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Comparing Terms of Service for DropBox, Google Drive & Microsoft SkyDrive [opendna project]
 

Comparing Terms of Service for DropBox, Google Drive & Microsoft SkyDrive

There is a new cloud drive service this week, and that means that there’s a new Internet panic about a cloud service claiming ownership of content uploaded to that service. This week it’s Google Drive which is (supposedly) claiming ownership of your data; the same claim was previously made about DropBox. While it’s good that people are reading the Terms of Service texts, the re-occurring confusion about what they mean suggests (to me) that it may be past time for a uniform, industry-wide standard TOS text similar to the Creative Commons licenses. Until such time as the Cloud Giants agree on shared legal language we’ll have to continue doing side-by-side textual comparisons, which is exactly what I’ve done below for the DropBox TOS, the Google Drive TOS and the Microsoft SkyDrive TOS.

1. DropBox, Google and Microsoft are all explicit that you retain ownership of intellectual property that you upload to their cloud drive services:

DropBox: “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.

Google: “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.”

Microsoft: “Microsoft does not claim ownership of the materials you provide to Microsoft (including feedback and suggestions) or post, upload, input or submit to any Services or its associated services for review by the general public, or by the members of any public or private community, (each a “Submission” and collectively “Submissions”).

2. When you upload content to these services, you grant the operators licenses to perform the services you request, and to improve their technology in response to your use of their services:

DropBox: “We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, for example Amazon, which provides our storage space (again, only to provide the Services).”

Google: “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.”

Microsoft: “However, by posting, uploading, inputting, providing or submitting (“Posting”) your Submission you are granting Microsoft, its affiliated companies and necessary sublicensees permission to use your Submission in connection with the operation of their Internet businesses (including, without limitation, all Microsoft Services), including, without limitation, the license rights to: copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat your Submission; to publish your name in connection with your Submission; and the right to sublicense such rights to any supplier of the Services.”

3. Each of the services require that you own the copyright or license to all content you upload to their services:

DropBox: You are solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services. For example, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you have the rights or permission needed to comply with these Terms.

Google: Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Microsoft: By Posting a Submission you warrant and represent that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to your Submission as described in these Terms of Use including, without limitation, all the rights necessary for you to provide, post, upload, input or submit the Submissions.

4. Each of the services requires a mix of revokable and non-revocable licenses depending on service, content and how it is used by the service. All are somewhat cagey about removing your content, in part because of the technical details of their services. Anyone familiar with GitHub will immediately understand why DropBox, Google and Microsoft do not promise to delete all copies of any files you held when you remove them from your account: it is possible (perhaps likely) that many people had identical files in their cloud drives. None of the services promise to stop using technologies developed in part by your use of the services. The Google and Microsoft TOS come closest to describing how and when they will stop using your submissions:

Google: “This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services.”

Microsoft: “The licenses granted in the preceding sentences for a Images will terminate at the time you completely remove such Images from the Services, provided that, such termination shall not affect any licenses granted in connection with such Images prior to the time you completely remove such Images.”

5. The language used by each of these companies reserves the right to change the Terms of Service without your consent:

DropBox: “We may revise these Terms from time to time and the most current version will always be posted on our website. If a revision, in our sole discretion, is material we will notify you (for example via email to the email address associated with your account). Other changes may be posted to our blog or terms page, so please check those pages regularly. By continuing to access or use the Services after revisions become effective, you agree to be bound by the revised Terms. If you do not agree to the new terms, please stop using the Services.”

Google: “We may modify these terms or any additional terms that apply to a Service to, for example, reflect changes to the law or changes to our Services. You should look at the terms regularly. We’ll post notice of modifications to these terms on this page. We’ll post notice of modified additional terms in the applicable Service. Changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective no sooner than fourteen days after they are posted. However, changes addressing new functions for a Service or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately. If you do not agree to the modified terms for a Service, you should discontinue your use of that Service”

Microsoft: “The services that Microsoft provides to you are subject to the following Terms of Use (“TOU”). Microsoft reserves the right to update the TOU at any time without notice to you.”

6. Each of these services reserves the right to delete your data and terminate your access without warning:

DropBox: “We reserve the right to suspend or end the Services at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice. For example, we may suspend or terminate your use if you are not complying with these Terms, or use the Services in any way that would cause us legal liability or disrupt others’ use of the Services. If we suspend or terminate your use, we will try to let you know in advance and help you retrieve data, though there may be some cases (for example, repeatedly or flagrantly violating these Terms, a court order, or danger to other users) where we may suspend immediately.”

Google: “We are constantly changing and improving our Services. We may add or remove functionalities or features, and we may suspend or stop a Service altogether… Google may also stop providing Services to you, or add or create new limits to our Services at any time. We believe that you own your data and preserving your access to such data is important. If we discontinue a Service, where reasonably possible, we will give you reasonable advance notice and a chance to get information out of that Service.”

Microsoft: “Microsoft has no obligation to monitor the Communication Services. However, Microsoft reserves the right to review materials posted to the Communication Services and to remove any materials in its sole discretion. Microsoft reserves the right to terminate your access to any or all of the Communication Services at any time, without notice, for any reason whatsoever.”

Now, I confess that I’m not an attorney but, to my eyes, the Terms of Service for these cloud drive services are not materially different: There are substantial differences in tone, structure and syntax, but not in the licenses granted, rights claimed or uses permitted. As usual: open to correction.