No, You Can’t Copyright Your Facebook Posts. Why Would You Want To?

One of the more interesting cultural quirks the internet has brought out in us: people seem much more concerned about their right to privacy in public spaces than they ever were about the real world.

Maybe it’s that your public online behavior happens, from your point of view, in “private.” You can post to Facebook from a coffee shop, or these days from a gathering of a million people if you have your smart phone with you (and can get a signal in all that crowd), but most of us are doing it from the comfort of home. We’re posting cat pictures and news stories we didn’t check the date of in our pajamas, or maybe in a reinforced bunker as we clutch a shotgun and eat a can of beans. Who knows.

Here’s the reality: the privacy you may expect for anything you post to Facebook is the privacy defined in their Terms and Conditions, which you didn’t read. Things that will not change that include posting a status update like this one:

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).

This is meaningless. Someone probably made it up as a joke just to see how far it would get (which, judging by my news feed the last few days, is pretty damn far). It does not change Facebook’s Terms and Conditions, which you agreed to, and it does not “copyright” anything you’ve posted on the website.

(Also, seriously, “the Rome Statute”? I realize most of us are not lawyers, myself included, but we should all still probably know that the “Rome Statute” is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Given that re-posting your cat GIFs without permission is neither genocide nor a war crime, though in some cases it could be considered a crime against humanity, the ICC is unlikely to be interested, and its mention maybe should have tipped you off. While we’re at it, it’s the “Berne Convention,” not the “Berner Convention.”)

More to the point, though, why would you care if someone stole your Facebook content? Is anyone writing a novel via Facebook updates or something? It could be a cool art project, I guess, but I’d go ahead and suggest that in a case like that the inevitable “theft” is, in fact, part of the medium, and complaining about it would be like whining that your pastel drawing is prone to smudging.

For most of us, at risk are re-posts of other people’s content, photos with captions on them, and perhaps some personal pictures.

Vastly more effective than posting bold declarations of your copyright would be to simply not post anything you don’t want the public to have access to. Why were you doing that on a public networking site in the first place?

If you have something worth stealing on Facebook, you’re doing Facebook wrong.

  1. Very well said! I enjoy all your postings on FB as I am a very late adopter (though I once was early ‘on the net’, but I denied the interactive web 2.0 for quite a while).

    In particular, I was reluctant to ‘liking’ – analyzed so well in your related article, to defining what a ‘friend’ on a social network should be, and to all those cross-links, re-postings and related copyright issues.

    Finally I have come to the conclusion that using social networks is more like riding a wave and being part of sort of a creative experiment – just as the art project you mention. Probably we should look forward to somebody ‘stealing’ our content. Isn’t viral marketing just about that?

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