Amazon Cloud Drive — Read the Fine Print, Then Verify

May 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

A little over a month ago I heard about Amazon’s new Cloud Drive offering. Reading the explanation of what it is from Amazon was tantalising. Talking with some folks who were checking it out made me even more excited. Unlimited photo storage for a mere $12/year (US) seemed too good to be true. The good news is that if you are looking for somewhere to store your photos this is an incredibly cheap deal. I’ve read around the web (do a search) that Amazon’s tools to work with the storage leave something to be desired at the moment but I imagine that will improve with time.

In the “things that make you go ‘hmmm'” news — if you are a photographer running a business you need to read the fine print carefully. In Amazon’s own terms of use they state very clearly and unclearly at the same time,

You may not use the Service to store, transfer or distribute content of or on behalf of third parties, to operate your own file storage application or service, to operate a photography business or other commercial service, or to resell any part of the Service.”  

The key words in this sentence are “.. to operate a photography business..” if you are a professional photographer. On my first read I assumed that meant that I can’t use the storage as a backend to my commercial photography site or something along those lines — but here’s where the unclear part comes in. What constitutes operating a photography business in the eyes of Amazon? And further, how will Amazon make that determination? They don’t go on to explain that anywhere in the terms of use. A couple of friends pointed this out to me and were pretty adamant that if you’re using the service to store photos as part of your photography business  (i.e., you’re selling photos, no matter how small an operation you are) then you’re technically violating their terms of use. Good point. I should add that I I’ve known both of them for quite a long time, and I trust their opinions quite a bit.  So I started a conversation within a group I belonged to at the time about this and I received a very adamant counter argument and my attempt at discussion about it was effectively completely shut down — I was even threatened with being booted out at one point. I was even accused of intentionally spreading misinformation! Sheesh! Clearly there are some strong opinions about what Amazon’s intent are with the service — evidently there’s more at stake here than mere photo storage but I’ve yet to figure out what that is. Maybe it’s physical space to store all those home NAS devices? ;-) You know you have several if you’re a photographer.

I decided that the only way to figure out for certain was to actually ask Amazon rather than relying upon interpretations of the terms of use by people, while well intentioned, aren’t lawyers and don’t work for Amazon. First I tried searching the interwebs for someone who may already have a credible response from Amazon and I came very close (read the comments). Unfortunately the person claiming that Amazon said all is good failed to produce the entire e-mail thread with headers. It took me nearly a month of back-and-forth with Amazon’s customer service over e-mail to get a clear response (well, as clear as I was going to get anyway) but here it is (below).. headers and all. My apologies for all the HTML but I wanted to show the complete source of the e-mail; the only thing altered is my personal e-mail address.

Even this answer isn’t entirely clear; however, it’s clear enough for me given that a) they do say “personal use only” b) specifically state “photography business” c) (the clincher for me) refer to “commercial offerings” that if you are a professional photographer the service is NOT for you. What do you risk by using it anyway? Who knows. Clearly you should not rely upon Amazon’s cloud drive as your single source of storage for your photography business’ needs. Will Amazon ever know or do you run a great risk if you’re just backing up a single copy of your digital assets to their service? Who knows. It’s tempting to use the service but then I think about how much I’d like it if someone used one of my photographs for their business despite my copyright and the answer becomes pretty clear.

For reference here are the questions I asked:

I’m specifically interested in what “to operate a photography business” means to Amazon as set forth in the document.  I could see this potentially being interpreted more than one way. For example, if I use cloud drive to store photos as a backend storage for my commercial photography web site, that would certainly be operating a photography business. Would making a backup (second) copy (to Amazon Cloud Drive) of photos that I have sold, intend to sell, or already have available for sale be considered part of operating a photography business? Another example would be if I archive photos that I may try to sell at a later date instead of using my primary business storage; could that be considered part of operating a photography business? 

 

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Amazon
Your Account Amazon.com
Message From Customer Service
Hello,

Please accept my sincere apologies for the delayed response and the confusion created. Thank you for your continued patience.

Please understand that we refer you to the Terms of Use so that you can make the best decision for yourself, based on how you plan to use the Cloud Drive service. I'm sorry that I caused further confusion.

I've consulted my technical team once again for this and according to them, "Commercial" is defined as "in connection with a business". What you describe sounds like you intend to use the service in connection with a business and not technically for personal use; however, if our understanding is incorrect and you do not plan to use Cloud Drive in connection with a business, you are welcome to use the service.

Alternatively, if it sounds like Cloud Drive is not the right fit for storage of your professional photography, you may be interested in Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is intended for commercial use.

Please visit the below link to have a detailed idea of Amazon Web Services.

http://aws.amazon.com/

Whatever route you decide to take, I hope you'll continue using Cloud Drive to store your personal photos, videos, and files. Once again, please accept my sincere apologies for the inconvenience you've experienced in this matter.

If you still have any further queries on this, please contact us back and we'd be glad to help resolve them right away.

We can be reached via phone, chat or email by clicking the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/contact-us

If you can't access this feature, here are our customer service phone numbers:

- U.S. and Canada: 1-866-216-1072
- International: 1-206-266-2992

We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you again in the future.

Best regards,
Kaushik
Thank you.
Amazon.com

 
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