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Dropbox TOS Includes Broad Copyright License 213

Posted by timothy
from the want-it-both-ways dept.
mrtwice99 writes "Dropbox recently updated their TOS, Privacy Policy, and Security Overview. Included in the TOS is the following statement: 'By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent we think it necessary for the Service.' I think Dropbox is a great service, but what is the significance of granting them such broad usage rights?" Elsewhere in the same Terms of Service, which are a few notches above the norm in both brevity and readability, Dropbox says both "Dropbox respects others’ intellectual property and asks that you do too," and "You retain ownership to your stuff."
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Dropbox TOS Includes Broad Copyright License

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  • by cgeys (2240696) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @07:20AM (#36640596)
    It's the usual clause companies have to put now a day so that some asshat won't sue them for millions of dollars even if the service providers offered the services like advertised. Dropbox probably needs this clause to show your content in a public link that you link to others. Youtube and any other user submitted service has similar clauses. The law probably needs fixing, but that isn't the companies fault - blame the asshats abusing it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sortius_nod (1080919)

      Has nothing to do with that. Simple disclaimers fix that. They are doing it to profit off what they don't own.

      Oh well, my account is now deleted, not my problem anymore.

      • by node 3 (115640) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @07:42AM (#36640716)

        Has nothing to do with that. Simple disclaimers fix that. They are doing it to profit off what they don't own.

        For example? And by 'example', I mean an example of something they are actually doing and not just something you think they could conceivably do.

        These sorts of clauses are almost always about trying to legally protect the way the site/service works. Why would Dropbox think it could just take your shit and sell it (what you seem to think they are going to do here)?

        • by dcollins (135727)

          "For example? And by 'example', I mean an example of something they are actually doing and not just something you think they could conceivably do."

          You make it sound like you don't understand how contract law works at all. You read the contract and decide if the terms sound good before taking action on it. You don't agree to it by default, and then wait to see if you get screwed over and then smack your head.

          • by node 3 (115640)

            In other words, you have no example.

            You'd think if there was some actual, concrete reason to fear this TOS, there'd be examples readily available.

            • by dcollins (135727)

              "You'd think if there was some actual, concrete reason to fear this TOS, there'd be examples readily available."

              Only if you're really dumb. It was updated, what, a few hours ago as I write this on a Saturday? How fast do you think they move?

        • by spancel (1907568)

          Why would Dropbox think it could just take your shit and sell it (what you seem to think they are going to do here)?

          Because that is what it says in the contract

          • by node 3 (115640)

            That's not what it says in the contract. That's what it says in the minds of paranoid nerds.

      • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:30AM (#36640864)
        You seem to have missed the part where it says, "...to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service." I think they would have trouble convincing a judge that allowing someone you did not designate access to your copyrighted material without your explicit permission for Dropbox's profit was something they legitimately thought was "necessary for the Service."
      • by rossjudson (97786)

        What you (and most others here) seem to have missed is that Dropbox generally has absolutely no idea what your content is. Everything is encrypted. How exactly are they distributing your "copyrighted material" when it can't be decrypted?

        In rare cases (specifically those required to cooperate with law enforcement) Dropbox has indicated that they could decrypt. I expect they will do this as rarely as possible, as it opens up questions they'd likely rather leave closed.

        If Dropbox does geographically distribute

        • by bschorr (1316501)
          "What you (and most others here) seem to have missed is that Dropbox generally has absolutely no idea what your content is. Everything is encrypted. How exactly are they distributing your "copyrighted material" when it can't be decrypted?"

          Except it *CAN* be decrypted. Dropbox has already admitted that THEY have the encryption keys and they can decrypt (and turn over to the gov't if necessary) your data. If they can decrypt it then they can read it. And that means, according to their terms of service, that
      • by ajs (35943)

        Has nothing to do with that. Simple disclaimers fix that. They are doing it to profit off what they don't own.

        Oh well, my account is now deleted, not my problem anymore.

        That seems a foolish overreaction. Yes, this TOS is fairly broad, but it releases them to implement many new services down the line that require automatic transcoding, format conversions, creation of Web sites, etc.

