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Dropbox TOS change is worrying, but so are everyone else’s TOS

This is a quick post – let’s compare Dropbox new TOS lines about the license you give them when you upload “stuff” to the service:

We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.

with Box.net’s same lines about the same license you give them:

By registering to use the Services, you understand and acknowledge that Box.net and its contractors retain an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, and publicly display such content for the sole purpose of providing to you the Services for which you have registered. In the event that you give Box.net the right to distribute your content, additional terms may apply to Box.net’s usage or distribution of this content.  You continue to retain all ownership rights in any User Content you provide and shall remain solely responsible for your conduct, your User Content, and any material or information transmitted to other Users for interaction with other Users.  Box.net does not claim any ownership rights in any User Content.

Box.net is asking for a license to use, copy and publicly display your content, whereas Dropbox goes much further, asking for rights to distribute (which is not the same as copy), prepare derivative works, and perform (eg. play in a concert!?). The wording in bold on Box.net’s TOS is key, however, as it clearly states that this license is used for the sole purpose of providing the service you ask for. Dropbox, in turn, says extent reasonably necessary, which is extremely vague.

You said everyone else

Indeed, let’s take a look at Amazon S3′s TOS, where clause 8.2 states:

Your Submissions will be governed by the terms of the Apache Software License, unless you specify one of our other supported licenses at the time you submit Your Submission.

Does this mean your uploaded content becomes open source somehow? I’m not entirely sure how to read this one, maybe a lawyer could chip in.

Finally, a snippet from one other large cloud storage provider, Apple, and its MobileMe/iDisk TOS:

Except for material we may license to you, Apple does not claim ownership of the materials and/or Content you submit or make available on the Service. However, by submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public, you grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Service solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. Said license will terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you or Apple remove such Content from the public area. By submitting or posting such Content on areas of the Service that are accessible by the public, you are representing that you are the owner of such material and/or have authorization to distribute it.

This one is probably the one I’d be most comfortable with, as it specifically mentions that the license applies only to content placed in areas accessible to the public, such as your “Public” folder, and that the license is solely for the purpose for which the content was uploaded, eg. sharing it with the rest of the world.

To be honest, this smells of a lawsuit gone bad resulting in bulletproofing a service, maybe someone noticed his files were being served from servers in another country and sued the storage provider on non-permission to copy/distribute grounds. Then, every other lawyer copied the TOS to match. Remember that case with a woman spilling hot coffee on her lap, resulting in all take-away coffee cups showing large “this stuff is hot” labels? Yeah, exactly. There are some great posts on this topic on J. Daniel Sawyer’s blog, and on UtestMe here.

3 Responses to “Dropbox TOS change is worrying, but so are everyone else’s TOS”

  1. Martin November 15, 2012 at 20:52 #

    I’m not a lawyer, but for the Amazon one, you need to look at the definitions section at the end of the page. It makes a slightly non-intuitive distinction between “Your Content” and “Your Submissions”:

    “Your Content” means Content you or any End User (a) run on the Services, (b) cause to interface with the Services, or (c) upload to the Services under your account or otherwise transfer, process, use or store in connection with your account.

    “Your Submissions” means Content that you post or otherwise submit to developer forums, sample code repositories, public data repositories, or similar community-focused areas of the AWS Site or the Services.

    Also:

    “End User” means any individual or entity that directly or indirectly through another user: (a) accesses or uses Your Content; or (b) otherwise accesses or uses the Service Offerings under your account. The term “End User” does not include individuals or entities when they are accessing or using the Services or any Content under their own AWS account, rather than your account.

    In other words, it means you or your customers (not Amazon’s customers).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. Cloud as a Bank - UtestMe - July 3, 2011

    [...] Mike Puchol on the same TOS: “[...] this smells of a lawsuit gone bad resulting in bulletproofing a service, maybe someone noticed his files were being served from servers in another country and sued the storage provider on non-permission to copy/distribute grounds. Then, every other lawyer copied the TOS to match. Remember that case with a woman spilling hot coffee on her lap, resulting in all take-away coffee cups showing large “this stuff is hot” labels? Yeah“ [...]

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