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Viral Facebook status won't protect you from terms of service

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Contrary to what some of your friends might think, there are no magic words you can post as a Facebook status update that trigger any special legal protection. Nothing you say will grant you better privacy protection or to hold exclusive copyright on what you post on the site.

A status update that offers fake advice for how to copyright what you post to the site has gone viral on Facebook, like a chain letter that promises to protect your intellectual property.

According to urban-legend debunking site Snopes, though, it’s just another iteration of a phenomenon that’s been around for years—the mistaken notion that if you type the proper legalese as a status update, you’ve somehow hacked Facebook’s terms of service. The latest iteration reads:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, paintings, writing, publications, 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 and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws.)

To be clear: when you upload original content to Facebook—say, a photo—you don’t surrender your ownership of it. But you’re giving Facebook the rights to use it, too. As explicitly outlined in the company’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, uploading anything to Facebook means that the company gets to use it, royalty-free, however it likes. And before you think that deleting that picture snatches it from Facebook’s hands, know that if anyone else has since reposted it, it’s still fair game.

Besides, the Berne convention (the viral status update has it misspelled) is an agreement between countries not to require any formal registration of copyrights. It offers no provisions to the effect of “even if you agree to a website’s terms of service that allows them to use your intellectual property, you can opt out of that agreement if you post a status update that sounds all lawyer-y.”

As the adage goes, if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. And the idea that Facebook is going to charge you to start using it? That’s another thoroughly debunked rumor.

UPDATE: Facebook has issued the following statement to further debunk this status message:

"There is a rumor circulating that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users' information or the content they post to the site. This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been."

Photo via Wikimedia Commons