Home > Intellectual Property, Technology & Internet > Royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable licenses

Royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable licenses

April 2nd, 2008

With disappointing repetitiveness, I stumble across some bozo up in arms over some company that’s attempting to “steal your copyright.” These are usually in a lather because they’ve actually read the Terms of Service for [insert web-based application here] and noticed language that looks something like this:

“the submitting user grants [company] the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, all subject to the terms of any applicable license.”

A good example is this comment on the Slashdot story last week about Adobe launching an online version of Photoshop Express. I’ve had to deal with these kind of complaints for the web properties I’m responsible for, but my annoyance is nothing new. The first time I remember coming across complaints about these kind of terms is almost a decade ago when Yahoo! took over Geocities. It annoyed me even back then when I was just a humble ed tech trainer, not a product manager responsible for honest-to-goodness web applications.
Although I am not a lawyer and you definitely shouldn’t take legal advice from me, let me explain to you what the heck is going on here: it’s called the Internet.

When you upload your content from your computer to [insert web-based application here] you are transferring that content from your computer to the centrally-hosted web application that, presumably, will reproduce that content when it serves it up for display to you or someone else on the web page. This is is commonly known as publishing in web parlance, a way to distribute content over the World Wide Web. Etc. etc. Terms starting to sound familiar?
The Web works by making copies of content and transmitting/distributing those copies all over hell and back anytime someone views a web page, not to mention all the caching of copies. Any company that’s going to get into the business of helping you put content of any sort on the web needs to get your permission to do fling that content all over the globe.
If the vendor didn’t explicitly make the license to do that part of the terms, then some other bozo is going to come along and say “I uploaded a photo to your photo sharing site, and you had the unmitigated gall to — horror or horrors — transmit my content to the web browser of someone, and in the process of doing so allowed them to cache a copy of that photo on their own computer! How dare you! I’m suing you for copyright infringement, Mr. Vendor!” The type of terms like those quoted above are about how the web works and making sure that some litigious jackass doesn’t sue the vendor over doing what’s necessary for a web app to exist. It’s not about “stealing copyright.”
So, you “stealing copyright” bozos, please stop getting your knickers in a twist. Put your tinfoil hat back on and wait by the front door for the black helicopters.
Oh, by the way, the quoted terms above? They’re quoted from the Slashdot Terms of Service. ;-)

Greg Intellectual Property, Technology & Internet

  1. Dave Ihnat
    July 6th, 2011 at 09:29 | #1

    This is well and good for submissions intended to be included in the information displayed on a website–including such things as this comment.

    It’s not at all acceptable if such a condition is imposed for such things as hosted E-Mail, hosted data storage–oh, sorry, today it’s “Cloud” services–or other information that should be considered to have a more restricted distribution. Read your agreement carefully.

  2. Jud H.
    July 6th, 2011 at 09:41 | #2

    This is condescending without any legally-informed response to the critics of this clause. “Bozos” and “black helicopters” aside, does not this clause allow the recipient of content under this provision to do all the things mentioned, which includes producing new content in any medium and selling it? Just because that hasn’t happened (on any publicly/visible scale) doesn’t mean it isn’t legally allowed.

  3. Dana C. Andrews
    July 6th, 2011 at 10:28 | #3

    Wow! is this article misleading.
    An example web service NOT given is Twitpic which is currently actively selling uploaded photos without permission or royalties to uploaders. Basis for their actions is the same language this article claims is harmless.
    Maybe this kind of conversation is best left to educated, certified, experienced lawyers who actually know the law (and torts and principles of evidence, etc) and not those who ‘think’ it is, or should be, a certain way.
    P.S. In one case, the purchaser of an uploaded item is now claiming to be the copyright holder and banning the uploader from using/selling THEIR image (An English tabloid).

  4. Javier Gostling
    July 6th, 2011 at 11:00 | #4

    As much as Icompletely agree withthe reasons behind these TOS language, I feel that there is a problem with the extent that the rights are requested. Under those terms, Vendor can take your content and outright sell it without your permission. Adding a little sentence like “to the extent needed to provide the service” would certainly alleviate these concerns. By the way, feel free to sell this comment if you find a willing buyer ;-)

  5. Bruan
    July 6th, 2011 at 12:09 | #5

    Well, this agreement goes way beyond publishing. It says, “if you publish something here, we can publish it anywhere we like, forever.”. You’re not giving them permission to publish in the web, you’re giving them ownership of the content. As an author, I’d never agree to these terms.

  6. July 6th, 2011 at 18:07 | #6

    Sorry to hear that you actually believe that they (Insert website service here) will never really use your stuff except as you intended. The words used by these websites have real meaning and you are really legally bound by the agreement. The worst one I know of is Linked-In, there disclaimer and terms of agreement are ridiculous. User Beware !!!

  7. Mike Ober
    July 6th, 2011 at 19:17 | #7

    That’s not what your sample says. It says you give the site permission to do anything it wants with your submission. You can still make money from it, but the site can undercut you by giving it away. Basically your copyright is now worthless, even though you are liable for any problems your upload creates.

  8. lolzord
    July 7th, 2011 at 03:33 | #8

    That doesnt explain why “perpetual, irrevocable” (even if you cancel account, they can keep your data forever) and “modify, create derivative works from” (why does the company need to use your content to create derivative works?).

  9. July 7th, 2011 at 06:57 | #9

    Keep Posting, Thanks

  10. Yo
    July 7th, 2011 at 15:44 | #10

    Clearly you are not an attorney. We all understand the reasoning behind the words in the terms of service; however, they *are* very clear. If I upload something to Slashdot I give then the irrevocable right to use it, modify it (apparently in any way you want), create derivative works from it or whatever else you think you want to do with it. Not only that but I give you the right to transfer that “irrevocable right” to anyone you want. So while I may still own it you can use it as ‘if’ you owned it. Unless you can think of doing something with it the is not covered in the terms…

  11. JimL
    July 10th, 2011 at 00:49 | #11

    If you are in the US, then the copyright laws of the US take precedence. If you publish something, either on the web or in paper form (and add the Copyright ) and have documented, dated and have witnessed your work, you can still sue for copyright infringement. Just make sure you have enough money to hire a good lawyer.

  12. CrazyCasta
    August 25th, 2011 at 19:07 | #12


    Actually, if you try to reserve copyright you are breaking the terms of service (as I understand it, not a lawyer). Therefore, whatever provision they have for your breaking terms of service will come into effect. As a for instance they might be able to then counter-sue you for unlawful use of their web resources (you uploaded something outside of the terms and conditions which allow you to upload things).

  1. July 5th, 2011 at 06:58 | #1