A workaround for the Google Docs “cannot transfer ownership” problem

_Sorry-cannot-transfer-ownership

So, if you’ve just arrived here from a web search, it’s probably because you’ve just come across the Google Docs/Google Drive error message “Sorry, cannot transfer ownership to xxxx. Ownership can only be transferred to another user in the same domain as the current owner.” Although I haven’t found a direct solution to this, I have found a just-about-acceptable workaround, so read on.

Please note: as with all software-related issues more than a few months old, things have moved on, so do read all comments at the end of this post thoroughly.

I guess this restriction in Google Docs is a security feature of some sort. However, reading the forums, it’s a real frustration for a number of organisations who are moving from a single Google account to a full-blown Google Apps For Business setup. When they do this, the first thing they want to do is to migrate their documents over to the new account. But they can’t, because of the restriction above. In some cases, the “domain” may look the same, but as far as Google’s concerned, it isn’t.

The workaround to the problem is to copy the documents over to the new Google account(s). There they will be owned by the new account, and once you’ve checked they’re all in place, you can safely delete them from the old account.

Here’s how you do it – I found the answer here on the Google Product Forums.

Firstly, find all the docs in the old Google Account which are actually owned by that account, and give the new account access to them. To do this, just go to “All Items”, click the tiny down arrow in the search box at the top, and select “owned by me”; select all, and put all the files in a new folder you create. If there are a lot of files, you might want to test this out with one or two, and perhaps do the migration in batches.

Select the new folder, and click the sharing button (the one with the people and the + symbol), and invite the new account (if you’re using Gmail on the new account, send an email). Click on the folder and make a copy of the folder’s URL, which you’ll need in a minute, or you’ll also be able to find the link in the email which will be waiting in the new account.

Now, go to the new Google Account and paste this into the browser:
https://script.google.com/macros/s/AKfycbzjS8m5Cg6OTcnGaBi1IevR8FkJRI5ZdlUWFsLnSFw5S0s0X9E/exec

It’s a script which will copy over a folder to which the account has access, in this case the folder of documents to be transferred, in the old account. You’ll be asked to paste in the folder URL, which you just made a note of. There’s then a load of crunching (it can take a few minutes), after which you’ll get an email saying everything’s been copied over …although you’ll be able to see that.

Check the documents have indeed been copied over. Don’t forget these are *new, separate copies*. You can, if you wish, now go back to the old account and delete the old versions. If you don’t, I would recommend at least removing all sharing from the documents which have been copied, so that nobody ever looks at the redundant archive copies again, other than the original account owner.

29 Replies to “A workaround for the Google Docs “cannot transfer ownership” problem”

  1. Hey Chris
    Thanks for reposting this from the Google discussion. The issue I have found is you need access to both accounts. If you don’t have access to both accounts you’re S*** out of luck and you’re stuck with that folder. I wish the drive team could find away around this as my drive is filling up because I work on client projects.

    Thanks
    Ray

    Reply

  2. I use this method to copy my files to new account. If the files are shared with somebody in the old account, are they also share in the new account?

    Reply

  3. I would think not. You might have to re-share them.

    Reply

  4. I have always get this error: “service invoked too many times for one day: scriptdb size”. So what should I do?

    Thank you.

    Reply

  5. Has anyone run into the error message “Error encountered: Service invoked too many times for one day: scriptdb size.”? I’m trying to copy a rather large drive account that I’m going to loose access to. Has anyone else run into this error? I’m planning on breaking up the drive into smaller portions and running the script again.

    Reply

  6. I get the following error when I try to run the script:

    Error encountered: No item with the given ID could be found, or you do not have permission to access it.

    I’ve shared the folder with the new account. Any suggestions?

    Reply

  7. @Sean, I had the same issue but then saw an account error message in Chrome, and once I signed into Chrome as well as Google Apps using the new account details it seemed to work OK.

    Reply

  8. Sean and Ian,

    I have the same error message even when I’m signed into both with the new account. Any clues?

    Reply

  9. manish mukherjee 17 November 2014 at 5:12 am

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the post.

    You might want to give credit to the creator of the script you’re linking to. https://sites.google.com/site/scriptsexamples/available-web-apps/drive-migrator

    Reply

  10. Sorry, Manish. I hope the credit was clear from the discussion in the Google Product Forum, but in case not, your link there goes straight to the man himself. So thanks for that.

    Reply

  11. Brent Hogenson 7 April 2015 at 6:07 pm

    No need for all this extra fluff/steps. Simply Google “Google Takeout.” Done. You’re welcome.

    Reply

  12. @brent, you can’t download the files as gDoc files though, only as word or plain text.

    Reply

  13. Nice one! worked a treat and thank you for saving me an eon in time. Here’s a ‘virtual beer’.

    Reply

  14. Thanks for this. It looks like the script has changed a little bit and is now available as a chrome app called “Drive Migrator”.

