Saturday, July 2, 2011

Save Your Manuscript to Dropbox, Give Them Blanket Copyright? Misha

If you've been using computers for more than a few years, odds are you've experienced the horrifying specter of data loss. Long gone are the days of floppies being our only back-up option.

Today, we can backup our data on USB thumb drives, burnable media, the internet, even upload it to the cloud, wherever that is (actually, it's mostly just a fancy term for a bunch of web connected servers sharing data).

But apparently, this freedom can come at a price; a big one if you happen to be a Dropbox user.
Yesterday, Dropbox updated their terms of service (TOS) to include broad and, IMHO, vague rights to anything you should upload. Their blog, says that they wanted the TOS to, " reflect a few important beliefs we have as a company..." Apparently, those beliefs include the rights to do just about anything they want with the stuff you upload.

"By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent we think it necessary for the Service."

Wow, that's a mouthful. Now, I'm not an IP attorney, though I do have one on retainer (yes, owning your own business is lots of fun). But it doesn't take a J.D. to realize these terms are very broad. I understand, that as part of making your manuscript available to you all the time, they need the right to copy it to other servers--got that, no problem. But, the right to perform or publicly display it!?!?

So, upload your manuscript and if they, or any of those they happen to be working with, think it's vital for the Service, they just might post it on the web (publicly display). Or they could sell the rights (i.e. sub-license) to a 3rd party. Heck, if they really like it, they might even turn it into a play (a derivative work) and perform it at the company party--what fun for them!

Now, I doubt they'd do that. However, given that companies regularly do things the rest of us find immoral, who knows what they might do with it. If not them, then maybe one of whose they work with--whom you also grant rights too--will find a way to exploit it, for the necessity of the Service, of course.

Hopefully, they'll be a public outcry (more than one cranky blogger) and they'll change their TOS to something a little more user friendly. As for me, I'll be moving all my stuff off Dropbox.

Update: As noted in the comments section by Misha, Dropbox has updated their terms (do to the public outcry). However, they don't seem to really have changed all that much.


  1. Wow, that's crazy--thanks for the heads up! I've lost stuff before and it was devastating at the time, but I think I'll stick with emailing it to myself and using USB thumb drives.

  2. I've never used Dropbox but had some of my friends recommend it. Now I know not to use it, thanks for the tip.

    That is certainly an outcry. What's sad is that few people ever take the time to read the terms of any service, and most companies bank on people's ignorance.

  3. Holy cow. I don't use it, but I have a friend who does. Sending your post straight through!

  4. I'm guessing that there was an outcry, because this is what the terms say now:

  5. Wow. I just moved my stuff out of there. Thanks for the heads up!