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Sensationalizing Paypal’s User Agreement

June 1, 2015 By gizadev

If we read and interpret texts (in general) on a 'face-value' basis, we end up with a lot of misunderstandings. That's applicable to modern texts as much as ancient ones. In the era of "planet debt", it's especially important not to just accept consensus readings of texts that apply to financial institutions and transactions. Case in point: Paypal's user agreement, which has been sensationalized quite a bit in the past few weeks.

The gist of the claim is that Paypal is asserting ownership over all your intellectual property, if you use their online payment service. In other words, presumably, if you have your own website, write short stories online, or possess any other intellectual property, merely buying something with Paypal transfers ownership of that intellectual property to them. Most of us can sense when something doesn't sound logical, and this is such a case.

Here's the operative paragraph:

“When providing us with content or posting content (in each case for publication, whether on- or off-line) using the Services, you grant the PayPal Group a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise any and all copyright, publicity, trademarks, database rights and intellectual property rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future. Further, to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law, you waive your moral rights and promise not to assert such rights against the PayPal Group, its sublicensees or assignees. You represent and warrant that none of the following infringe any intellectual property right: your provision of content to us, your posting of content using the Services, and the PayPal Group’s use of such content (including of works derived from it) in connection with the Services.”

Now, read around the parentheses (skip what's in them), and then read again with the parentheses. Essentially, it says that if you create (for instance) a description of your service or product in a Paypal online checkout builder (for example), and then embed that description in your website, you cannot claim that Paypal is using the description without your permission. You have, in effect, entitled them to display it, because you've provided it to them for that purpose. In short, if you authorize Paypal to store and display some content on the web, by storing it in Paypal and then causing Paypal to display it on the web, Paypal can (accordingly) store and display the content on the web. That is the gist of the literal reading, though not the consensus reading of a lot of websites.

Whether or not one likes or dislikes Paypal in general, jumping to conclusions about their terms of service won't hold them more accountable; it is more likely to make all concerns about privacy sound outlandish. This is part of a trend, beginning really in the 1990s, with the widespread emergence of non-technical users on the internet, of tightening terms of service so there are fewer misunderstandings. The language in this case may be a stumbling block to some readers, and likely Paypal will be tightening its wording as well, but there is no *textual* evidence that they're seizing or asserting general ownership over anyone's photo collection (an issue that some warn of with Facebook, for instance), or going after anyone's website, domain name, or e-mail address. Until there is such evidence, commensurate with the speculations and claims being made elsewhere on the web, it seems more economical to assert that their syntax is intended according to the conventional usage.

Giza prefers to be thoughtful rather than merely reactive about the matter. While an alternate payment service is being planned for the future (don't ask when; we can't tell you), it won't be a panacea for financial or personal security. It would be just as credulous to think we're necessarily better off with this or that credit card processor. Financial institutions, on the whole, are like sausage factories. We don't have to dig very deeply, in order to be appalled. As long, however, as we must transact some business electronically, which we must, we're accepting that some of the ingredients are probably less than fully wholesome.