Does anyone have intellectual property right concerns with Google Docs? I encourage my students to use Google Docs because we work in a computer lab twice a week. That way they don't have to worry about losing their changes, or forgetting to email the document to themselves, or any of those other issues that come up when one works on a document in more than one location. I also use Google docs for creating classroom material, such as PowerPoint presentations. I teach in three different classrooms, all with smart technology, and I can open my presentation in all of them, as well as at home on any of my three computers there, without having to worry about downloading and uploading and saving.

However, today one of my colleagues told me that he does not use Google Docs because their agreement states that they own the materials created by users. I'll admit, I rarely read the fine print, and I did not know this. Honestly, I'm not terribly worried because I'm pretty sure that Google is not interested in owning my students' research papers, or even in my PowerPoint presentations about the difference between active and passive voice (imagine a world where such a thing was in hot demand!).

However, I have started to use Google Docs for some of my creative work (I'm a writer) and, of course, I don't want anyone but me to own this work. Does anyone have any insights to this, or similar concerns? (My colleague suggested that were he to write a poem that later became famous, and he did so while using Google Docs, that Google would own the poem and the royalties thereof.) Are there things that one should refrain from creating in Google Docs because of this concern?

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I was attracted by the title of the discussion since I have been preparing some basic topics of Copyrights definitions and uses for my 7th grade students (nothing like Susan's concerns) and was surprised and concerned by the contents of the post.

First, thank you to indigo196 for posting the terms of service.

Second - If I understand correctly all the legal gobbledygook, by placing documents in Google Docs we grant them some rights for reproducing, changing, etc. so they can host them on their servers, transmit them through the web and all that - the changes in essence would have to do with technical stuff like file formats, packets and other things and not with the "content" itself.

Anyone agree/disagree?

Yes, thanks, Indigo. This is what I think all this means:

You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

If you own the copyright on something (that would include your own writing, as you automatically hold copyright on any original material, published or not, for which you are the author), Google is saying here that you still hold the copyright, even if you submit it or create it with their service.

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.

In this sentence, however, they are saying that, simply by using their service, you are giving them unlimited (perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide) license to USE your work (not to own it, as my colleague believed). Google uses to word "royalty-free" to mean that they don't owe you money if they use your work--NOT, as my colleague said, that they would make money from your work (as in the example of a famous poem). They also use the word "non-exclusive" to indicate that, while they are claiming the right to use your work, they are not claiming the right to prevent others from using it as well. However, they are saying that they have the right to change, reproduce or publish anything that you create using their service.

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.

However, they go on to include the statement above to specify how and why they might use the material users create. That is, the only reason Google would reproduce, modify or publish your work is if, for some reason, the work you have created could be used to promote the service. So, if you use Google Docs to create something really neat, and Google finds out about it, they could reproduce the work to promote the Google Docs service.

11.2 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.

Here Google is saying that they can use your work to promote themselves to other companies, organizations or individuals.

11.3 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 licence shall permit Google to take these actions.

This paragraph, I believe, is addressing the issue that Caty mentioned. Google may change the format of your work in order to maintain service.

To be honest, I don't think this is anything to worry about. It seems to me that this is just CYA language for Google. Let's say someone creates a PowerPoint presentation in Google Docs, and they later they see something similar on the Google Docs homepage, that person can't hire a lawyer to get money for that. The terms also specify that the only reason Google would use materials would be to promote the services they offer. In light of this, I don't think my colleague’s concerns (about Google taking ownership of his yet-to-be-written, future-famous poem) are founded. I really doubt that Google scrolls through user files looking for poems they could publish to make money from (especially since the terms say that the creator retains copyright).

Honestly, I don't have any qualms about using Google Docs, expecially now that I've seen the terms. All it is saying is that I can't sue Google for a million dollars if they use something I have created to promote Google Docs, which I think is a less-than-minute possibility.

Anybody else have any takes on this?
Interesting reading.

Not to get us off track but I would have a question somewhat related -- do you have intellectual property rights to what you just posted here above? I don't think so and Ning can do what they want with it. This also goes for this community. Rights are a question of power and there is no "legality" me thinks that governs this when it comes to social networks and online works. But maybe a lawyer can speak up and provide a more detailed opinion.

