Does Google's Terms of Service Let Them Steal My Copyright?

What's yours, is yours, but Google may use your content

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Every once in a while, rumors circulate that Google secretly gets users to sign away all their intellectual property rights to photos or other content that they upload. The rumor is often accompanied by a particularly scary-sounding clause from the old Google+ Terms of 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.

However, Google does not gain ownership of the items you upload. The current Google Terms of Service specify:

Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

It's not your content you should worry about. It's your endorsement.

What Rights Does Google Have?

According to its Terms of Service, Google has a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify and publish anything you submit, store, send or receive through its services. Google has the right to translate your content into another language and change the underlying file format. The rights you grant by using Google services are for the "limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services and to develop new ones."

For web apps such as blogs and photo-sharing sites to work, Google needs your permission to publish the content and modify it for new formats (like when YouTube converts your video to a more efficient streaming format, such as MPEG). Also, Google may make copies of your content for publication on different size screens, such as those on smartphones and tablets.

Here's the part most people don't like to hear: "This license continues even if you stop using our Services."

In some cases, you are supplied with ways to remove your content from Google before discontinuing your account, but Google is huge and has many services. You might not find them all, and even if you do, they don't all have a method of content removal.

Using Your Endorsements

While Google doesn't own your content, it may be using your rating or review in advertising in what it calls a shared endorsement. Unless you change your account settings so your name and photo cannot appear in an ad, you could see your comment in an ad someday on Google or a third-party application connected to your Google Account. You can prevent this in your account privacy settings.