Google Drive file locker, for example doesn't quite give Google outright title to the content you post on Drive, as some of the coverage and forum discussions have suggested.

No matter how often you upload a file or how long it's there, you have the right to publish and sell it, change it, copy and redistribute it for free, rewrite and republish it without notice that it's changed, or create, publish and sell sequels, software or anything else based on the contents of that file.

But so does Google.

Specifically, the Terms of Service Google revamped and reposted March 1 gives Google all the rights and privileges of ownership, but none of the responsibilities.

Google can redistribute your content free or as part of a paid service, or base its next service on content you created. If a file you upload is pirated, libelous or illegal as obscenity or a national secret, Google is just the closet where you stashed the goods. All the responsibility is yours.

"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." – Google Terms of Service modified March 1, 2012.

Those rights theoretically mean Google's license is limited to using your content to promote or enrich itself.

Coincidentally, promoting or enriching yourself using someone else's content is one courts use to decide if copyright infringement has caused enough damage for the authors to justify punitive awards.

In addition to giving authors the right to publish their own work, Copyright gives them the power to prevent others from publishing it.

By that criterion, Google takes half ownership of your copyright the minute you upload it.

If an employee of notoriously litigious Walt Disney Co. uploaded the script for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie to Google Drive, for example, under the Terms of Service, Google would have the right to republish and distribute the script, change it, make the movie itself, or write and shoot the sixth installment itself, without paying Disney a dime.

There's no way that kind of claim can stand, of course. Not even for companies with smaller armies of lawyers than the Mouse.

Extraordinary claims of rights or privilege in generic software licenses or terms of service rarely survive being tested in court.

Before they are tested by application to someone with the grit and money to sue the license issuer, however, vendors can use those claims to put a lot of pressure on customers more afraid of the cost of a lawsuit than of whatever negligible risk there might be that Google would steal the intellectual property in files an employee stashed in Google Drive.

Google Drive is a file locker service– storage space available free or for small money to anyone who wants an online site from which they can get to their documents no matter where they are or what device they're using.

It's not a social network or participatory service, like Facebook, whose main point is to present content posted by users.

File lockers don't share your files with other people. They share your files with you when you're out goofing off and suddenly have to make a call or send an email using information in an electronic file you probably left back in the office.

Neither Dropbox nor Microsoft SkyDrive make any claim to ownership or the rights of ownership.

Dropbox warns that it is allowed to delete content that's pirated or illegal, to check for illegal files in your account and might give up usage data to police under the right warrants or subpoenas.

Microsoft reserves the right to mash or manipulate your data, but only enough and in ways required to make them available on SkyDrive. ("…You hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.")

Neither will be responsible if you post pirated, obscene, stolen Top Secret documents; both will delete them if they find them. Neither will redistribute or create derivative works from your content.

Those are rights Google reserves for itself.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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