Messages about protecting your copyright or privacy rights on Facebook by posting a particular legal notice to your Facebook wall have been periodically circulated on that social network for many years, and all of them are variants of an older rumor holding that posting a similar notice on a website would protect that site’s operators from prosecution for piracy:
Better to be safe than sorry. An attorney advised us to post this. Good enough for me. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you do not publish a statement at least once, it will be tacitly understood that you are allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in your profile status updates. I HEREBY STATE THAT I DO NOT GIVE MY PERMISSION.”
In both cases the claims were erroneous, an expression of the mistaken belief the use of some simple legal talisman — knowing enough to ask the right question or post a pertinent disclaimer — will immunize one from some undesirable legal consequence. The law just doesn’t work that way.
First off, the “problem” this ineffective solution supposedly addresses is a non-existent one: Facebook isn’t claiming copyright to the personal information, photographs, and other material that their users are posting to the social network, nor have they announced any plans that would make all Facebook posts public (even previously deleted ones) regardless of a user’s privacy settings):
In response to rumors about copyright issues that began circulating in November 2012 after Facebook announced they were considering revoking users’ rights to vote on proposed policy changes, the company issued a statement noting that:
There is a rumor circulating that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users’ information or the content they post to the site. This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been. Click here to learn more: www.facebook.com/policies.
Similarly, ABC News reported:
[Users worried that] Facebook will own their photos or other media are posting [a frightful message] — unaware that it is a hoax. Here’s the truth: Facebook doesn’t own your media.
“We have noticed some statements that suggest otherwise and we wanted to take a moment to remind you of the facts — when you post things like photos to Facebook, we do not own them,” Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in a statement. “Under our terms you grant Facebook permission to use, distribute, and share the things you post, subject to the terms and applicable privacy settings.”
In any case, Facebook users cannot retroactively negate any of the privacy or copyright terms they agreed to when they signed up for their accounts, nor can they unilaterally alter or contradict any new privacy or copyright terms instituted by Facebook, simply by posting a contrary legal notice on their Facebook walls. Moreover, the fact that Facebook is now a publicly traded company (i.e., a company that has issued stocks which are traded on the open market) or an “open capital entity” has nothing to do with copyright protection or privacy rights. Any copyright or privacy agreements users of Facebook have entered into with that company prior to its becoming a publicly traded company or changing its policies remain in effect: they are neither diminished nor enhanced by Facebook’s public status.
If you do not agree with Facebook’s stated policies, you have several options:
- Decline to sign up for a Facebook account.
- Bilaterally negotiate a modified policy with Facebook.
- Lobby for Facebook to amend its policies through its Facebook Site Governance section.
- Cancel your Facebook account.
(Note that in the last case, you may have already ceded some rights which you cannot necessarily reclaim by canceling your account.)
As techtalk noted of Facebook users’ current privacy rights:
The fact is that Facebook members own the intellectual property (IP) that is uploaded to the social network, but depending on their privacy and applications settings, users grant the social network “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).”
Facebook adds, “[t]his 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.”
While the social network does not technically own its members content, it has the right to use anything that is not protected with Facebook’s privacy and applications settings. For instance, photos, videos and status updates set to public are fair game.
Ngak, Chenda. “Viral “Facebook Privacy Notice” Is a Hoax.”
CBSNews.com. 5 June 2012.
Stern, Joanna. “Ignore the ‘Copyright’ Facebook Post.”
ABC News. 26 November 2012.
Sydiongco, David. “Don’t Bother Posting the ‘Facebook Privacy Notice’ That’s Spreading Around.”
Slate. 5 June 2012.