        The reality is that Dropbox has no interest in alienating their customers by selling off their stuff. However, consider one simple case: you have your music collection on Dropbox. They decide to offer a "share my photos" feature. You select that feature and they connect your photos to some N frie

    • Youtube and any other user submitted service has similar clauses.

      You realize the way that clause is written that you could use Dropbox to send a draft of your novel to your editor and Dropbox could publish it. Regardless of the intent, there has to be narrower language that would work. They could add something like "in the context of the service" which means their publishing rights are limited to the service itself.

      They might need the clause, but they don't need anything nearly that broad.

      • by siride (974284)

        You also missed the part where it says: "to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service."

        • I didn't miss that part. It's their opinion if publishing your novel is necessary for the service, it still doesn't say in what context or state the intent.

          • by siride (974284)

            Seems to me that it'd be hard to argue in court that publishing your novel and selling it has anything to do with carrying out the service, or that it'd be reasonable for them to expect ("think") that it would be necessary. Sure, lawyers are good at twisting things, but this would be a tough one.

            • Yeah, your right it would be a stretch. Still, would it hurt to add a little clarity as to the intent? We don't want to get sued as publishers, so within the context of the service blah, blah, blah.

              As a contractor I work on contracts all the time. You don't have to always wrap them in legalese. State the intent, the limitations and consideration in plain language.

              • by siride (974284)

                I feel like that's exactly what they did. It's all along the lines of: we want to store your stuff, but unfortunately, to do that we need the rights to it or else it'd be considered infringement, so we are going to ask for the rights needed to store your stuff (which they list). No fancy legalese, intent is stated, limitations are stated in plain language ("to the extent which we think it necessary for the service").

    • by iamwahoo2 (594922) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @09:08AM (#36640970)
      The summary missed the true problem which is that this TOS requires that the user hold copyright or right to grant a license on the material in question. Which means you can only put up original content, public domain, etc... Legally purchased MP3s cannot be uploaded, GPL content cannot be uploaded (as there terms are not GPL compatible). It is a slippery slope and poorly thought out move by dropbox's lawyers. By opening door to the idea that users need to control certain copyright terms in order to use cloud based storage, you essentially make it useless from a standpoint of using the service legally and you will increase pressure from **AA to force cloud based storage managers to police and filter content.
      • That is a very valid point! I think it's one of those areas in which we'll have to allow practicality to override the letter of the law. For example, I buy a DVD whose terms prohibit retransmission yet I stream it wirelessly to my TV. It may be against the letter of the licence, but it's hopefully not the kind of thing they intended to exclude. One would hope that what they want to prevent is transmission outside of the home/family.

        If I email myself some GPLed code, does the fact that the email is going to

        • by Jiro (131519)

          If you stream a DVD whose terms prohibit retransmission, or if you mail yourself GPL code, that's covered by fair use. Fair use protects you against the copyright owner going after you for copyright violation. Third parties are still allowed to do things conditional on whether you have the rights.

          If the TV set was owned by someone else and he put a terms of use on it which said that you can't stream that DVD, streaming the DVD won't violate copyright (because of fair use), but it *would* violate the terms

          • That could be true in the case of copyright but not necessarily so if its use is governed by a license. Of course it may then be a question if whether or not the licence is legally enforceable.

        • Since when do DVDs have "terms" or a license?

    • It's the usual clause companies have to put

      "You give us the right to make derivative works from your stuff" is just about as far away from "usual" as you can get it.

      With a clause like that, Dropbox can do the smallest of alterations to your stuff, sell it, and not give you a dime. Even if it's something that you sell for $$ and don't give away for free. Hell, with a clause like that, Dropbox can take your software code and release it under any license they want, essentially as if they were you.

      No part of the law requires them to not list out what

      • by siride (974284)

        Another person who didn't read: "to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service."

        • by tftp (111690)

          "to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service."

          Note carefully, they don't say "necessary for providing the Service". Why is that? Is it because the money they attempt to get from selling your stuff is needed to motivate them to keep the servers running?

