Sunday, July 03, 2011

On Freedom and copyrights

If you are a creative and a customer of Dropbox hopefully you are aware of the current brewhaha going on now. Dropbox changed their TOS (terms of service) and a stampede for the exit door ensued.

A safe, inexpensive, reliable way to back up our data in all its various forms is something just about every computer user needs. Dropbox came along and offered a wonderful solution. They are a cloud based (somewhere in the site...on their virtual servers) service where you can easily upload your files to their secure servers and then access them from any location that has internet access and even more importantly, share folders with other users. Every time you save a file dropbox keeps the older versions too. So, if something happens to your file, you can always retrieve the last save or any prior versions.

As an editor, and voice actor I have found dropbox to be invaluable. Before I started using dropbox, my battery died on my laptop while open office was open. I was 3 weeks into editing a novel and the entire file was corrupted. After drying my tears, I moved the original manuscript to dropbox and started over with a new open office version that I made my notes and changes to. Every time I hit save (or the program auto saved) I knew it was safe. When collaborating across 1500 miles on an audio project, a reliable way to transfer files in raw format is critical. If I have to use email then I have to compress the file and in doing so the audio engineer or editor on the other end has a lot less information to work with. With dropbox I could share files with all the people I work with easily.

The problem with the new TOS is that the language implies that dropbox is laying claim to the copyright of everything stored in their service and can not be held responsible if they use anything in any way without the true copyright holder's permission or compensation. They are saying that by agreeing to their TOS a customer is giving them permission to use their copyrighted material and also that the person putting it on their service owns the rights to whatever they are storing there.

In my personal case, I do not own the copyrights to a lot of the materials I was storing there. I am simply working on someone else's work. For that reason, when I was made aware of this change, I had to remove all works that are not mine. I can't risk someone else's copyrights. If something should happen to someone else's intellectual property while in my care I can't imagine what that would do to me not just as an editor but as a friend.

Now, I'm sure this all started when an attorney for Dropbox thought they were making their TOS better for Dropbox. It sounds like legalise designed for the CYA approach to business. Unfortunately for Dropbox I don't want you covering your corporate ass at the expense of my, and my clients and friends, rights as a creator. Since this started, they have been updating and improving the language of their TOS multiple times. I understand they need to take care of business and safeguard their company. But as a consumer, I have rights too. Corporate America seems to think their rights supersede mine. So, while the attorneys and CEO's have the right to create whatever TOS they want, I have the right to chose to not use your product.

So, all the files my creative friends and clients have entrusted to my care are now safely down out of the clouds and I'm back to the old fashioned backup of using an additional hard drive while I wait for Dropbox to decide what their TOS is or will be. And now, I'm also tasked with looking for secure alternatives for file sharing.

Seems that celebrating freedom this year has taken on a slightly different meaning in terms of freedom to own copywritten material...

Happy 4th of July.

For additional thoughts (and more in-depth analysis of the legalese) on this issue, please visit my friend Dan Sawyer's site

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