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Don’t fall for urban legends about Facebook and copyright

terms of service screenshot
Facebook's Terms of Service

AT LEAST one member has recently fallen for a claim about protecting your photos on Facebook. They suggested that we should all post the following "or something similar":

I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute. NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. note

This is false.

It's a kind of urban legend - or perhaps more like one of those old-school chain letters.

It's also old. The Guardian debunked it three years ago. The Electronic Frontier Foundation - no friend of journalists when it comes to lobbying against our copyright - debunked it again in August this year.

Facebook's terms and conditions state (at the time of writing):

...when you share, post or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings...

By using Facebook, you agree to these terms as a contract between Facebook and you. You cannot unilaterally vary the terms of this (or for that matter any other) contract. In principle, Facebook could perhaps close your account because you purported to do so. A discussion of whether this would be a positive development for you will not fit in this margin.

Freelance Organiser Pamela Morton expands:

If people post on Facebook, the Facebook terms of service will apply because by posting on Facebook an individual enters into a contract and is supposed to have read and understood the terms and conditions and by posting will have accepted Facebook's terms and conditions.

NUJ Legal & Industrial Officer Roy Mincoff adds:

Look very carefully at Facebook's Terms of Service and in particular its Data Policy. There are sections relating to the type of information it collects, how it uses that, for example [distributing it] to its advertisers who effectively fund Facebook, and how the information is shared and how others can use it. There are important sections relating to Facebook's legal basis for processing data and how you can exercise your rights under the General Data Protection Regulation. That gives details of the rights you have and, crucially, how to object to and restrict certain processing of your data. That may ease some of your concerns but I think it is right to say that absolute privacy cannot be guaranteed. It is also true that those to whom you have posted can often then share that with others. Messenger and Instagram are also part of the Facebook family.

Finally, as the Freelance Fees Guide observes:

Publicising your work on social media - Twitter, Facebook or whatever - can be equivalent to leaving a banknote stapled to a park bench. It may not be legal for anyone to take it and use it. But... you know what's going to happen.

The Freelance recommends carefully reading the rest of this advice from the Fees Guide.


  • Note: The Freelance also recommends the Letters Editors' convention of referring to certain messages as "green ink". From time to time we get emails carefully marked up in green, perserving the tradition of the artisanal handwritten letter that might be described as "differently sane".