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What is the Facebook Copyright Hoax and Why Doesn’t It Work?


The posts seem to come back every few months: Facebook status updates replete with legal sounding terminology in a guise to protect the user’s content from being used in ways beyond their permission. They are usually preceded by a claim that Facebook will be changing the terms of its user agreement and the copyright conditions included therein.

With every wave of these status updates, it is eventually shown to have been a hoax. The perpetrators count on the fact that most Facebook users are unaware of what rights and permissions they have granted by posting and sharing content on the social media site.

Seems Official, But Is Worthless

The latest incarnation of the hoax that began circulating in September, read as follows:

“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!”

It may seem to have a legal tone, but it means absolutely nothing! The Berne Convention (not Berner), is the international agreement that protects literary and artistic works. It includes allowances for fair uses of copyrighted works in other publications and broadcasts, however, those uses are quite limited. For more about fair use of copyrighted works online, read our recent blog entitled “Can I Use Copyrighted Material On My Blog?”

Who Owns The Material You Post?

While many skip reading the terms of the user agreement and choose to accept them blindly, anyone who is concerned about how their photos, videos and posts might be seen and repurposed on the Internet would be well served to read them carefully. You can review the Facebook terms here.

Facebook clearly states that “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.” Using your privacy settings, you can restrict who can see certain posts using their settings. That being said however, the only absolute sure fire way to avoid having something distributed on the Internet in a way you don’t want it to be, is to not post it at all.

Whenever Facebook amend the terms of the user agreement, they do so with a software update. During this update, users are asked to review the new terms and conditions and accept them. Therefore, there can never be a change made to the terms of use without your knowledge. Furthermore, there is no post or message that you can add to your timeline that will ever supersede the terms of the user agreement.

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