          I never had an account with them, and obviously I'm not going to ever get one. As matter of fact, I have my own instance of Open-Xchange on the Net, and I can store my own InfoItems from wherever I want to.

    • by Wovel (964431)

      They went to far. Amazon publicly shows your content (when you authorize). Amazon is customer focused. Here is what the AWS Customer agreement says. It covers all services including S3.

      8.1 Your Content. As between you and us, you or your licensors own all right, title, and interest in and to Your Content. Except as provided in this Section 8, we obtain no rights under this Agreement from you or your licensors to Your Content, including any related intellectual property rights. You consent to our use of Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you and any End Users. We may disclose Your Content to provide the Service Offerings to you or any End Users or to comply with any request of a governmental or regulatory body (including subpoenas or court orders).

      The dropbox tos is what happens when you give lawyers with little or no business experience free reign. The Amazon agreement provides the same relevant protection without all the irrelevant bs that scares people away.

    • Yep, and the PATRIOT Act was supposed to catch terrorists, all those videogames refused to offer dedicated servers because they'd provide their own, better servers for as long as people were playing anyway, and my ex-girlfriend was supposed to just be borrowing my CDs.

      Seriously, how naive are you?

      • by cgeys (2240696)
        Naive? I work for a company that also deals with user submitted content on the internet. We have a very similar clause in our TOS just for this reason and I do understand why companies are by law required to put it there. Slashdot has it too.
    • Also remember that Dropbox works internationally, and not every country has the same "fair use" laws as the US.

    • by rbrausse (1319883)

      otoh, it is a long way from "we can't access your content stored in our service" to "we need publishing rights for everything". Dropbox burnt a lot of goodwill within the last months

  • Easy - encrypt it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    and don't give them the password.

    • Um, yeah. Next up, they'll be taking users to court for doing just that, claiming it denies their rights to use your works.

      Ok, probably not... but these days, it seems the craziest lawsuits get filed, so it wouldn't really surprise me.

      But I gotta wonder: Could they legally bring such a suit, based on their TOS?

      • by ajs (35943)

        Um, yeah. Next up, they'll be taking users to court for doing just that, claiming it denies their rights to use your works.

        Ok, probably not... but these days, it seems the craziest lawsuits get filed, so it wouldn't really surprise me.

        But I gotta wonder: Could they legally bring such a suit, based on their TOS?

        It doesn't matter. Such an action would immediately result in at least half of their users abandoning the service. I know I would.

        I think the Slashdot crowd is trying awfully hard to imagine scenarios where this TOS (which is the same as many other Web-based storage TOSes) will lead to total anarchy. Problem is, it's really fairly standard.

  • They all do it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nagnamer (1046654) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @07:27AM (#36640636) Homepage

    Google, deviantArt, Facebook, et al, they all have very similar or same wording in their TOS's. Point is, if they transfer data from your account to someone else's account, it is considered distribution, performance if they show video to others, etc, etc. So they need you to license your stuff to them so they're permitted to carry out their services. The fact that it, on paper, gives them right to do many other things is worrying, but not at all unusual. Good thing about Dropbox version is that it at least has the "to the extent we think we think it necessary for the Service." That is an improvement.

    • by nagnamer (1046654)

      Also keep in mind that in some cases, like in case of deviantArt, the license is time-limited to the duration of your usage of the service, which helps. I don't use Dropbox, so I don't know if that's the case with Dropbox. In some cases, it is not possible for service providers to time-limit the license, because the data may need to be available to other users after you leave.

    • by trifish (826353)

      The key thing is that, for those purposes, none of them needs permission so broad.

      They only need a limited right to retain and transfer your content between their servers and your computer. That's it.

      • by Silvanis (152728)

        Not really. Any time they display or send your content to another person, that's copyright infringement. So they need a license from you, it needs to be worldwide (since anyone can access the website), you WANT it to be non-exclusive, they don't intend to pay you to use their service so royalty-free, sublicenseable to the extent that if they use akami or some such to host the content, then akami doesn't comment infringement..

