Select Page

Word clouds and their limits

We’ve all seen them, those word cloud images that seem to be so much fun, and most of us have used them.

That’s no surprise. Genealogists tend to be in love with words, and The Legal Genealogist is no exception.

There are three major sites out there that let us create word clouds for our use… and like all other websites each comes with its own terms of use that we need to know before we get ourselves into hot water.

cloudsTerms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it. These are limits that are different from copyright protection, since the law says what is and isn’t copyrighted and you can own a thing without owning the copyright. So this isn’t copyright law; it’s contract law — you and whoever owns the thing you want to see or copy or use reach a deal.”1

The one we may be most familiar with — and the one used to generate the image illustrating this post — is Wordle, which describes itself as “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide.”2

And it is the service with the most user-friendly terms of use. In fact, there’s darned little that Wordle won’t permit. About the only thing specifically prohibited by its terms is copying or redistributing the Wordle applet itself. And you “may not decompile or reverse-engineer the applet and then make a derivative work based on your knowledge of that code. You may not use the applet on your own web site or, as a library, in your own work.”3

But in terms of the use of the word clouds that we create? One of the site’s frequently asked questions begins this way:

May I use my Wordles for…

And it continues: “The images you create with Wordle are yours to use in any way you choose. You may print T-Shirts, business cards, brochures, what have you. … If you want to give credit to, feel free! But it’s not required.”5

And in case there’s any doubt, another frequently asked question is: “May I make money off of Wordle images?” And the answer: “Yes. You may take a Wordle, put it on your book cover, your t-shirt, your campaign poster, what have you. You may get rich off it…. If you want to give credit to, feel free! But it’s not required.”6

Tagxedo is also a strong player in the word cloud area. It has a lot of options that are intriguing, like customizing the shape of the word cloud. But the additional options come with some additional restrictions. And the big one for genealogists is this one:

All images and artworks generated by Tagxedo, and their derivatives, are considered intellectual properties of Tagxedo, and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike License 3.0, and must be attributed to Tagxedo ( The images created by Tagxedo and their derivatives are free for personal, non-commercial use, subject to the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike License.

Anyone who wishes to use Tagxedo artworks and derivatives for commercial or non-personal use must first obtain permission from Tagxedo by contacting licensing@tagxedo.com7

And every Tagxedo image carries a statement that it is copyrighted by Tagxedo, further limiting what you might be able to do with it down the road:

“all content presented to you on this site is protected by copyrights, trademarks, service marks, patents or other proprietary rights and laws, and is the sole property of Tagxedo and/or its Affiliates. You are only permitted to use the content as expressly authorized by us or the specific content provider. Except for a single copy made for personal use only, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, republish, upload, post, transmit, or distribute any documents or information from this site in any form or by any means without prior written permission…”8

Tagul may be the least known of the word cloud services, but one that offers a great deal of functionality. You can create or use custom shapes (think family trees here) as well.

Tagul requires that you register before you use the service, and it warns that “your clouds and data used for its creation are public (i.e. accessible by the whole internet) by the design of the service, so don’t place any private data in your clouds.”9

Tagul’s terms of use allow you to embed clouds that you create on your web page or blog, but there are a number of limits:

• No bad words (“abuse words” in Tagul parlance) can be used in cloud.
• Clouds can’t be on web pages with objectionable content (“pornographic, hate-related or otherwise violent content”).
• You’re not allowed to use clouds on your web page or blog that are created by others.
• You can only use cloud designs for personal or non-profit purposes.10

You can purchase a license to use a Tagul cloud for commercial purposes. The license information specifies that each license costs $5.00 “and provides you the right to use 1 cloud design for commercial purposes.” The site explains: “For example if you wish to use 3 clouds designs in commercial purposes you need to purchase 3 licenses that cost 15 USD.”11

So… watch your words. No sense clouding the issue by violating a website’s terms of use.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  2. Homepage, ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  3. How is Wordle licensed? May I embed your applet?,” FAQ, ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  4. May I use my Wordles for…,” FAQ, ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  5. Ibid.
  6. May I make money off of Wordle images?,” FAQ, ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  7. “Artwork License,” paragraph 3, Terms and Conditions of Use, Tagxedo ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  8. Ibid., “Intellectual Property Information,” paragraph 5.
  9. Terms of service,” Tagul Clouds ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  10. Terms of service,” Tagul Clouds ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
  11. Commercial license,” Tagul Clouds ( : accessed 26 Jan 2014).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email