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You Don’t Own Anything Anymore

Google’s terms of service sound grabby because they are: the terms of service for Google Drive (and pretty much every Google service) give Google the right to do almost anything with your uploaded content. This isn’t because Google has a bunch of really cool ideas for “publicly performing” your photos. It’s because copyright law was written before there was a such thing as computers.

“Copyright law itself is really strange,” says Greg Lastowka, co-director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law. These companies, he says, are only doing “what copyright law forces them to do.”

Say you draw a picture. You literally own the paper and the ink that you used to draw it, but the thing you have a copyright for is intangible: it’s the pattern, the shapes, the design. If someone comes along a steals your drawing, they’re stealing your property. If someone takes a photo of your drawing, they’re violating your copyright. “When you say you own a photo,” says Lastowka, “you really mean ‘I have the exclusive right to reproduce my photo.’”

In a world where sharing a photo is strictly a matter of getting another copy made and mailing it, or getting it published, copyrights are pretty easy to keep track of and these laws hold up pretty well. Sending a physical photo to your grandmother goes like this: you either put the picture in an envelope and send it, or you get a copy made yourself and send that.

Sending your grandmother an email photo, though, might involve copying your photo five or six times; first to Google’s servers, then to another server, then to an ISP’s CDN, then to AOL’s servers, then to your grandmother’s computer. As far as you’re concerned, this feels exactly like dropping an envelope in the mail. As far as copyright is concerned, it’s a choreographed legal dance.

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This is smart. (via Buzzfeed)

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