Do you own your photos?

How many photos will you upload to an online service this year? How many have you uploaded in the past?

Because of smartphones, a camera is always handy when we need it. All of the photos and videos that we take have to be stored somewhere, and increasingly the cloud is where we look for a solution to this problem.

But, when you upload your photos to the cloud, did you consider the fact that you may be giving your photos to someone else to store on their computer? Who will have access to them? More importantly, who owns those pictures?

Data ownership is a complex subject with few clear answers. You created the photo, but once you put it on someone else’s computer, is it still yours?

What rights do we have?

The rights that we retain to our data all boils down to what is in the terms and conditions of the service that we are using. Every service provider has an End User License Agreement, or EULA, of some sort. It could be called Terms of Use, or Terms of Service, or Terms and Conditions, or a Privacy Policy, or they may all be lumped together, or the documents may be separate but incorporated by reference.

There are a ton of service providers out there. Reviewing all of them is impossible. So let’s take a look at some of the biggest data storage providers out there. Chances are that you have something personal stored on one of their servers anyway.

The terms.

One company outlines the rights that you have to your content in their Terms of Service.

The terms start out by stating: You keep ownership of intellectual property rights held in that material. What is yours is yours.

Awesome, right? My stuff is still my stuff. Thank you very much!

Okay, let’s keep reading…

When you upload, store, or do other stuff with files using our Services,

Yup, my pictures are uploaded and stored through their services, so I guess my pictures qualify.

You grant us a worldwide license to use your material at our discretion.

Wait, what? First of all, what is a worldwide license? A license is a right that you grant in your property to do something. A license can be limited in time and geographic scope, among other things. So, I’m giving them a license to do stuff to my stuff anywhere in the world. I’m sure they will modify those terms when space travel becomes a reality.

So, what can they do with my stuff? Sounds like they can do a lot. The license is to use your material at our discretion. That’s pretty broad. I guess the easier question to answer is what can’t they do? I think they pretty much covered it.

The rights granted are intended to be used in the management, operation, and promotion of our Services.

Thanks for limiting your rights in the license that I gave you for my uploaded stuff.

This license continues in perpetuity.

So they can do what they want to my stuff forever? That’s a long time!

Some of our Services may provide methods to access and remove material that you have uploaded.

Some, not all? Looks like additional research might be necessary. How many services does this provider have anyway? It is a lot, but don’t worry, they are always developing new ones.

What does all this mean for you?

So, what does all this mean for the average consumer? I mean, you don’t have a way to negotiate with the big guys, right? They provide a free service, after all, and they are a big corporation trying to make a buck.

What it means is that your stuff really isn’t yours anymore when you store it using some services. With some freely provided services, a consumer essentially has no rights. A company can say “take it or leave it”. You are free to use the service, but you must agree to their terms and conditions. It would be nice if you could keep all of the rights to your data, but that just isn’t possible.

What can you do? If you want to keep all of the rights to your data and still use a freely available service, you’re going to have to choose your service provider more carefully. There are services out there that don’t make you upload a file to someone else’s server. You can use one of those. You can also transfer your photos via USB connection. Or just don’t take any photos. If you don’t take any photos, you don’t have to worry about losing them or giving them away.