        Time duration's about the only piece of the typical grant that is questionable. Sin

        • by ajs (35943)

          Not really. Any time they display or send your content to another person, that's copyright infringement. So they need a license from you, it needs to be worldwide (since anyone can access the website), you WANT it to be non-exclusive, they don't intend to pay you to use their service so royalty-free, sublicenseable to the extent that if they use akami or some such to host the content, then akami doesn't comment infringement..

          Ding! Correct answer. Akami is a great example of where this is necessary. I could easily imagine a user suing Dropbox when they find out that their stuff was handed over to a third party (possibly even modified into another format in the process). In reality, of course, this might be done for the simple reason of getting it back to the same user that put it in Dropbox faster, but without these protections, there's no way for Dropbox to defend such an action.

          Also, keep in mind that the TOS is broad so that

  • Out of context (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 02, 2011 @07:29AM (#36640648)

    If you read the whole agreement, it isn't as scary as the poster has implied.

    Your Stuff & Your Privacy

    By using our Services you may give us access to your information, files, and folders (together, “your stuff”). You retain ownership to your stuff. You are also solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services.

    We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent we think it necessary for the Service. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.

    How we use your stuff is also governed by the Dropbox Privacy Policy, which you acknowledge. You acknowledge that Dropbox has no obligation to monitor any information on the Services, even though we may do so. We are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, appropriateness, or legality of files, user posts, or any other information you may be able to access using the Services. We may disclose information about your account or your stuff to law enforcement officials as outlined in our Privacy Policy.

    • by BeanThere (28381)

      Um, it still sounds just as bad to me even in context. Legally, the sentence "We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files)." doesn't affect the meaning in any way, other than couch it in the implication - to the layman - that the extent of the sentence following, is limited by that sentence. However, it isn't; if you parse the English, the two sentences are not connected.

      • Re:Out of context (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @09:59AM (#36641126) Journal
        The entire thing is horrible from a legal standpoint. If that's their actual TOS, rather than an informal FAQ or similar, then run a mile from their service. They clearly haven't consulted a (remotely competent) lawyer in drawing up a legal document. From previous Slashdot stories, they haven't consulted a remotely competent cryptographer in designing their encryption either. I wonder if they've consulted anyone competent about anything at all...
      • by siride (974284)

        That's why that following sentence ends with "to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service."

        • by ewilts (121990)

          That's why that following sentence ends with "to the extent which we think it necessary for the Service."

          But what if making money is "necessary for the Service"? The are implying that they have the right to license your work for profit so they can continue running Dropbox.

    • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
      They should have said "to the extent necessary to perform the actions you request", or something to that effect. Instead, they say "to the extent we think it necessary for the Service", which basically means "however we want".
    • by iamwahoo2 (594922)
      It sounds like you have to be in a position to grant a Dropbox rights in the first place. If you are not the original author, that is a bit of a problem. This clause is a BIG problem, but not just for the reasons pointed out in the summary. This means that you cannot use dropbox to transfer your legally purchased music, movies, books, or other content between devices because you do not have the right to grant Dropbox the rights that they are asking for in most cases.
  • by Wowsers (1151731)

    If it bothers you that much, don't bee a freetard, get yourself a basic website with webspace, and you control your own domain and don't have to worry about companies making up such TOCs where they think they own copyrights they have no right to. (this was not a troll posting).

    • Unless you plan to host from home i'm sure that many of the hosting companies out there have similar or more intrusive contracts. Bare in mind, if you do host from home your consumer-grade provider might have a similar policy or they may start bitching if you have too many folks accessing your stuff and impose quotas
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrtwice99 (1435899)
      Seriously, you are going to compare Dropbox to "a basic website with webspace", and this gets modded Insightful? I have lots of websites, there is a reason I use Dropbox, its a great product. I'm just concerned the terms are overly broad.
  • You are giving dropbox the rights to do whatever they want to with your content, according to this. All of thye examples are just that - examples. The terms give them the right to make the judgment on what they want to do. And, since they are free to change the privacy policy at will, just as they changed the TOS, you have no protections.

