Demystified: Posting a Facebook Status with Legal Terms Does Not Protect Copyright or Privacy

It’s happened before an it will happen again: someone realizes how much access Facebook and its users have to people’s personal information and they concoct some pseudo-legal note to fight for their right to privacy. It is true that Facebook does have a massive amount of your data, but it is also unfortunately true that Facebook users gave up their data when they signed the legal terms of service and no posting can revoke that.

In the past week a new version of one of these attempts has surfaced. People on the popular social network have updated their statuses to include a note along these lines:

“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 looks impressive enough. It contains enough legalese to sound legitimate, it cites specific laws and conventions, and it makes the all powerful statement “I hereby declare.” Yet, it actually means nothing. There’s no slippery loophole you can fit into a status update that will exempt you from terms you’ve already accepted. Simply, that is not how the law works.

Snopes, a site that deconstructs rumors, tears apart the claims of the note.

When anyone signs up for Facebook, they must first accept the services legal terms which includes their privacy policy and terms and policies. Any terms that were accepted at that point remain in effect unless the service issues an update to their terms (which they recently). By continuing to use the service, users accept the new terms—that’s the cost of being a Facebook user.

Some versions of the privacy fear-mongering note include a mention now that Facebook is a publicly traded company, users’ data is somehow more accessible to the world at large. This is simply not the case. Facebook’s public listing in no way changes the policies and terms all users signed. Other issues stand: the Berner Convention is not a thing, but the Berne Convention is; and the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) with it’s ever fabled Section 1-308 doesn’t cover the claims the note makes.

There are only really three options a user can do if they want to be exempt from the standard terms of service Facebook uses: never sign up for Facebook or using the service, bilaterally negotiate individual privacy terms with Facebook, or delete a Facebook account.

The first solution is pretty simple. If someone doesn’t want their data online, they just shouldn’t go online. The second solution is incredibly farfetched. Only under the most extreme situations would you be able to get Facebook to come to the table and legally make an exemption for an individual’s use of the site. The third solution is effective at stopping further privacy issues but can’t stop what is already online. All the data Facebook already has, they are allowed to keep and do with what they want.

It’s good for all users to be aware of how much data is given away to companies like Facebook and equally important to know that there isn’t any magical formula to protecting that data. If there’s anything to take away for those who are concerned but don’t want to walk away from Facebook’s social offerings, it’s best to be careful with what is shared and keep the most private and personal off Facebook.



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