Updated 7:00 p.m. EST, Monday, November 26
Facebook wants users to share more online about their lives, but that cuts both ways: On Monday, Facebook issued a curt “Fact Check,” note on its news website and privacy page attempting to debunk a meme that had spread like wildfire across the world’s largest social network in recent days, in which concerned users attempted to assert copyright over their Facebook content by posting new status updates invoking an irrelevant statute of the International Criminal Court.
The resulting “hoax” Facebook post that has been copied and pasted into new status updates by users of the social network, originated years ago on other websites, according to Snopes. It reads basically as follows, though the specific language varies from post to post:
“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).
Facebook is now an open capital entity. 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 If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status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.”
Snopes and a number of news outlets quickly debunked the post on Monday, pointing out that posting such a message would not change Facebook’s terms with its users or confer any additional legal rights on users’ content, plus the legal doctrines cited — The Uniform Commercial Code of the United States, the “Berner” [sic] convention (apparently a misspelling of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works), and the “Rome Statue” of the International Criminal Court, aren’t relevant to the copyright issues in the case of Facebook.
But all of that is moot anyway, because users actually do still retain ownership of their content posted on the website, as Facebook pointed out in its news release and blog post issued Monday afternoon:
“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”
In fact, Facebook’s terms of usage, a series of legally binding statements the company makes users agree to before signing up and which it refers to as “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” still clearly state that user’s retain ownership to all of their content on the website, though of course, Facebook asks that users give it a “non-exclusive license” to use said content how it sees fit.
As the relevant portion of the document (Section 2. “Sharing Your Content and Information”) states:
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. In addition:
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…
Later, however, Facebook explains that “You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that [advertising] content, subject to the limits you place,” through a user’s privacy settings.
Still, the spread of the great Facebook copyright freakout meme of 2012 indicates that Facebook’s own mechanics — which make it easier than ever to share information — can sometimes be as problematic for the company as they are intergal to its functioning and business model.
Late update: Facebook tells TPM that it is just getting started with its new Fact Check feature and will be using it more prominently in the future to correct misinformation about the company and the workings of the social network.