Google Drive is making people think about privacy and ownership all over again: ownership is not onlyship, folks.
John Herrman, You Don’t Own Anything Anymore
In a world where sharing a photo is strictly a matter of getting another copy made and mailing it, or getting it published, copyrights are pretty easy to keep track of and these laws hold up pretty well. Sending a physical photo to your grandmother goes like this: you either put the picture in an envelope and send it, or you get a copy made yourself and send that.
Sending your grandmother an email photo, though, might involve copying your photo five or six times; first to Google’s servers, then to another server, then to an ISP’s CDN, then to AOL’s servers, then to your grandmother’s computer. As far as you’re concerned, this feels exactly like dropping an envelope in the mail. As far as copyright is concerned, it’s a choreographed legal dance.
And so these sites have to get your permission — a license — to copy and distribute the things you post. Just to function as advertised, they need your permission to “use” and to “host,” to “store” and “reproduce.” What they don’t necessarily need is the right to “modify” and “create derivative works,” or to “publicly perform.” That is, unless they need to make money. Which of course they do.
It’s a little easier to understand why Facebook needs to license your content for your profile than why Google needs such a broad license for Google Drive, since Google Drive is supposed to a private locker, not a public page. But it doesn’t really matter that much. In terms of copyright, they’re more similar than they are different.
A terms of service that gives an online company enough leeway to operate will legally give them permission to do a lot of things that most companies know better than to do. Pinterest suddenly selling prints of its users’ pinboards would be a terrible PR move and a dumb business plan. But they could probably get away with it if they wanted to. Facebook Beacon was terrifying and stupid (which is really just a deluded way of saying “five years too soon”), but probably wasn’t illegal.
We are definitely not needed for a world where terrifying and stupid won’t be made illegal, but it would be nice if things that should be illegal were at least difficult. And it’s obvious that copyright laws are not helping, because I don’t want to grant those kind of rights in order to store photos in the cloud.