When otherwise intelligent people go stupid

The story so far…

Google release a browser. The whole world of people who care about such things go “Oooh! Shiny!”

Someone reads the End User License and doesn’t like what they find, says they’re a lawyer (though emphasizes this is not legal advice) and declares they can never agree to this.

The tech blogosphere goes mental. I picked it up from Jemima Kiss at The Guardian via Twitter but the big shitstorm seems to be happening on Gizmodo with the not-at-all-hysterical headline Google Chrome EULA Claims Ownership of Everything You Create on Chrome, From Blog Posts to Emails.

The EULA passage under discussion:
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. 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. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

Now, for the record I haven’t downloaded Chrome (it’s Windows only right now) and probably won’t use it since I rely on my extension-loaded Firefox too much to change. It sure looks interesting though and I expect a lot of the groovy under-the-hood stuff detailed in Scott McClouds comic like the V8 Javascript engine and improved memory management to make it over to Firefox eventually. So I’m not that bothered about the EULA personally and have no real desire to defend Google on this one.

What bothers me is, other than the lawyer’s personal decision, the reporting on this has been appallingly misleading and devoid of any calm, rational thought. Sure, the EULA has some nasty sounding passages in it thanks to it being written in legalese but it doesn’t say Google “owns” your stuff. In order to understand what it means you have to understand how web services operate, which makes the bad reporting of this by tech journos even more depressing. I mean, if this was some monkey at BBC news then I’d be annoyed but shrug it off. But when my own people fuck up like this…

Anyway, here’s a short refresher in how the Internet works for those who were asleep at the back.

When you create something you own the copyright on it. You can choose to give this “right to copy” away by signing a publishing deal or similar but at the point of creation the fundamental right to copy is with you. So let’s say you take a photograph of a dog. You created that image and therefore hold the copyright on it.

Let’s email that picture to someone. What happens? First of all you upload a copy to your email service. If you’re using Gmail this then sits on the Gmail computers, probably a few times since they back stuff up. It’s then sent to your friend who uses Hotmail, so another bunch of copies are stored there. The image is huge, having come straight from your camera, so when your friend views their email Hotmail creates a smaller version that they can check before deciding whether to download it or not. This is modifying your original work, something that is protected by copyright law (I believe).

So when an EULA says “reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” that’s what it’s covering. The right to make copies and display them to people without having to ask you for permission every time.

You like how you can click one button and have Google Docs turn your Word document into a web page? Covered by the license. You like how Flickr can make your photos appear in searches and be embedded in other people’s blogs? Covered by the license.

I believe (and I could be wrong) the reason for these licenses is not to let large corporations steal all your stuff and use it for their nefarious ends. It’s to stop litigious opportunists suing the shit out of them for the sort of copyright infringement that is essential in making these services work. Without allowing Google to make copies of stuff that other people own they wouldn’t be able to let you email it or, I suspect, display it in your browser as every time you look at a web page a copy of that is stored on your computer.

And (I believe) even if you give away the “right to copy” you still own the stuff. You’re just letting other people copy it, within specific circumstances.

Anyway, enough of my cod-lawyering. The point is I’d hope the tech-nerds out there who report on this stuff would have the nouse not to get drawn into this bullshit and actually apply some thought to what they’re reporting. The same thing happened when Billy Bragg decided to take on Murdoch’s MySpace on similar grounds. I had a hell of a lot of respect for Bragg before that. I lost a lot of it afterwards.

You people are not stupid. Stop acting like you are and leave the stupid to the Register where it belongs.

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6 Responses to When otherwise intelligent people go stupid

  1. I like google chrome, its very fast, but i will keep my firefox ;-)

  2. Jenni says:

    Yes, the MySpace nonsense was exactly the comparison I was drawing as I got part-way down your post. Stupid stupid rat creatures.

    That comic by Scott McCloud, explaining the Google browser thing, is just genius. It goes on too long (or at least it doesn’t give you any up-front indication of how long it is, and I assumed it would just be a couple of pages) but it’s a fantastically clear and cool way of explaining this new thing. Go Google for getting him to do it!

  3. Pete Ashton says:

    The McCloud comic is fantastic, isn’t it? Really gets into some complicated stuff without overwhelming the reader. I wanted to do a nice long blog post about it but this stupid EULA thing got in the way…

  4. Jez says:

    You’re cod-lawyering is extremely fishy indeed. This language is naff all to do with the store-and-forward nature of shuffling bits around. If you needed an agreement to cover yourself against litigious types, no one would get anywhere because you’d need to set up license agreements with every possible party.

    To my reading, subsequently confirmed by Google changing the Chrome EULA, it says “I am a cock-up. I am a license agreement for some other thing, which we stuck in here as a placeholder and forgot to change later.”

  5. Ed says:

    I thought that the kinds of actions you are talking about would be covered in agreements with the relevant service provider not the browser?

    Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense and would probably not stand up in court…..

  6. rachel says:

    Additional competition is good, it’s right from a Google point-of-view that they launched this. Those that use FF are unlikely to change, for many good reasons. Those that use IE probably don’t even know what a browser is, let alone that there are better alternatives.

    So why is this good from Google’s perspective? Remember that Google is just 10 yrs old, teenagers don’t know the internet BG (before Google) and so this ‘next’ generation have absolute faith and trust in the G brand. Why ‘wouldn’t’ they use Chrome?