Since Google+, Google’s answer to social networking, came out a week and a half ago, there’s been much talk about the new possibilities it has introduced, whether it can really beat out Facebook, and how to get that elusive invite.
But the dangers of joining Google+ have not yet been fully explored. How far will Google go with targeted advertising? What will be the implications for our privacy? How will Google use my content once it’s part of Google+?
The people who should be most worried about this last question are professional photographers, according to Photofocus, an online magazine about photography. While photographers are excited about the new photo sharing capabilities of Google+, they may not be aware that by the sharing photos they take, they may hinder their ability to make money from their photography.
Google’s Terms of Service on photography, Photofocus cautions, should be read carefully, especially these sections:
By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.
Scott Bourne at Photofocus writes that there’s a reason he doesn’t use Google photo sharing services and won’t be signing for Google+.
“If I do share images on Google services – under the current terms of service – I will risk genuine harm to my ability to earn income from those images. As a professional, I don’t see the reward of using the Google services as being worth more than the risk.”
Google has not responded to request for comment.
Update, Friday, 4:59 p.m.
Photographer Rich Cruse wrote in a email to BlogPost that Google+ is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Cruse says that he recently stopped using Twitpic, a photo sharing service on Twitter, because of a change in their Terms of Service:
You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic's (and its successors' and affiliates') business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.
Similar TOS appear on many social networking sites.
Update, Monday 12:57 p.m.
Many readers have pointed out that Google’s TOS includes the line, “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services,” which seems like it should allay photographers’ fears.
But in an article entitled “Clarification would be nice, but no need to panic,” intellectual property lawyer Denise Howell writes that Google’s TOS still needs to be examined, and could be more clearly worded.
Howell says she understands why Scott Bourne made the decision not to use Google services in connection with his professional photography, stemming from a concern that it’s impossible for him to grant an exclusive license for use and display of his work if he has already licensed those rights elsewhere. For example, if Bourne posted a photo he took of a waterfall to his Google+ profile, but then wanted to sell that waterfall photo to a newspaper, he wouldn’t be able to promise the newspaper a truly “exclusive” license.
“It’s an excellent point that photographers should bear in mind when using any Web service that stores, displays, and distributes their work,” Howell writes.
Users who are not professional photographers and don’t need exclusive licenses to their photos need not be so concerned, Howell says.
Howell also argues that Google could be clearer in in two areas of their TOS.
One, users agree to let Google “make [their] Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services,” and that Google and those third parties may “use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.” Howell says Google could be clearer about what activity this covers.
Second, Howell says the “promotion” license could be clarified, because pictures of somone’s child (or the photos of a professional photographer) could be used to promote Google’s services.
Update, Monday 1:27 p.m.
Google’s TOS also includes the line: “This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.” This line acts as a limitation Google has imposed on itself.
For more on how photographers can use Google+, read Colby Brown’s take here.