Latest Facebook Copyright Scare – True or False?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Nov 28, 2012

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If you’re on Facebook, you’ve likely seen this post pop up on your homepage sometime in the past few weeks, claiming that by posting the notice, you are protecting copyrights to your status updates:

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. 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).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updates.”

While your friend who posted the message may be convinced it’s the real deal, another Facebook acquaintance commented otherwise, claiming “Another Facebook hoax!” So which is it? True or false?

The truth is that the claim has no legal premise under intellectual property law or in respect to the Facebook User Agreement that every member of the social network agrees to upon joining. The claim is that if you post these three paragraphs on your page, Facebook no longer has any legal rights to your content. This is simply not the case.

In fact, some of the wording in the post has no legal relation to any current copyright laws. For example, the message indicates that your “copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).” The “Berner Convention” does not actually exist. Instead, the hoaxer may have meant to (or intentionally did not) say “Berne Convention,” which was an international copyright agreement first made in the late 1800s in Switzerland. While the convention applies to copyright infringement in regard to what country originally held a copyright, this does not mean it applies to Facebook or other Internet networks. In addition, the reference to Rome Statutes is in a word, nonsense. Such a statute has no relation to United States intellectual property law and is merely an attempt to use legal-sounding jargon. 

The reality is that a social network site such as Facebook provides a Terms of Use Agreement to every participant, in it are the guidelines to which each user is subject. These include copyrights to photos and information you post on your profile. By accepting the agreement, each user is ultimately giving up intellectual property rights to their content, as well as some First Amendment rights to free speech as Facebook is legally entitled, through their user agreement, to remove content that violates its terms.

Within the user agreement is the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which, among other rules, indicates the following: “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

Although many Facebook users may not agree with the control the social network retains over their profiles, it is not within their legal rights to take action against Facebook for using content they have posted, if they have given  Facebook permission through signing a contract. In addition, any message posted on a status update claiming otherwise–is simply not true.

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