If you are a Facebook regular, you may have seen the post that’s making the rounds this week, written in legalese and declaring that everything ever posted by that person is copyrighted and off-limits to the nefarious and unauthorized use by Facebook, a now publicly-traded company. You may have even posted it yourself, to cover your bases. The statement was written in response to an email that Facebook users recently received announcing a few policy updates. It seems as though every time Facebook changes anything, hysteria ensues, and this time is no exception.
Some users assumed the email was a fake, some a phishing scam, not unlike all the other fake emails that deluge our inboxes every day. Others were sure it was an attempt by Facebook to exploit our privacy and claim ownership of our data. So, where does the truth lie? Is Facebook stealing our intellectual property, does the fact that they are publicly traded change things, and do legal-sounding statements posted to our walls have any bearing on it?
How Copyrights Work
The post begins: “In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).”
The Berne (not “Berner”) Convention, which governs copyrights, states that, in all but a few countries, copyright laws protect your original intellectual and creative property from the moment you post it without a copyright symbol or statement that declares that your photography, art, poetry, or rhyming political diatribe as yours and only yours. Facebook cannot claim ownership of the photos you post of your cat or of the original holiday limericks you post on your wall. However, Facebook’s terms and policies do allow them to use your media if you do not protect it with your privacy settings. This has always been the case and doesn’t change with the new policies.
Facebook’s Terms and Policies
The rest of the post states, in part: “By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).”
Unfortunately, posting a statement on your wall that declares something different from the terms and conditions you agreed to when you first joined Facebook is useless in a legal sense. Facebook terms and conditions are legally binding and cannot be changed just because you say so. As mentioned above, Facebook’s policy does give the company “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook” if your posts are public. It is up to you to use your privacy and applications settings to protect your media and other content from being used. In other words, they don’t own your media, but if it’s public, they can use it anyway. The only way to undo this agreement is to delete your account completely, although if your media has been posted to someone else’s page, it’s still fair game.
Despite the hoax copyright post, the email was legitimate and Facebook is making a few changes to their policies. The new guidelines include the following:
- Facebook will be able to obtain data about you from affiliates or advertising partners who already have your personal info via websites or memberships in order to provide ads that are more targeted to your interests. This is something that many sites already do, so it’s really nothing new or particularly alarming.
- You will no longer be able to vote on policy changes. Facebook has given users a voting option since 2009, but such a tiny percentage of people actually took advantage of it, it was essentially useless.
The updates also include things that have nothing to do with Facebook’s access to your data, such as changes in the way you manage messages, reminders about what is visible and where, and the renaming of certain products. Facebook has provided seven days for users to comment—nearly all of which has already passed, so if you want to give input, do it quickly.
Finally, despite the alarmist wording about Facebook being an “open capital entity,” the fact that it is now public has no bearing on copyright or privacy guidelines.