Between a rock and a hard place…

This is going to be a long and rambley piece about licences and the updated updated Terms of Service of the Google Maps API – if either of those don’t interest you turn away now :)

Not that long ago Google updated the Terms of Service on Google Maps API – I guess mainly in responce to issues brought up on the Mail group, and elsewhere. As a result of that edit there where many concerns raised (and more)- and a further edit was made. (note, only linked to some of the blogs etc – follow links to read more) This was over a week ago, but due to non online commitments haven’t really had a time to follow this up. You can read my early reaction here, which has been edited in to Mikes post.

Below is the main section that is still causing concern, quoted in its entirety:

11. Licenses from You to Google.

11.1 Content License. Google claims no ownership over Your Content, and You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Your Content. By submitting, posting or displaying Your Content in the Service, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute Your Content through the Service and as search results through Google Services. This license is solely for the purpose of enabling Google to operate the Service, to promote the Service (including through public presentations), and to index and serve such content as search results through Google Services. If you are unable or unwilling to provide such a license to Your Content, please see the FAQ for information on configuring your Maps API Implementation to opt out.

11.2 Brand Features License. You grant to Google a nontransferable, nonexclusive license during the Term to use Your Brand Features to advertise that you are using the Service.

11.3 Authority to Grant Licenses. You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licenses.

To be honest still unsure how I feel about this section, and finding it very hard to vocalise (well to put to pixels) the concerns. I certain its not compatible with a number of situations where the Maps would otherwise be ideal, but that I guess is real life – just need to move on an find something that is more suitable. But its still gauling to have invested so much in Google Maps API to have it all disappear in puff of legal smoke, I guess its now going to be“Once Burnt, Twice Shy” as they say.

I’ll try to put it into more practical terms. On Geograph (which was a fairly big user of the API) contributors submit photos by releasing them under a Creative Commons licence. Its important to note that Geograph (the site or company running it) doesn’t get any additional rights or licence to the photos beyond the CC licence. Now according to the above section, the API developer (in this case me) must be able to grant Google a licence to the displayed data, but the licence is not compatible (no attribution clause) with the CC licence. Ok then, the last sentance of 11.1 hints at a get out – however jumping to the FAQ, which says:

How can I opt out of including my content in Google search results?
To remove your page or site from search results, follow the instructions provided in our webmaster help center. If we enable indexing of any content that is a part of your Maps API implementation, we will provide updated instructions to opt out of including that content in search results.

This seems to equate ‘indexing’ with ‘licence’.

Now I kinda understand why Google are doing this, they want to legalise the crawling they are doing – so they have a get out that the data has been licensed to them specifically.

So does that mean if we don’t agree to the licence – the data wont be crawled and indexed? But we do want content to be indexed – previously we’ve never agreed by allowing content to be crawled we giving a licence to that data.

… so with Geograph at least – I cant grant the licence – but I cant use the elusive ‘opt out’ (boils down to robots.txt I guess), as I do want the content to be indexed. So can Geograph use the Google Maps API or not? I still can’t see how it can – if it did it would be contravening the TOS of the API (cant confirm as per 11.3), and/or violating the Creative Commons licence (see section 4.a. of the legal code, “You may not sublicense the Work.” which is the most succinct expression of the issue).

Another silly issue in all of this, users displaying Geograph content on Google Maps website itself (eg via KML files) are basically agreeing to the same terms (by way of here and here [see section 11]). So the same issue displaying such content is not actually abiding by the terms and licence. And by providing links to Google Maps we inciting users to do this :p – but that is a step away from doing it wholesale on the website itself?

On a plus side have re-enabled the mashups on this site*, which I think are compatible with this updated updated terms, I still don’t have a licence to the data – but I dont allow it to be indexed either – and if/when Google start indexing mashups there will be mechanism to explicitly say no.

* sorry this has taken so long, truly sorry for the inconvenience. In retrospect maybe was a bit hasty – but couldnt allow the licence to data been entrusted with the be undermined.

Slightly tangential, I just love the irony that as be section 11 of the Terms, Google wants a perpetual licence to your data, but in section 7 it only gives you a very limited licence to the mapping data – because of course it isn’t theirs. (not saying I disagree with section 7, just pointing out the disparity)

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2 Responses to “Between a rock and a hard place…”

  1. Barry

    I recognize that Google is grabbing more than they should but what else is new. But if one looks at the intent of the users submitting photos to your GeoGraph site, wouldn’t they WANT the photos to show up in Google? Thus wouldn’t a simple TOS on the submission make that explicit and allow you to use the Google API?


  2. Barry says:

    @ Mike

    Agreed we want the data to show up, hence cant use the API :(

    I am weary about changing the submission process for three reasons

    A) – we have an extensive back catalogue, would only be able to show new images, or have a ‘opt in’ but many will not (or even able to) respond – so would ahve to track which could use.

    B) it sets a dangourus precedent, wouldnt want to start requesting extra rights to cover every eventuality

    C) the fact that even Geograph only uses the Creative Commons – actully protects the archive. Geograph (should it turn evil) doesnt have any additional rights to the images – so it can’t abuse – or sell out to some big evil corporation.

    Although I would note that we have added additional terms to the submission process – so we can use the API for submission purposes – in this way we do request additional rights to the grid references only – becuase that is all that is sent to the API – so its not compromising the licence of the image itself – and the GRs on their own are benign.