Facebook copyright status updates have no legal effect

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Lots of Miami residents have probably seen their Facebook newsfeeds clog up with status updates from friends that appear to be an effort to make a legal statement concerning the content the friend posts to Facebook.

In many cases, the message claims to be “in response to new Facebook policies” and purports to assert that Facebook cannot copyright any pictures or status updates the user makes.

So, do such statements have any legal effect?

In short, no.

First, Facebook’s terms and policies say that any content a user uploads to the site belongs to the user, not to Facebook.

Second, while copyright protection attaches automatically as soon as an author fixes his or her work in a tangible medium (which doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to take extra steps to protect your content, by the way), that can be overridden if you sign an agreement beforehand agreeing that someone else owns your copyright.

For example, engineers, reporters and other professionals often have to sign an agreement when they are hired saying that their employer owns the rights to work created on the job, not the original employee. So, if Facebook’s terms said that it owned your copyright (which they don’t), then you could not change that with a status update.

We don’t expect everyone to be copyright experts, of course, but this is an interesting example of how conventional wisdom regarding copyright law may be inaccurate. It is always a good idea to seek an authoritative source whenever a legal issue arises.

Source: WPTV, “Facebook warning hoax: Copyright privacy message capitalized on privacy fears, experts say,” Nicole Saidi, Nov. 27, 2012