For anyone whose Facebook has not yet been dotted with the latest viral status, this time it was a legalese attempt to fend off creative property theft. Humor me by reading this. Even a brief skim will do.
“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).”
It seems somewhat impressive. Citing specific statutes and using words with accents usually has that effect. But upon closer investigation, as columns in Slate, the Atlantic Wire and Forbes have already pointed out, there are more than a few flaws, not to mention that posting a status offers no legal protection at all.
With the help of Facebook’s Silicon Valley neighbor, Google, the average user of the social media site would find that, for one, there was never a “Berner Convention.” Although, there was a Berne Convention in 1886, which forged an international agreement on copyright laws. Also, the “Rome Statute” focuses primarily on genocide and war crimes.
It is amazing that these oversights have survived through so many rounds of copying and pasting. The bad grammar should be a tip-off, too. But when one considers how many succumbed to the Nigerian email scam in the 1980s and ’90s, maybe this is not so surprising.
The difference, though, is that email chain letters are out to get something: people’s money. I am inclined to think, since there is not much to gain from giving out bad legal advice, that there is a law student out there who truly believes they are doing a service to humanity by getting this thing going, not unlike the way Elle Woods throws around terms like mens rea and habeas corpus to try to help others in “Legally Blonde.”
There is a real issue at the heart of this misleading status gone viral. Users are worried about having control over the information they post there, and Facebook knows it.
So, in response to that concern, Facebook provides information about how users can prevent copyright infringement and unintended breaches of privacy. It points users toward the U.S. Copyright Office, World Intellectual Property Organization and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It also reminds users that they may delete materials from their page at any time or set up privacy barriers that will keep out certain untrustworthy viewers. If notified, it will even take action against those who misuse another person’s information by removing the content and terminating the infringing user’s account.
At its core, Facebook has certain aims; the primary goal being an open source for the sharing and access of information. The same freedoms of access that make Facebook so useful and wonderful are driving these privacy and copyright concerns. So, Facebook will continue to make content openly available for viewing and sharing unless a user specifically prevents it from happening.
“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,” reads a line from Facebook’s terms. We have granted Facebook that power. There are simple ways to curb it, but a status post will not. One must set strict privacy and application settings that would change how Facebook could use the information, or delete the content from Facebook altogether (take note, though, when Facebook says “delete” that is about a three-month process, according to its terms).
Facebook provides many free and automatic services: It is a place to share ideas, messages, pictures, videos and links with friends, whether we created them or someone else did. A place to advertise our thoughts, hobbies and interests. A platform for businesses to connect with their consumers. On top of that, it is practically handing out free legal guidance.
The responsibility is on the site’s users to defend the information and content that they want to keep safe.
Sarah Witman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism and getting a certificate in environmental studies.