There’s a minor hoax going around social media, one that seems to be completely harmless but that says a lot about what many users do not know about sites like Facebook. When Facebook announced it had pending changes to how users’ accounts would operate, a (hopefully well-intentioned) individual drafted a copyright policy mandate and encouraged other users to share it. Here’s a sample of the text currently making the rounds, found on Snopes.com’s coverage of the myth:
Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I state: at this date of November 27, 2014, in response to the new guidelines of Facebook, pursuant to articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts etc…. published on my profile and my page. For commercial use of the foregoing my written consent is required at all times.
Those who read this text can do a copy/paste on their Facebook wall. This will allow them to place themselves under the protection of copyright. By this statement, I tell Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, broadcast, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and or its content. The actions mentioned above also apply to employees, students, agents and or other personnel under the direction of Facebook.
The content of my profile contains private information. The violation of my privacy is punishable by law (UCC 1-308 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).
Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are invited to publish a notice of this kind, or if they prefer, you can copy and paste this version.
If you have not published this statement at least once, you tacitly allow the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in the profile update.
Posting this to your Facebook wall does not provide you with any kind of legal protection, nor does it prevent anyone from using your content. Social media users must understand that the platforms are not required to adhere to YOUR guidelines, but rather you are required to adhere to THEIR guidelines. If their guidelines state they can sell your pictures for profit, you have two choices: agree to their terms (which you did when you signed up for an account), or don’t use their website.
Of course, there’s nothing in Facebook’s terms that says they will do such a thing; the terms do, however, state that they are allowed to share and promote anything you post, even though they do not “own” it.
The final paragraph from the misleading statement above is just one of the many false points in the post, but that hasn’t stopped people from sharing this warning on their own Facebook walls. The good news is the fact that the reader is encouraged to cut and paste the post, rather than click “share” or follow a link indicates that this is most likely a harmless but misguided concept.
The full details of internet copyright issues can be found in many places online, but rest assured, you still own the copyright to any original post you choose to share. Whether it’s a picture, a poem, a story about a family member, whatever…it belongs to you, and not Facebook, regardless of whether or not you’ve shared a bogus statement on your wall.
But if this is harmless and if you still own the copyright to all of your content, what’s the problem?
Posts like this one speak volumes about what many social media users do not understand about their own accounts, and about the content they choose to share. Simply posting, “You can’t use my pictures,” does nothing to stop other users from sharing, copying, or altering your photographs. Professional websites and well-known corporations have even been found using private citizens’ online content, and unfortunately, users have found there is very little they can do to stop the sharing or use of their images and content. While it’s still illegal to steal someone’s picture and use it on your own website, taking action and getting results are a lot harder online.
Takeaway: The best way to protect yourself from these kinds of problems is to be very careful of what you share. If you don’t want your image copied by countless internet users, don’t share it. If there’s a chance that the picture could be used for harm or embarrassment, think twice about posting it on social media, your own blog or website, or any kind of forum. Whether it’s legal or not, you must remember that posting your photograph or other content online is akin to laying it on a park bench in a crowded city… you have no way of knowing who will find it and where it will end up.