Your Facebook Status Won’t Protect You

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

For anyone who has seen the creative copyright warning regarding the new Facebook guidelines and is wondering if they too should be reposting the “notification” in effort to protect their personal information, images, or online creations, please read the following.

First off, I should mention that I have no professional degrees in law or business. However, a quick Google search is all it takes to see that many of the laws and statutes cited either do not exist or have no relevance to the protection of personal information. For example, the Berner Convention (which I assume is a misspelling of the Berne Convention, because no evidence of any such Berner Convention exists on the interwebs) refers to an international agreement that requires signatory countries to recognize the copyrights of “literary and artistic works” already protected in their countries of origin (the country in which the work was first created). It’s important to recognize that however nail-biting the details of your personal life seem, they likely do not fall into the category of “literary and artistic works.” In fact, Article 2 of the Berne Convention specifically stipulates that “The protection of this Convention shall not apply to news of the day (i.e. your wall posts) or to miscellaneous facts having the character of mere items of press information (i.e. your profile information).”

A similar internet search for the Rome Statute reveals that it too has nothing to do with copyright law or the protection of personal information. According to the UN and ICC’s website, the Rome Statute is an international treaty that establishes the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which, to my knowledge, does not prosecute copyright infringement of any kind (it typically deals with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and things of that nature).

The third “law” cited by the Facebook notification is the UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103, which as far as I can tell, does not exist. I assume that it’s a pseudo-legalese jumble of UCC 1-308 and UCC 1-103. According to the Cornell University Law School, the UCC 1-308 is the part of the Uniform Commercial Code regarding “Performance or Acceptance Under Reservation of Rights.” It basically says that if you sign a contract promising some action, service, or good, you don’t forfeit your legal rights in the process. The UCC 1-103 explains the purpose and application of the Uniform Commercial Code. Unless you are agreeing to sell or distribute something you have created via the internet, UCC 1-308 and UCC 1-103 probably will not help you.

Essentially, none of the “laws” cited by this “Facebook guideline” will actually protect anyone’s personal info, posts, or images from being used without consent. In general, most of the personal information and private photos or videos you provide on social networking sites are not protected legally as “intellectual property” and thus, will not even fall under the purview of copyright law. Concerned users can instead turn to Facebook’s security settings, which offer some control over who has access to your personal information. Facebook users who are worried about illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos that they have created and wish to retain legal rights to may consider a creative commons license  but  should be aware of the conditions and limits of CC licenses. The reality is that there is often limited legal recourse for information or images that have been used without the original poster’s permission. The best way to protect your personal information, images, and files is to think twice about putting them out there in the first place.

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