Photo: Why to avoid using Picasa web albums

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Steve Borsch has an excellent blog entry on why using Picasa's web album is a particularly bad idea -- because posting your images on it gives away all of your photograph's duplication rights to Google, without compensation and in perpetuity:

Your Rights

Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Picasa Web Albums. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Picasa Web Albums and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Picasa Web Albums, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through Picasa Web Albums, including RSS or other content feeds offered through Picasa Web Albums, and other Google services. In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services

"Promoting Google services" is very vague. A coffee table book about Google could be construed this way. Definitely an advertising campaign -- how pissed would you be if Google used your photograph on billboards across America and didn't pay you a penny? They have every right to since you gave them that right.

Furthermore, this is hidden in the Terms of Service which no one reads. How many other photo sharing sites have similar rights grabs in their TOS? Previously, I've blogged about why you should never enter most photo contests, but now it appears you shouldn't ever post anything on the web unless you own your own server.


Well, it's not really "giving away", is it? It's a non-exclusive license, after all, so there's not really any "away" in the sense of the user not having the right after allowing Google to have it.

And almost all photo site users do not intend to exploit their photos for exclusive financial gain, so for almost all users, a non-exclusive license to someone else for almost any purpose will never be an issue. Indeed, many people would be happy if Google gave their photos wide exploitation, even if no money came of it. I certainly would, because it would help me to sell the next batch for actual money.

And finally, any photo site obviously needs a license to display the photo in the manner in which the service is currently and may in the future be used (otherwise they are infringing the artist's copyright by displaying it), and the reference to "promoting" refers to Google services, not the photo - the term may be less than perfectly clear, but it obviously doesn't extend to allowing Google to sell one's photos. Anf of course, Google doesn't make coffee table books or erect billboards. You're using those examples to illustrate your point using the exteme case, but the case is so extreme as to drown out the point. Which is that people know what Google does, are generally comfortable with it, and are willing to trade some of their rights, and accept some theoretical risk from imprecision in TOS, for access to useful free or cheap services. And the reason very few of them read the TOS is precisely because they know the risk to them is very low. Put another way, they know enough to know not to care about unimportant things.

Tempest, meet teapot, IMO.

Yes, I was also going to mention it's non-exclusive. This doesn't excuse them from granting themselves rights to reproduce it to promote their services without compensation or permission, but it's not the end of the world.

For amateurs who are just posting photos of their vacation, I think it's fine. But people who photograph for money need to be extremely careful where they post their sample photos. While Google is not yet fully evil, they are reneging their promise to not be so in different ways and who knows what the Google of the future will be? I'd be cautious about a TOS that contains the words "in pertetuity" and "without compensation" and the vague "Google services."

And Google does buy billboards, just do a google image search for it:

I'm so glad I just happened onto your site. Your work looks very interesting. I have always been interested in deaf education and I have just started a photoblog about Japan for kids, Here and There Japan. I have also been considering and wondering about web albums so it was a timely discovery! I'm just a mom (and children's writer/ex-university instructor) with a camera so I have a lot to learn. Thanks.
Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu

I would question whether the TOS represents a legally binding document. Of course, it's always advantageous if one can avoid the necessity of defining such in court. Forewarned is forearmed. Thanks, Karen!

I am SO glad I read this, I WAS going to use WebAlbums, but now, me thinks not. Where can I upload a huge amount of pics and not worry about this?

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on September 1, 2006 8:25 AM.

Careers: Disability History Association and recent dissertations on disability was the previous entry in this blog.

Blog: Here and there Japan is the next entry in this blog.

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