This past Tuesday, I rushed home from work to download, install and test Google’s new web browser Chrome, like the dutiful geek that I am. The next morning, Chrome was the talk of the town, with tech blogs far and wide falling over themselves to praise the latest open-source browser. It’s fast! It has a built-in task manager! It sandboxes individual tabs and processes! Yes, yes, these things are all true and are all very exciting. However, just a scant few hours after Chrome’s release and the fanfare that followed it, the honeymoon was all but over. Thanks to a carelessly crafted End User License Agreement (EULA), Google managed to turn a PR dream into a PR nightmare–and in record time to boot. It was an impressive demonstration of the speed with which a backlash can brew, even by Internet standards.
Google released Chrome into the world on Tuesday September 2, at 3:00 p.m. EST. At 9:46 p.m., Florida-based lawyer David Loschiavo published a detailed post on his blog Tap the Hive, chronicling some of the Chrome EULA’s more nefarious provisions. Here’s the section that drew the most scrutiny (emphasis mine):
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. 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.
11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.
11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.
(Note that “the Services” is defined elsewhere in the EULA as referring to “Google’s products, software, services and web sites,” which presumably includes Chrome)
What does this all mean, in practical terms? Essentially, it means that while you own the rights to any content that you produce, upload or otherwise transmit using Chrome (for example, blog posts, emails, videos, music, photos, etc.), by using Chrome, you are agreeing to grant Google a “perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free” license to “to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” your content, as part of the company’s promotional efforts. Further muddying the waters, Loschiavo pointed out that many of Chrome’s users (i.e. anyone who is gainfully employed) may not even have the power to grant such a license, as any intellectual property they produce during the workday is generally owned by their employer.
As you might imagine, this bombshell did not go over well in the blogosphere. At just past 5:00 a.m., the story hit the front page of Slashdot and from there it spread like wildfire. “…I guess I shouldn’t have used Chrome to put some posts up yesterday,” Gizmodo’s Adam Frucci joked, “because I certainly do not have the rights, power or authority to hand over my work from Gawker to the Googe.”
Google may have screwed up in attaching such an overzealous EULA to Chrome but to the company’s credit, it acted quickly to rectify the situation. At just before 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Ars Technica ran a story with the following quotes from Rebecca Ward, Senior Product Counsel for Google Chrome:
Google’s Rebecca Ward, Senior Product Counsel for Google Chrome, now tells Ars Technica that the company tries to reuse these licenses as much as possible, “in order to keep things simple for our users.” Ward admits that sometimes “this means that the legal terms for a specific product may include terms that don’t apply well to the use of that product” and says that Google is “working quickly to remove language from Section 11 of the current Google Chrome terms of service. This change will apply retroactively to all users who have downloaded Google Chrome.”
As it turns out, the Google Chrome EULA controversy is just another case of a high-profile company lazily copying and pasting together a EULA with little regard for the terms therein. And as humorous as the entire 24-hour fiasco might be, Google’s misstep reminds us yet again why it’s important for end-users to read the EULAs that come attached to software and services and why it’s doubly important for companies to run a fine-tooth comb over the language in their EULAs before releasing them into the wild. In all honesty, though, end-users shouldn’t have to dig through every EULA for fear that something like this might be buried inside. If a EULA requires that a user relinquish significant rights in order to use a piece of software or a service, that fact should be made abundantly clear to the user, through some means other than a condition buried deep inside a click-through EULA.
Regardless, as I’ve said in the past when discussing similar controversies, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a high-profile company caught unaware of the contents of its own EULA–and it certainly won’t be the last.