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Every few months, a message starts circulating around Facebook. It reads like legalese, and claims you need to post it to your timeline to stop the social network from stealing your copyrights or intellectual property. Ignore any such post, it’s an age-old Internet hoax. But you should know that Facebook actually can use your photos if it wants to.
There are two messages going viral right now. One of them looks something like an old hoax:
Now it’s official! It is published in the media. Facebook has just released this entry price: $5.99 to keep the subscription gold of your status of life “private”. If you paste this message on your page, it will be offered free (I said paste, not share) if not, tomorrow all your posts can become public.
If you see that, just don’t bother with it. Facebook itself has said it’s a hoax, and that the social network is completely free and intends to be free forever.
The other hoax message has been around for a really long time, and its text reads like:
As of <date and time>, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents…
This message has been debunked so many times now that it’s even stopped being funny. Look, it has zero, zip, zilch, nada legal legs. Posting a random message does not change the terms and conditions you agreed to when you signed up for Facebook. If you don’t like those terms and conditions, tough, delete your Facebook account. And among those terms and conditions, you agreed to let Facebook use your profile picture and photos.
Wait, Facebook Owns My Photos?
No, it doesn’t. “Owns” indicates copyright, and you still retain all copyrights for that photo. Essentially, Facebook, or anyone else on Facebook, cannot sell a photo that you posted and own the copyright of.
However, Facebook’s Terms and Conditions make it clear that you are giving it the permission to reuse any photo or status you publish, or your profile picture:
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.
In simple words, this means that if you are using Facebook, you have agreed to let the social networking giant reuse your status and photos. You still own the copyrights to those, but you have given Facebook permission to reuse them without being sued.
And no, that “U.C.C. 1-308” law does not protect you or punish Facebook either. The above user agreement is what matters if you try to go to court. You agreed to it to use Facebook; if you don’t like it, go somewhere else (and maybe stop Google+ from its slow death).
Pasting a Message Doesn’t Make It Illegal
There is not a single lawyer out there who says that copy-pasting that message to your timeline changes the above agreement from Facebook’s Terms and Conditions.
“You can’t unilaterally modify a contract that you’ve entered into,” intellectual property lawyer Tim Bukher told Quartz. So Facebook is free to reuse your images in ads or other places. However, the likelihood of it doing that is low, according to Bukher.
Publicly traded companies have to be careful about user backlash, which can affect their stock price and investor confidence. There is a significant gap between what Facebook can do and what it will do.
What You Can or Should Do
If you absolutely, completely want to guarantee that Facebook does not reuse any of the photos or videos you have uploaded, there’s only one option: you need to delete everything and quit Facebook.
That option isn’t going to be practical for most people, so the better option is to understand your privacy settings. For starters, run Facebook’s Privacy Check-up Tool and pay attention to everything in it. And then clean up everything else.
For a more comprehensive understanding, check out our complete guide to Facebook’s privacy settings.
Most importantly, here’s what you need to know: Apart from deleting your account or negotiating with Facebook personally for a different contract, there really is nothing you can do to stop Facebook from using your photos and videos if it wants to. You agreed to it already. A silly little status update doesn’t change that.
Is Facebook Wrong?
The question, at the end of the day, isn’t whether that hoax is true or false. It’s whether Facebook’s policy is so bad that this hoax appeals to so many of its users who want those terms and conditions to be changed.
Do you think Facebook is wrong, or should people just quit complaining and move on?