Viral Hoax Facebook Update is Powerless to Protect Your Photo Copyrights

One of the big stories in the tech world at the moment is Facebook’s effort to do away with its public voting system for approving changes to the service’s policies (yup, Facebook is a democracy). Pranksters are taking advantage of the controversy to stir up some FUD among Facebook users. One of the things that has been circulating over the past few days is a bogus “chain letter” that people are posting as status updates, believing that their photograph copyrights are at risk. The message is spreading like wildfire — many of you have likely seen it already — but there’s one big problem: it’s all a complete hoax.

Here’s a common version of the message that’s being passed around:

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!

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 If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status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.

There’s actually no such thing as a “Berner Convention.” It seems to be a misspelling of the Berne Convention, an international agreement between 165 countries regarding the issue of how copyright is handle between them. It doesn’t grant you any extra copyright protections in addition to what your country’s government already grants.

Furthermore, all your agreements regarding content copyright were already handled when you signed up for the social networking service. No status update you post will add to or detract from what you agreed at the time.

Snopes has published a long piece debunking the hoax (which also did the rounds earlier this year) and writes,

Facebook users cannot retroactively negate any of the privacy or copyright terms they agreed to when they signed up for their Facebook accounts nor can they unilaterally alter or contradict any new privacy or copyright terms instituted by Facebook simply by posting a contrary legal notice on their Facebook walls. Moreover, the fact that Facebook is now a publicly traded company (i.e., a company that has issued stocks which are traded on the open market) or a “capital entity” has nothing to do with copyright protection or privacy rights.

Any copyright or privacy agreements users of Facebook have entered into with that company prior to its becoming a publicly traded company or changing its policies remain in effect: they are neither diminished nor enhanced by Facebook’s public status.

Facebook has also posted a response today refuting the chain update:

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.

So if you see this message plastered all over your Facebook news feed, kindly inform your friends that they’ve fallen for a big fat lie.

(via Snopes via Slate)

Image credit: Facebook by Franco Bouly

  • mo

    “berner konvention” is the german term.

    i’m glad you wrote about it, can’t believe howmany of my friends posted this!

  • Monsieur cheui

    We don’t control how we share our photos, Facebook does. Any of my Facebook friends can choose to download my photos. I can’t turn this option off. I would like to.

  • mlieberman85

    That’s why I upload to 500px or another site that does have that option and just share the link with friends.

  • Benicio Murray

    oh look, people acting like sheep on Facebook again ….
    Who would have though.

  • DuckFaceKilla

    O NO, FB is going to sell all my selfies to istock!

  • lidocaineus

    Pretty much anyone with even five minutes of time can figure out how to download photos, even if they’re prevented from right clicking. 500px even says this in their FAQs – that it’s just the illusion of protection. If you want protection, don’t post your photos, or use an incredibly huge, ugly watermark.

  • Samcornwell

    Of the 140,000,000,000 photos on Facebook, how many do you think Facebook have sold?

  • mlieberman85

    Well right clicking sure does nothing, they just find the href to your image and just use their browser to save the image directly, but I should have elaborated, you can prevent them from downloading full size images, while still having the ability to charge for prints or full size images (though then there’s nothing you can do to prevent someone from just then posting the full size image to another site.) I mean sure in the end if someone wants to take something they’re going to find a way but I can see how it might deter the average person who might just be interested in downloading the image.

  • Nathaniel Young

    If you had a lot of friends repost this it might be time to look for some new friends.

  • Attila Volgyi

    The real problem with Facebook (and all similar sharing networks) is people can (and do) upload photos so easily they don’t care the tiniest bit who took them. What has a great part in the fact less and less people value photography enough to pay for them.

  • IGM

    Some of my older images are not watermarked, but everything I upload now is. I also make sure my images are sized so that they’ll pixelate as soon as they’re enlarged. Even though Facebook may have exonerated themselves of copyright infringement laws, those who think they can profit by subsequently downloading and pirating my images will probably think twice before doing so. Once I become famous… and mark my words I will (bwaaaahahaha)… I know that there will be copyright infringement lawyers chasing after those who think they can sneak one by me today. Getty Images already does that on a regular basis. 5 years from now there will be an app that any copyright owner can use.

    What most people don’t think about is that copyright owners (by default creators of intellectual property) sign away their ownership without proper representation. Hiding details in terms of agreements does not necessarily provide protection from those who try to bypass that right. There are many cases of song writers who have recently regained their copyrights from publishers who wrote contracts that were either not read, or understood, because there was no proper representation.Lawyers are going to be in business a long long time dealing with this issue alone.

    Perhaps a movement of IP owners should start lobbying Facebook to regain copyrights that were not really part of the deal when we signed up.

  • Gerard Majoe Camoens

    Or is the convention named after Berners-Lee :-) ?

  • SwedishKiwi

    “I also make sure my images are sized so that they’ll pixelate as soon as they’re enlarged.”

    Huh? Like *all* digital images..?

  • mo

    sure thing. good they’re just “facebook”-friends

  • Mike Ermilio

    Facebook compresses the ever loving hell out of any picture uploaded to their site. combine this with not using the ‘high quality’ checkbox and you have a picture that’s such low quality that nobody is going to be able to do anything with that would make them money off my work.

  • ProtoWhalePig

    Wow. You’re lucky: all your friends have a perfect knowledge of international copyright law! What were the chances?

  • ProtoWhalePig

    Well…sure…but the pixelation starts at a different point if you upload 24MP pix… :-)

  • TerraKacher

    I always reset the resolution to 75 or less. Save the original, reset the resolution and then upload to FB. But I also always add © somewhere with my name too. Also the copywrite is embedded in the photo from my camera.

  • SwedishKiwi

    You can set the resolution to 2 if you like. If the image is 2.000 x 3.000 pixels, it will still be useful. Or did I misinterpret you?