Licensing of user-generated content (completed)

This research project focuses on copyright licenses that Internet users give to online companies when they upload a piece of content – when they post a picture, send an e-mail, forward a screenshot. In simple terms: what kind of a copyright permission to use that content have you given to Facebook, Google or Instagram?

Miloš Novović

Photo: Private

About the Project

A lot of existing research focuses on the privacy implications of uploading vast quantities of information online – information that can be easily processed, co-related, indexed, and stored for extremely long periods of time at miniscule cost. But an intellectual property law dimension of the problem has been largely ignored so far. Users, as authors of works entitled to copyright protection, are granted certain rights by their national laws; yet, online platform providers, wanting to manipulate user content in as many ways as possible, are trying to cast a very wide net in their Terms of Service (ToS) agreements, requiring users to give them an extremely broad license to use this content.

To illustrate: terms which Google offers its users state, in part:

“Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).”[1]

My thesis seeks to fill the gap in the legal literature and analyze these clauses in a comprehensive manner. It contains several distinct parts: one with a qualitative analysis of multiple ToS agreements; one analyzing the effects of these clauses under the US, EU and Norwegian law (including questions of contract formation and interpretation, fairness challenges, and copyright law remedies); one on private international law aspects of user content licensing, and one on the proposed reforms.

The legal effects of the extremely broad user-content licensing clauses as we know them today cannot be easily predicted, leading to vast uncertainty for both users and platform providers alike. When hundreds of thousands of gigabytes of data get uploaded online every single minute – and no one knows in which ways that data can be legally used – an urgent reform is indeed needed.

[1] Google Terms of Service – Privacy & Terms – Google, (last visited Apr 7, 2014)


The PhD will be delivered Autumn 2017. 


University of Oslo

Published Nov. 22, 2016 8:43 AM - Last modified Mar. 18, 2020 4:18 PM