Facebook, Privacy, and IP Hoaxes


You might have seen this alarming message from some of your Facebook friends in the first week or so of the New Year. You may have actually seen it in each of the last three years, because it’s unusually persistent.

The general gist of the story goes like this:

  • Holy cow! I just learned that I have no privacy on Facebook anymore
  • What’s more, Facebook owns the rights to everything I post or display!
  • But if I post this legal-sounding message I can recoup all my rights
  • And if you fear for your rights you should post this message too

It’s not really a “hoax” per se: hoaxes by definition are designed to “deceive and defraud”. I don’t know that there’s any intent to defraud anyone with this persistent–but wrong–story.

It’s just one of those fables that won‘t go away. In truth, we won’t let it go away. Largely because it attaches itself to a quiet personal fear many of us secretly harbor: we don’t really understand how all this stuff—Facebook, big data, the Internet of Things—actually works.

Hoaxes and misinformation like this spread because so many of us live with the low-level, persistent nagging fear that we really don’t understand the Digital Age we’ve found ourselves in.

That’s a larger problem related to the speed of change in the last 40 years or so, and we don’t have much of a prescription for it. Maybe each of us has to work out this modern-age struggle in much the same way Paul said we have to work out our own salvation, “with fear and trembling.”

But CCLI can at least help set the record straight on the “Facebook-IP-Privacy” story. Starting with this:

Posting “I state, at this date … in response to the new guidelines of Facebook and pursuant to articles L.111, 112, 113 of the code of intellectual property…” never preserved or protected anyone’s rights. Ever.

The truth is really very simple:

  • Nope, Facebook does not own the copyright to the words, images, and your status-update-I’m-feeling smiley faces — it’s all yours
  • You grant Facebook limited permissions to use and distribute what you post (but it’s still yours)
  • Nothing you post or write can nullify or negate any of the existing terms you already agreed to when you signed up for Facebook or any other social media site

Intellectual property law, like the often-mysterious underlying infrastructure of the entire digital age, is complex and nuanced stuff. The only thing this recurring hoax tells us is that the combination of these two complexities can make normally rational people do some silly things.


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