I do know that if a person on Ning is banned or deletes their profile - ALL replies to whatever they wrote are wiped off the virtual universe. What you add to this community certainly isn't protected on Ning and that is disturbing. Maybe that's something Ning will fix but maybe not....

I do believe that by posting your writing to a website, you are giving the publisher of that site the right to use it. Just like if you submit a letter to the editor at the newspaper, you are giving the newspaper permission to publish that letter on their pages. The difference, of course, between a newspaper and a website is that a newspaper is going to publish the writing once, and a website is going to publish it perpetually. I believe that by posting your writing a website, you are also telling the site that they have permission to alter and reuse your work. Again, I believe that this is usually just cover-your-tail language to protect the publisher of the site from lawsuits, should someone claim that they produced material that the website has appropriated.

This is not to say that the website owns all rights to the material. There is a big difference between exclusive rights and one-time rights. "Exclusive rights" means that a publisher owns the material and that no one else can use it without getting permission. One-time rights means that the writer or creator of the work gives the publisher permission to print or host the work, but that the copyright is still owned by the writer him or herself. The writer has the authority to submit the writing to any other publisher. So, for instance, let’s say that I want to take this paragraph that I am writing and post it to multiple websites, or use it in an article that I later publish in a magazine, I have the right to do that, despite the fact that I have given this particular website the authority to use this particular paragraph.

Here's where the problem comes in. And as far as I can tell, it really is not much of a problem. Let’s say that I write a series of blog posts that I later want to turn into a book. I own the copyright, so I have the authority to submit the book for consideration to various book publishers. In this hypothetical situation, a book publisher decides that they want to publish the book, but they want "exclusive rights." However, since I have already published the work on a website, I may have given up exclusive rights, and because of that, the book publisher may pass on the opportunity to publish the book.

Honestly, though, I don't see this as a huge problem for the vast majority of people. Most writing posted on websites is off the cuff and not something the author is going to try to package and sell later. This being said, there are things that, as a writer, I would refrain from posting to a website (unless it were my own). I would not post a section of a book I which I might later want to publish. I would also be careful, if I were a visual artist or a musician, about putting my work up without understanding the terms of that website. HOWEVER, all this being said, I think the hypothetical situation--in which a writer (or other artist) posts something online and then later can't publish it somewhere else--is extremely rare. In fact, I have never personally heard of a case where that happened.

A much more common issue with intellectual property rights involves people appropriating the work of other people and claiming it as their own. Every once in a while you'll hear a story about a book by one writer that contains large sections of writing by someone else. Then, of course, there is the huge problem of students copying and pasting stuff from online sources without citing it, or simply purchasing entire papers and claiming them as their own.

The above is all my understanding of this, based on my experiences with writing and publishing. I'm pretty sure what I've said is accurate, but if anyone has any insights or clarifications, please reply.
This is a great discussion and exactly the kind we should be having with students! I often talk to students about copyright, IP issues, and terms of services, and they are very engaged in the conversations (often more so than adults). These are issues students (and everyone else) should be aware of. Understanding this kind of thing is a real world 21st century skill.

I encourage anyone reading to take up this conversation with your students. Ask them about how issues like this relate to MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. If you have time, talk about Limewire and then show them the Wayback Machine. What fun (not to mention the instructional value) to hear students reflect on these issues!
I just remembered, there is also something called "first time rights." Many times publishers want first time rights to a piece of writing, but after the initial publication, the rights revert to the author. The author can then seek to publish the work again, but he or she can only give first time rights one time.

Another problem with posting writing to a website is that you may be inadvertently giving up first time rights to that work. If it is something that you later try to publish, and the publisher wants first time rights, you may run into trouble. Again, I see this as of minor concern to a few people, and of no concern to the vast majority of people. Simply, if you see yourself as a professional writer or artist in any genre, use discretion when it comes to posting your work online. If you are writing with the intention of later publishing, you probably should avoid posting long passages or chapter of your book on an open forum. A private writing space where you can invite a select few people to give you feedback is probably just fine.
Some of the shortfalls you get with free service (support, copyright, etc) however, if you are really concerned you could go with another digital storage company for your files, eportfolio, etc.  (examples -, dropbox)



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