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Does Grammarly own your writing? An Investigation of Grammarly’s ToS.

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Does Grammarly own your writing? An investigation of Grammarly’s ToS.

When people ask for advice on what editing software to use, Grammarly is often named. Alongside Pro Writing Aid and Hemingway, it’s the most known software. Grammarly has been advertising heavily the past year and has over a million daily users. But since a year or so, concerns have risen about Grammarly’s ToS and privacy policy. This increased after a data breach in 2018. As a writer, this should alarm you.

The core of the issue is: does Grammarly own your writing? The short answer: yes and no. Long answer: It’s a technicality that may be harmless to some, but may urge others switch writing software. In fact, it already has. This blog details what you need to know about Grammarly’s ToS and what alternatives are out there.

Grammarly’s Terms of Service (ToS)

The Terms of Service are written with a focus on legal accuracy. Let’s face it, nowadays most of us just click OK without actually reading the ToS. But sometimes, it’s best to go through them anyway. In the case of Grammarly’s ToS, it says this;

“All intellectual property rights in and to the User Content are and shall remain your property, and Grammarly shall acquire no right of ownership with respect to your User Content.”

That’s a clear sign that you own your writing. Right? But why do they say the following, right after?

“All intellectual property rights in and to the Software, Site and Services and other Grammarly IP are and shall remain the sole property of Grammarly and its affiliates and licensors, as applicable, and you shall acquire no right of ownership or use with respect to any Software or other Grammarly IP except as specified in this Agreement.”

What this essentially says is that they own the feedback they provide on your work.  This is where many authors begin to worry, as this could suggest Grammarly owns your text. Do they own tiny snippets like loose commas or previously misspelled words? Grammarly does mention feedback in their ToS but the wording is not clear because of the legal jargon. Luckily, they addressed this issue on their support site:

“For example, if you write a novel while using Grammarly, the copyright remains under your control. That means that only you have the right to sell, publish, or distribute your novel.”

You can read Grammarly’s ToS and support site in the blue links. 

How does this impact my writing?

In all likelihood, the purpose of these Terms of Service is to allow Grammarly to improve their editing algorhitm. In a similar instance, Facebook and Google use your browsing information to show you more targeted ads. Grammarly is simply using an author’s written information instead of the author’s browsing information to improve their services. Is that harmless? Arguably. Does it invade your privacy? That depends on what information you give them. But most likely you will give them more than you think you are.

What data is Grammarly getting?

Grammarly makes suggested edits to an author’s text, much like AutoCorrect’s overachieving, nerdy cousin. Every accept or decline of their suggestions are added to their big database to calculate an average language use. Nowadays Grammarly has different logarithms for a work’s possible moods or writing purposes, Those make Grammarly’s feedback less of a ‘one voice fits all’ logarithm, but still shape your writing into the average of all the writers who use that mood or purpose on Grammarly. 

So in summary, Grammarly won’t come after you when you’re done writing your book claiming to have a right to your advance or royalties. But there are those that fear the company’s policy may change. A second worry is that Grammarly stores all your writing indefinitely, and that may be a security risk when hackers get their hands on your data.

So what you need to ask yourself is, do you feel secure enough to keep on using Grammarly? That is up to you.  At any rate, we have some alternatives lined up that you can check out if you are looking for other software.

Alternatives

If you don’t feel comfortable with Grammarly laying claim to your words, no matter how small the percentage, there are amazing paid and free-to-use alternatives. For example, Pro Writing Aid is another common editing tool for authors, with paid and free versions. Its Terms of Service state:

“We never use or access your content unless you specifically permit us to for support reasons. Beware: other providers do not take this approach, and you may granting [sic] them rights to use your content as they wish.

We own our stuff; you own yours.

You retain ownership of all content you post, upload to, or otherwise share on the site.

All ProWritingAid content, the selection, compilation, arrangement and presentation of all materials. The overall design of the site is also copyrighted by us. These are protected by US and international laws. Use of our content without our express prior written permission is strictly prohibited.”

This clear-cut language is a breath of fresh air compared to the legal wording of Grammarly.

The third name that often gets tossed around alongside Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid is Hemingway. This free writing software is available in a web page editor, while the desktop version is paid. However, Hemingway doesn’t provide any insight into their Terms of Service. You’d have to give your credit card info before reading their ToS. If privacy and/or security is an issue that’s important to you, you may want to reach out to them before you use and/or buy their editing software. As one of the Big Three it deserves a separate mention, but overall it’s lacking in quite a few areas.

So what now?

Is this a reason to panic? No. Is it a reason to reconsider what software you use? Definitely.

In this case, Google is your friend. There are plenty of alternative text editor softwares that are lesser known but are geared towards creative writing. This blog did an extensive  review on the major players in the field, including Ginger, WhiteSmoke, and SentenceChecker.

Hopefully this blog made it easier for you to make a choice as to what software to use when you self-edit your work.

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Are you interested in helpful blogs like this one? Sign up for our newsletter and get a monthly mail from us detailing what we talked about the past month. You can also keep track of Madeline and me through Twitter. If you are looking for professional advice geared to your writing, you can contact me for my editing services over at Vanir Editing.

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