This seems to happen every year or so with tech companies that involve hosting photos: people totally misreading terms of service completely freak out that the company is claiming copyright on their photos. In 2011, it was Twitpic's new terms of service
that everyone freaked out about. At the beginning of 2012, it was Pinterest
. At the end of 2012, it was Instagram's new terms of service
. In every case, it was kicked off by people who don't realize that these terms are pure boilerplate standard stuff that basically says, "if you use our platform, you're granting us a license to actually show your photos, so you don't then sue us for violating your copyright." There's nothing nefarious about this at all, but the freakout still occurs, and the media pushes it along.
This year's flavor of the exact same freakout is around Snapchat's new terms of service and, once again, the media has been stupidly pushing the story along, led by the Telegraph in the UK, which has an article suggesting its reporter has no clue what she's talking about
. The terms of service are pure boilerplate, standard legal language that any site hosting photographs basically needs to have (which is why this same freakout happens every year or so with photo hosting sites). You can read the terms here
. The key part that everyone is talking about is this:
Many of our Services let you create, upload, post, send, receive, and store content. When you do that, you retain whatever ownership rights in that content you had to begin with.
To the extent it’s necessary, you also grant Snapchat and our business partners the unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual right and license to use your name, likeness, and voice in any and all media and distribution channels (now known or later developed) in connection with any Live Story or other crowd-sourced content you create, upload, post, send, or appear in. This means, among other things, that you will not be entitled to any compensation from Snapchat or our business partners if your name, likeness, or voice is conveyed through the Services.
Again, this is absolutely standard
and there's nothing nefarious about this. The company is just covering its bases so that it's actually allowed to display your images/videos the way you want them to. It's not about doing something sneaky. It's about making sure that you are actually giving the site a license to display your stuff. In fact, right after the bolded stuff in the first paragraph, the terms make it clear that this is "for the limited purpose" of making Snapchat work -- and not for running off and doing other stuff with your photos and videos.
Nearly identical language can be found in nearly every such service that involves sharing information. Here's Pinterest's
You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products.
...you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service....
And here's Facebook's
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.
When you provide Subscriber Content to Tumblr through the Services, you grant Tumblr a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable right and license to use, host, store, cache, reproduce, publish, display (publicly or otherwise), perform (publicly or otherwise), distribute, transmit, modify, adapt (including, without limitation, in order to conform it to the requirements of any networks, devices, services, or media through which the Services are available), and create derivative works of, such Subscriber Content.
Okay, how about Imgur's
With regard to any file or content you upload to the public portions of our site, you grant Imgur a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable worldwide license (with sublicense and assignment rights) to use, to display online and in any present or future media, to create derivative works of, to allow downloads of, and/or distribute any such file or content.
by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube's (and its successors' and affiliates') business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service.
And, just for fun, how about Reddit's
where the freakout first started
By submitting user content to reddit, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform, or publicly display your user content in any medium and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so.
I'm sure if you looked up any other similar service you'd find similar things. They need to get a license. And this is the language by which it's done. Some word it more broadly than others, and people seem to be focusing on Snapchat, in part, because of how it was mainly billed as a place to send quickly deleting photos/videos (though it's been making that a less and less prominent part of its business lately), and thus there's a fear that Snapchat will suddenly start "displaying" or otherwise sharing the images and videos you thought were being deleted. Of course, if the company actually
did that, it would destroy its reputation.
Having read through all these terms of service, though, I will say that some of the other ones have done a much better job
in trying to cut off such freakouts. Both Tumblr's and Twitter's include "plain English" explanations next to the legalistic paragraphs, explaining why there's this nutty language and why you shouldn't freak out about it. A few of them, such as Pinterest, put something directly in the terms that the reasons for this are "solely for the purpose of operating, developing, providing and using the Pinterest products," which makes it a little more clear what's going on.
In short: this is standard, boilerplate language that's more or less considered necessary for sites like these, and the people who are freaking out (including reporters) are totally overreacting.