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Getty Images Says Google Plus Terms of Service is "OK"

Google plus icons 150x150Should photographers be concerned about Google Plus? This is the subject on an ongoing debate right now, due to the wording Google uses in its Terms of Service – specifically parts that seem to indicate it will have rights to photos posted on the new social network. But some folks, including both professional photographers and an intellectual property attorney say the reaction is overblown. The issue is not a “Google” problem – it’s something to consider before posting your images online, anywhere on the Web.

This week, the lawyers at stock photography leader Getty Images have decided to weigh in on the situation, too, as it relates to the company's Flickr Collection contributors. Getty’s verdict? “We’re OK with Google+,” it says.

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Getty’s Lawyers Look Over Google+ Terms of Service

Members of the private group (note: link only works for members) “Getty Images Contributors” on Flickr were recently informed by a company representative that Getty’s lawyers have deemed Google Plus OK for them to use.

“The important thing to watch out for in Terms of Service, and it’s the same as we’ve talked about for contests, is that whatever they do (or allow third parties to do) with the images should be in the context of the service itself, not to re-license or otherwise commercialize the images to other parties (or even the main company itself) outside of the context they’re posted for,” writes Flickr member Tom W at Getty Images, in a message posted to all group members.

Tom cites specific sections of the Google Plus ToS (11.2 and 11.3) in his post, explaining that their intent is to allow Google to provide copies of the images to third parties “in the context of the service – social networking, photo-sharing, etc.” For example, if members wanted to allow their friends to print copies of their photos, like Flickr does with Snapfish. However, says Tom, Google does “not provide for licensing to another party for their own use.”

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How to Analyze the Google Plus ToS

For professional photographers trying to wade through Terms of Service, not just on Google Plus, but anywhere on the Web, it can be tricky – especially because of the wording, which often takes a law degree to decipher.

But photographer Jim Goldstein has posted some basic tips on his blog, about how he evaluates a ToS for a social media site, Google Plus or otherwise.:

  1. Is a claim made that the copyright of my work is transferred to Google+ (or company X) upon posting/submission?
  2. Is a claim made that my copyrighted work will be distributed to sites under a set umbrella of sites and services (ex. Google+, Gmail, Buzz, Google Search, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Google Places, etc.), or far beyond such as a blanket claim to sub-license my shared work to known and unknown companies/services (ex. 3rd party advertisers or image licensing services)?
  3. Do terms used in relation to any claimed license include “irrevocable”, “perpetual license”, “fully paid”, “royalty-free” or the classic phrase “by all means and in any media now known or hereafter developed”?

    Horrible example often absorbed in boiler-plate ToS:

    You agree to grant to “Company X” a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license, with the right to sub-license, to reproduce, distribute, transmit, create derivative works of, publicly display and publicly perform any materials and other information (including, without limitation, ideas contained therein for new or improved products and services) you submit to any public areas of the Site (such as bulletin boards, forums and newsgroups) or by e-mail to “Company X” by all means and in any media now known or hereafter developed. You also grant to “Company X” the right to use your name in connection with the submitted materials and other information as well as in connection with all advertising, marketing and promotional material related thereto. You agree that you shall have no recourse against “Company X” for any alleged or actual infringement or misappropriation of any proprietary right in your communications to “Company X”.

  4. Can the Terms of Service be terminated by myself and not just Google?

How Does Google Plus Hold Up?

Goldstein then uses that list as a guide to analyze the Google Plus ToS, and finds that, as Getty did, the terms are (basically) OK.

In particular, take note of the section about terminating the ToS (13.1 and 13.2). This was of particular interest to commenters on our previous article. There were questions about how much power Google would have over your images once uploaded – could you ever get your rights back? It appears that Google’s ToS does provide users a way to terminate their agreement at any time, by either

a) notifying Google at any time

or

b) closing your accounts for the Google services you use.

That said, there were parts of the ToS that made Goldstein nervous, to which he only gave a “reluctant OK.” To review the analysis in more detail, head over to his blog.

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