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On Facebook and Copyright And Unbunching Your Knickers

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | November 27, 2012 |

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | November 27, 2012 |

You guys, I need to talk to you about copyright. Specifically copyright and Facebook, because I’ve been seeing waves of those dumb status updates about “declaring” your copyright in any photos or videos you’ve posted and telling Facebook that they don’t have your permission to do anything with them and there’s two things I have to tell you here:

1. You’re wrong.
2. You’re even wronger than you think you are after reading that first point.

So, because we’re all people very concerned about someone using our property for nefarious uses, how do you claim copyright? Well, the truth is that you own the copyright in any intellectual property you create the moment it’s in a fixed medium. Any photo, any blog post, any video, that you have created you own the copyright in. Copyright is inherent in the creative work. Now, this does not keep your work from infringing on someone else’s copyright if you used someone else’s images, words, music, or any other intellectual property in your creation without their permission. But you don’t have to register copyright or officially “affirm” it in any way for your work to be protected by copyright law as long as you live in a country that’s a signatory of the Berne Convention which is almost all of them.

When you upload a copyrighted work to Facebook, you’re giving Facebook permission to display the work in accordance with your privacy settings. The exception to this is profile pictures and cover photos, which are always public. You must affirm that you are the copyright holder of the work and that you are giving Facebook permission to store the image and display it. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the reason we upload things to Facebook is so we can share them with people. Aside from this, simply writing a status update that says you “affirm” copyright in all the photos and whatnot you’ve uploaded is not going to be recognized by any court anymore than your 13 year old cousin proclaiming he is the king of SWAG would be. If you’re worried about the rights to your photos, take them off Facebook or look into tagging them with an appropriate license from Creative Commons. It won’t make your copyright claim any stronger, but if it helps you sleep better at night that’s always nice.

Frankly, at the end of the day, Facebook is pretty respectful of copyright and will take down infringing material pretty quickly once someone makes a report. This is not because they’re overly altruistic, but because they realize that the words “Facebook” and “copyright infringement” cause lawyers eyes to change into those dollar bill signs while the sound of a cash register is mysteriously heard somewhere in the background.

So who’s violating copyright law on Facebook? The users. Probably you.

You remember that bit up there about owning anything uploaded to Facebook? I’m pretty certain we’re all guilty of uploading someone else’s picture or image given the number of Pajibans with profile or cover photos of Grumpy cat or cartoons from The Oatmeal, among other slightly less popular copyrighted works. Practically every instance of copyright infringement to be found on Facebook is down to the users rather than the company itself. Now, I’m not out to ruin anyone’s fun or report people innocently using images that they enjoy for personal purposes and I agree that the internet has introduced significant gray areas that are not currently covered by copyright law. But in the future, when this rumor goes around again, remember that you have far more to fear from fellow Facebook users than you do from Facebook itself.

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Genevieve Burgess is a Features Contributor for Pajiba. You can follow Genevieve Burgess on Twitter.