All your copyright are belong to Facebook

Sorry Charlie, you can't keep Facebook from sharing your stuff by posting a copyright notice to your wall. All it will do is annoy friends who know better.

It’s baaa-ack. Another harmless but annoying hoax that began circulating last May has returned. Thousands, possibly millions, of Facebook users have been duped into posting a bogus assertion of copyrights on their walls. It looks something like this:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details contained in my personal and business profiles, including, but not limited to: all postings, status updates, comments, illustrations, paintings, drawings, art, photographs, music, videos, etc. as per the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, (a/k/a the Berne Convention). For commercial use of any of the above, my written consent is required in each instance and at all times.

The post then goes on to cite the Uniform Commercial Code and other legal statutes. It’s all very official sounding. However, that statement is not worth the paper it’s not printed on. Posting it to your wall might make you feel better, but it has no legal impact on Facebook whatsoever.

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First: When you signed on to Facebook, you agreed to its terms and conditions. You can’t change those terms and conditions unilaterally, and you certainly can’t change them by posting something to your wall.

Second: If, by some miracle, posting that statement on your wall did prevent Facebook from sharing anything you post, Facebook would no longer be able to operate because that’s what Facebook does. It’s really all Facebook is about – letting you share content with other people. Posting that statement is a bit like agreeing to appear on a TV show so long as your face, body, or voice aren’t used. Kind of pointless.

As Snopes notes, that statement or one like it began circulating shortly after Facebook’s IPO last May. I have no idea why it’s suddenly resurfacing now. This is apparently resurfacing now due to changes to Facebook's governing documents proposed last week by Facebook veep Elliot Schrage, which are pretty minimal in terms of user privacy.

In fact, here’s what Facebook’s terms do say about the matter.

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. …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.

The money phrase in that statement is “in connection with Facebook.”

Those terms do not mean that Facebook can take that brilliant photo of a sleeping cat that you’ve instagrammed and turn it into $20 posters to adorn the walls of 13 year old girls. They mean simply that the social network can share your cat photo with all of your friends and/or the rest of Planet Facebook, if you’ve set sharing to “Public.”

Has Facebook overstepped in its use of “our” stuff? Absolutely – particularly in the use of people’s names and faces in advertisements (aka “sponsored stories”). Facebook settled a California law suit regarding such endorsements last year for a piddling sum of $10 million to be donated to charity. That settlement was rejected by a Federal judge last August. Facebook has countered with a $30 million settlement offer, with $20 million slated to go to folks who unknowingly found their names and faces attached to ads without their permission.

You can also tell Facebook to sod off and not use your name in social ads, if you choose. But you’ll have to do it by changing your privacy settings, not by posting a statement to your wall. All the latter will do is earn you grief from friends that know better.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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