Before we get started, some legal jargon…

As I’m sure both of you reading this may just about remember, a few weeks ago Facebook was briefly inundated with people posting the same message in regards to talk of FB introducing new copyright rules, in order to protect any and all of their work that was shared on FB from Mark Zuckerberg getting his grubby mitts on it.  If this passed you by, the message read as follows…

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, 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!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws, 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 If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status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 was, however, just one issue with posting this message – it had no effect in regards to whether anyone’s FB content was copyright protected or not.

Facebook were swift to deny it, although it should probably be asked if anyone has ever read their terms of service at any point.  First and foremost, the majority of new users of any website just skim the ToS to find the box they have to check to say they’ve read the terms when they never have, as that page is seen as an inconvenience between where they are and the wide world of Facebook, Amazon, eBay or whichever site they’re signing up for.  Second of all, Facebook’s ToS change constantly and, rather than inform their users of this, their logging in after the changes implies they have agreed to something they may or may not have even known exist.

As spelled out by Tim Cushing at Techdirt, the supposed copyright statement amounts to nothing more than a few vaguely credible-sounding legal terms cobbled together in a post that sounds like it makes sense, yet is utterly meaningless – Cushing goes as far as to compare it to a chain letter, and surely we all remember those “forward x e-mail to y people so z will happen” that cluttered our inboxes a dozen years ago?  This message is the same thing, albeit posted and reposted so it made up a fair chunk of my news feed one morning, rather than making up a fair chunk of my inbox limit.

Similar sentiments are shared by Edward Felten at TAP, who goes as far as to call the statement a meme as opposed to, say, the legally binding document that it was presented as being.  Felten does go on, though, to explain why Facebook’s rebuttal statement that I linked to earlier did come across as vague, and that is quite simply because if Facebook stated exactly why the statement was unenforceable they would open a can of worms about the amount of statements of their own that have less than solid footing in the legal realm.

If there was a statement that any Facebook user could post onto their wall that would give them the peace of mind knowing their materials are fully protected, Facebook would have revealed it long ago – or buried it in one of their myriad of terms of service, which would go unnoticed by everyone who uses the site.

Five years before the copyright statement meme had its fifteen minutes a far better statement had already been created by Cory Doctorow at The Small Print Project.  Termed the Reasonable Agreement, it reads as follows…

READ CAREFULLY. By reading this, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (“BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

Something worth considering.

And, in case of double standards, I should mention my WordPress avatar at the time of posting is the work of John Cebollero

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