    They can write this much more tightly to protect themselves and give you absolute control. The problem is that to do so it will be very long and "legalese" and not frie

    • "You are giving dropbox the rights to do whatever they want to with your content, according to this. "

      Let's qualify this. They can do what they want in order to deliver the advertised Service. They can't just up and decide to sell your stuff, for example, as that is not a Service they sell.

      • by NNKK (218503)

        No, they can do whatever THEY think is necessary. It's no different than a clause reading "in our sole judgement".

        • by siride (974284)

          IANAL, but it seems to me it would be hard to argue in court that Dropbox selling my content for money is necessary for the service or that they could reasonably think that necessary for executing the service.

          • by NNKK (218503)

            They didn't say "reasonably" until the world exploded around them.

            Contracts are contracts. In the US (where Dropbox and probably most of its users are based), courts rarely do anything but follow their express terms. It's a fundamental aspect of the common-law heritage of our legal system that virtually anything is subject to contract under virtually any terms. Exceptions are few, and aside from contracts calling for manifestly criminal conduct, most of the exceptions come from either express law forbidding

  • So after having a problem where access given was access forever and when people could get to your stuff without a password they are now pretending they own everything people put there? Maybe it's time for law enforcement to get involved with these clowns and hit them with fraud for pretending to have a secure service.
    • by X3J11 (791922) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:32AM (#36640878) Journal

      ... they are now pretending they own everything people put there?

      No, they are being granted a license to use what people put there. There is a difference.

      Maybe it's time for law enforcement to get involved with these clowns and hit them with fraud for pretending to have a secure service.

      Yes someone better call the Internet Police and ... oh wait. This comment doesn't even make sense. Call which law enforcement exactly? And for what charge? "I don't like their Terms of Service" isn't, as far as I'm aware, something any country's laws have a charge for. You don't like the terms, you don't use the service.

  • Is it still safe to store my Bitcoin wallet there, so I can access it from anywhere?
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:21AM (#36640836) Homepage Journal
    At the end of the day, dropbox is really just a fancy front end bolted on to Amazon's s3 service. So basically if Amazon demanded no copyrighted material be stored on the service, dropbox must change it's TOS to match..... Ultimately your dropbox data is essentially in the hands of not just one, but 2 different companies.
    • So basically if Amazon demanded no copyrighted material be stored on the service

      ...then they'd have to close that business unit by the end of the week. Hint: this post is copyrighted material. So is yours. So is the photo I took and uploaded to Flickr. In short, almost everything is copyrighted, and if Amazon tried to institute a no-copyrighted-material policy they'd be stuck with no customers but Project Gutenberg.

  • It leaves off the last sentence of the quoted paragraph from the TOS: "You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission."

    IANAL, but I suspect that this is the linchpin of the terms. In order for any of the foregoing rights to be granted to dropbox, you must actually have rights in the first place. You are completely on the hook if you sync anything improperly.

    This all sounds fine in theory, but I bet there's not a single dropbox customer who isn't running afoul of this term. It's not really dropbox's fault, it's the fault of our cockamamie copyright laws which grant automatic copyright on EVERYTHING on first publication.

    When everything's covered, nothing's covered. Except for those who have the deep pockets to bring suit.

  • Translation: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kuzb (724081) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:45AM (#36640908)

    "We reserve the rights to be douchebags if we want, but we promise we won't be."

  • Apparently the submitter has never read a TOS before. That statement's been in almost every major corporation's TOS that I've read to date, and it's mostly an ass-covering line as mentioned by other posters. While I don't like the policy of including unreasonable policies in a TOS, this is hardly unique to dropbox and appears to be part of a mudslinging campaign instead of actual news.

  • Problem solved.

  • Damn it, now my rc.conf file, and my conkyrc file will be there for the world to exploit. People will realize how I got mpd to display album art on my desktop, and they'll know which services I start in the background when my machine loads! THE HORROR
  • SugarSync has a similar service and their Terms of Usage [sugarsync.com] are much more like what you would expect.

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