Schadenfreude Fest: The Google Chrome Licence Glitch

September 3, 2008

Apparently, say Google, it was just a glitch. The initial End User License Agreement that was issued with Google Chrome claimed ‘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’. But apparently that was just absent-mindedly transposed from another set of terms and conditions – which is just as well because such a term would be a nonsense in such a context, and should be commercial suicide (although others do get away with it).

I know it could happen to anyone, but I am guessing that most SCL members are very pleased it did not happen to them.

Rebecca Ward, senior product counsel for Google Chrome, told the BBC that the problem arose because Google re-uses swathes of its Universal Terms of Service across all its offerings ‘in order to keep things simple for our users’ and that ‘sometimes, as in the case of Google Chrome, this means that the legal terms for a specific product may include terms that don’t apply well to the use of that product’.

Google posted a press release which states:

Whenever we release a product in beta as we just did with Google Chrome, we can always count on our users to come up with ways to improve it. This week’s example: several eagle-eyed users and bloggers have expressed concern that Section 11 of Google Chrome’s terms of service attempts to give us rights to any user-generated content “submitted, posted or displayed on or through” the browser.

You’ll notice if you look at our other products that many of them are governed by Section 11 of our Universal Terms of Service. This section is included because, under copyright law, Google needs what’s called a “license” to display or transmit content. So to show a blog, we ask the user to give us a license to the blog’s content. (The same goes for any other service where users can create content.) But in all these cases, the license is limited to providing the service. In Gmail, for example, the terms specifically disclaim our ownership right to Gmail content.

So for Google Chrome, only the first sentence of Section 11 should have applied. We’re sorry we overlooked this, but we’ve fixed it now, and you can read the updated Google Chrome terms of service. If you’re into the fine print, here’s the revised text of Section 11:
11. Content license from you
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
And that’s all. Period. End of section.

It will take a little time to propagate this change through the 40+ languages in which Google Chrome is available, and to remove the language in the download versions. But rest assured that we’re working quickly to fix this. The new terms will of course be retroactive, and will cover everyone who has downloaded Google Chrome since it was launched.

So it was just an oversight.

That sadly is probably true – if Google really is aiming to rule the world I am sure it has a subtler plan. Although they are still doing their best to raise suspicion by virtue of the fact that Section 11 has one para numbered 11.1 (what’s wrong with just ‘11’) and a heading ‘Content license from you’ which now bears no relation to the term that follows (surely it would be better headed ‘No content license from you’).

I frequently find myself accepting terms and conditions on the web without having read them. It is a real surprise to find that the party that posted them may not have read them either.