Every couple of months Facebook users engage in a collective frenzy to protect their daily updated online lives by posting status updates stipulating they own the copyright to content they post on the social network.
Here’s a status update: Don’t be tempted. Your copyright announcement does not mean anything.
As first pointed out by Max Read at Gawker, the latest iteration of the “copyright” status is practically gibberish. The post, frequently shared last week, begins:
“In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, crafts, professional photos and videos, etc. . . . . (Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws.)”
Not only do you already own the intellectual property that is the content you share, as mentioned on Facebook’s own Statement of Rights and Responsibilities page, the relevant section of those legal terms will not change with the update that will go into effect January 1 2015.
The status continues:
“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 If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status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…”
You are already agreeing to the use of your content by simply uploading it. You are granting Facebook license to display your baby pictures and vacation videos, to share them with your friends. Here’s the relevant section of the social network’s legal terms:
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).
A Facebook spokesperson tells Quartz that such status updates are unnecessary, as “you need not share it to assert your ownership over the stuff you share on Facebook.”
A statement from Facebook probably won’t convince the conspiracy theorists among your friends. For all future “copyright posts,” here’s a lawyer who says it’s just meaningless: “You can’t unilaterally modify a contract that you’ve entered into,” Tim Bukher, a New York-based internet lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, tells Quartz.
Facebook has entered a contract with you by providing its services, and you’ve entered it by using these services, he says. “One party can’t just say ‘I want to add additional things to the contract that the other side doesn’t have to agree to, it will just be bound by it.’”
However, Facebook’s legal terms are pretty broad, notes Bukher. They are not limiting themselves how they can use your content, he says. They can use it to share it with your friends, as is your intention, or to create ads.
How they will use your data is a different question. “At the end of the day it’s a publicly traded company,” Bukher says. They are wary of backlash, such as the one that Instagram, their daughter company, received after leasing out user data to companies for advertising purposes. Instagram backed down.
“There’s always a tension between what Facebook can do according to its policy, and what Facebook will do,” Bukher says.