I don’t know that much about technology or the internet. But the Skinny Professor has been talking about the “cloud” for about a year now, and Microsoft is advertising “to the cloud”, so I’d better investigate.
The cloud is essentially many computers networked together to allow distributed storage and processing of data. Doesn’t sound very sexy when I put it that way.
The cloud has great potential. For example, I use DropBox, which provides document storage in the cloud. Anywhere I have access to the internet, I have access to my files. It’s free up to 2GB of storage. Sounds a lot like Google Docs, right?
Well there is one big difference. Google retains the right to display, post, adapt, modify or translate anything you post to Google services. It also retains the right to make the content available to other organizations for the provision of syndicated services. Yup, just check out Google’s terms of service. While you maintain the copyright to your works, you have essentially given Google the license to publish your material as it sees fit. Quora, one of the social media question and answer websites, and Twitter have a similar license agreement in their terms of service.
I checked the Dropbox terms of service. As I interpret them (and remember, I’m not a lawyer), I retain my copyright to my own material and there is no license of my material to DropBox.
(Important Note: As of July 6, 2011, Dropbox has changed its terms of service. “These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.” As I understand it, this means, while they have a perpetual license to the material, it is limited, in that they cannot use your material in any way, other than for managing the service that they provide.)
Don’t get me wrong. I love the power and convenience of the cloud. And I continue to use cloud based services. But I advise you to be very careful. Read the terms of service for each provider. For example, if you are using Google docs to develop business plans, or new product launches or any other collaborative effort that requires confidentiality, or intellectual property protection, I’d suggest that you stop right now. Any writing you are currently working on, if sitting in Google Docs, is perpetually licensed to Google and may be used without your permission.
You need to think about your purpose when you use a particular cloud computing service, rather than just jump in with both feet. It may not matter that these companies are licensing the rights to your random musings, to tweets or to the answers to simple questions but if you plan to write a book, or develop an income stream based on your intellectual property, it’s best to be safe, rather than sorry.