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Your Facebook Copyright Notice is More Annoying than Farmville

December 5 2014

By: Intellectual Property Group

If you use Facebook, you probably already have noticed that many users are posting statements claiming that Facebook somehow acquires ownership of users’ intellectual property that has been posted to that site.  Reacting to this entirely erroneous proposition, many Facebook users have posted very scary and onerous status updates aggressively asserting their intellectual property rights in the materials they have uploaded onto Facebook.  One user posted that they “hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, crafts, professional photos and videos, etc. . . . for commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!”  (Undoubtedly her use of an exclamation point will add significant legal weight when this status update is considered by a court in the forthcoming case of Everyone v. Facebook.)  That same user warns us that violation of her privacy is punished by law, UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute.  Undoubtedly, Facebook is horrified by the prospect of violating either of these statutes.  Or not.

This Facebook user (and legions of other Facebook users who (ironically) have copied her ominous copyright warning) apparently have missed the plainly worded terms governing the use of Facebook’s online services.  While it’s not clear how the Uniform Commercial Code or the Rome Statute possibly could govern the relationship between a Facebook user and the website, the Facebook terms of use agreement clearly states that “you own all of the content and information you post on Facebook . . . .”  The agreement further provides that users merely give Facebook a limited, non-exclusive license to any intellectual property content posted on the website, a license which expires when the content is deleted by the user.  Perhaps these simple contract terms were missed during the analysis of international criminal statutes (which have not been ratified in the United States), or laws related to the sale of goods.

While a copyright owner’s right to exclude others from using their work arises as a matter of law, we always must keep in mind that rights in a copyrighted work are often granted, modified, or otherwise controlled by the terms and conditions of contracts.  Indeed, almost any aspect of the exclusive rights vested in a copyright owner may be licensed or assigned to others based on the terms and conditions of a license agreement.  A copyright owner can, by contract, divide her exclusive rights in almost any conceivable manner.  There is, therefore, a simple lesson to the myriad Facebook users who have re-posted this copyright notice on their Facebook status: Most online contracts are binding, you should read them before you accept them.  At the very least, consider reading a contract that you have already signed before researching inapplicable statutes.  These silly updates are worse than posts about Farmville or Mafia Wars.