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By Al Larsen

A few weeks ago a number of people were posting a short declaration of copyright ownership on Facebook. You may have seen it. In case you haven’t, it goes something like this:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, crafts, professional 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!

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version.

The text has been widely discredited by pundits and tech writers and, not least, by numerous friends (not to mention friends of friends).



The general consensus is that it is meaningless.

Well, there are some problems with the statement. The Facebook terms of service aren’t particularly new. Also, “the Berne Convention” is miswritten as “the Berner Convention.” And, perhaps most importantly, Facebook explicitly states in their terms of service that they do not claim any copyright on the material you post. End of story.

Except it isn’t the end of the story. According to Facebook’s Terms of Service, you grant the company “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License)”.

So, since the license is sub-licensable, you retain copyright although not necessarily control.

Back to the actual ToS:  “This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

I think I know what this means, but I’m not a legal expert so I consulted, “The Entire Facebook Terms of Service in Bro Speak” by Miles Lothe. He’s probably not an expert either but his reading matches mine pretty well. According to Lothe we can read this section as:

For things covered by intellectual property law, (which is, I mean, just minor shit like your pictures and videos; whatever, amirite?) you grant us license to use it literally however the fuck we want for as long as it’s up. Seriously, we can blow up your pictures and Photoshop in sombreros and dicks and then put them up on billboards in Asia if we want. Also, we can let our friends use your shit however they want. But! Once you delete your shit, then we’ll all stop using it. Unless, of course, your friends also have it up.

So, the issue to be concerned about isn’t really copyright anyway, it’s the transferability and sub-licensability of the license. Not to mention that you may not be able to rescind the license simply by deleting the material or deleting your account.

Clearly there are some problems with the text of the dreaded Facebook copyright/privacy message. Not only that, but the consensus is in: it means nothing, it’s unrealistic and overheated, posting it is pathetic and embarrassing, so just stop it.

But I’m posting it to my wall today.

I am posting it in the spirit of untied shoes, unrealistic demands, indecipherable lyrics, and inarticulate rage. I am posting it because I am in favor of any gesture that points out how much more is happening in our lovely socially networked playground than the endless progression of diverting scraps in the “feed”.

The real problem isn’t that whoever wrote the statement botched it. The problem is that it’s become easier to imagine the end of the world than a democratically-run social networking platform (remixing Žižek). The various and interconnected online playgrounds have offered us a lot of diversion at the expense of considering what kind of spaces we’ve stumbled into. As Josh MacPhee wrote recently for The Baffler, “Why shouldn’t, or couldn’t, Kickstarter be owned and run by those that invest in it?”

So, something unrealistic, overheated, embarrassing? Something unsound, error-filled? Something stating the obvious but implying a new space? Something that for just a moment asks you to look up and try to find the horizon? Yes I like that.

Al Larsen, copyright, Facebook, privacy

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