InfoWorld: Google Docs and Spreadsheets clause gives pause

It appears you need to know what you are getting into when so produce and share you documents online …

… For a company whose motto is “Do no evil,” it’s interesting how often Google’s customers suspect them of

Google is in damage control mode over a clause in the user agreements for its Google Docs and Spreadsheets applications that implies an inordinate degree of power over the content that runs over its services.

The clause reads: “By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services.”

This matters more because it’s Google, of course, but the issue may be an important one for other online software companies to watch as they seek to build credibility and support among business customers. Most of the controversy centers around the firm’s use of the word “public.” If you’re posting it on Google Docs or in Google spreadsheets, the implication goes, it’s up for grabs if the company needs some sample use cases for its next advertising campaign.

You really have to stretch yourself to think about how this kind of scenario would play itself out. Might Google use various Docs and Spreadsheets customer’s data as case study material? Or perhaps reproduce them in the kind of print magazine ads that it never, ever buys (and why would they, when we give the company this kind of constant media attention)? Maybe we should be paying more attention to the word “modify,” in the clause, which might give Google the go-ahead to insert references to its services in the actual content (“Here’s today’s sales report. I finished it using Google Spreadsheets®!”). …