    I also split my files into yearly groups using a search term like:
    after:2015-01-01 before:2016-01-01 type:document owner:me

    And used Copy-To (Shift-Z) to add the files to the folder to be shared. This means I don’t muck up the file structure for those who still want to use the files in that domain. http://www.labnol.org/internet/add-files-multiple-drive-folders/28715/

    Reply

  15. @brook You are correct… HOWEVER, once you upload the files to google drive, right click the files and click “Open With” and then click google docs, and it will convert it back into a google docs file, complete with original formatting.
    The google takeout worked great for me.

    Reply

  16. thanks – worked a treat

    Reply

  17. @chris – there is an option in G drive that you can set “Convert Uploads” – click the Cog > Settings > Tick the checkbox next to “Convert Uploaded Files to Google Docs editor format”

    Reply

  18. This is a much more complicated issue than what has been painted!

    First: There is no way to transfer Ownership across domains if you do not have access to both of those accounts. If you do, it will be a long and arduous process, but can be done!

    Second: Your best hope is to use an app like g-transfer.com or drive migrator to make a copy of your entire Drive and auto-migrate that copy into your new account. I know g-transfer copies the entire drive (owned & shared files/folders intact) and I’ve heard drive migrator has bugs, but can still work–basically it comes down to paying for quality or trying it for free and hoping you can get a solid transfer with drive migrator. I’m not sure if drive migrator transferred shared files, though.

    Unfortunately, anyway you cut it, you will have to reshare copies with previous Recipients to get what you want. When a copy is made–it loses whoever it’s shared with. So, let’s say, Person A, B, and C have file “Example.” Using any of the second techniques means Person A will have a copy of “Example”, Person B will have a copy of “Example”, Person C will have a copy of “Example” but one file will not be shared between them anymore.

    Google Takeout is NOT an option for this. It just doesn’t make sense to do because it doesn’t export anything shared. For people who are trying to transfer ownership, that likely means that they sharing a lot of files with each other so Takeout is a no, no.

    Hope this helps!

    Reply

  19. Joanna Wakefield 1 August 2017 at 3:07 pm

    This was EXTREMELY helpful for transferring and backing up my old university projects/papers to my personal account! Thank you so much!

    Reply

  20. Hmmm. Not working for me. I’m not getting an error message, but it is creating a backup in my personal gmail account rather than my business gsuite admin account. If anyone has an idea of why it’s not working for me, I’d appreciate some help. Thanks!!

    Reply

  21. The script worked for me! Thanks!

    It actually take less time than google takeout.

    Reply

  22. I have hundreds of files in a Drive folder that was created by my personal Gmail account, which is the owner.

    Then I started a company which uses G Suite. Now I want my company Gmail to own the folder.

    Will this script work for me? It sounds like the only issue will be I’ll lose all current sharing settings for files, and will have to re-share with outside folks (anyone with our domain automatically has access to the whole Drive).

    Thanks!

    Reply

  23. I’ve used “Google Drive Copy Folder”.
    It copies the folder structure and copes with the Google quota issues mentioned above (eg Service invoked too many times). It reliably copied 3000+ files over 2 days.
    This is a Google Drive Web app hosted at the Chrome Web Store: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/copy-folder/kfbicpdhiofpicipfggljdhjokjblnhl

    Reply

  24. Script did not work from outside a Google Apps Domain into it. The only solution I have found is “mover.io”. They have consistently worked many times and across multiple platforms. There may be small costs for high volume, but I’ve found them cost effective for functionality. Worth a look.

    Reply

  25. Is no one worried that 1) we can’t see the source code for the script (I couldn’t find it), and 2) the script could make a copy of the documents elsewhere? I’m not saying the script is malicious, but I always work on the “trust, but verify” motto.

    Reply

  26. I FOUND A SOLUTION (ALTHOUGH IT IS A BIT TEDIOUS)

    – Select all of the folders/documents that you want to transfer.
    – Right click the selected, then click download.

    – Go to the account you want them transferred to.
    – Click “+ New” on the top-left corner.
    – In the down bar, click “File Upload” if it’s a file, or “Folder Upload” if it’s a folder you want to transfer.

    If you have multiple files/folders you want to transfer, you are going to have to repeat this process with each individual file/folder.

    Since the files will most likely be uploaded as a word document,; you’re going to have to click on each file, which will only preview the document. On the above the preview will be a button that says “Open with Google Docs” which will automatically save a copy (be patient, it will take a second to load). Make sure the copy loads before deleting the word document.

    Reply

  27. ^ the previous solution will not work if the folder contains any gdoc (google docs / google sheets etc) documents
    Any .gdoc file that has been downloaded and reuploaded as a local file will no longer be readable by the new google drive. Gdocs are tied to the owners’ google drive, they cannot be transferred like traditional local files.

    Reply

  28. Worked perfectly to get my curriculum over from the Public School drive to my Personal drive! Thanks!

    Reply

  29. Just confirming this does work. Moved from a GSuite Domain to a personal account, then transferred ownership to client.

    Re: Is no one worried that 1) we can’t see the source code for the script (I couldn’t find it), and 2) the script could make a copy of the documents elsewhere? I’m not saying the script is malicious, but I always work on the “trust, but verify” motto.

    Valid concern. I wouldn’t share top-secret area 51 stuff this way. Not very concerning when we’re talking about documents that will be public anyways.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *