Monday, December 3, 2012

Facebook Furor and a Follow-up on Copyright Law

I recently wrote a post about United States copyright law, and how it applies to some classic Christmas carols. If you don’t like Christmas music (or even if you do), you may be still more interested in how copyright law has recently invaded your Facebook newsfeed. The below post showed up recently on the Facebook feed one of my fellow entreVIEW authors (and, as you’ll see, he couldn't help but provide a short response):

Like probably tens (or hundreds) of millions of others, I saw similar posts on my newsfeed. I assumed there was already some commentary “out there” about what this post actually means and accomplishes (which, by the way, is pretty much nothing), and that is in fact the case. Articles like “Quit Posting Facebook Copyright/Privacy Messages — It’s a Hoax,” and “Viral post won't copyright your Facebook updates” reference Facebook’s recent “Fact Check” statement that “Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms.” 

Users of websites, including Facebook, are usually required to consent to “Terms of Use” (of course, there’s been litigation about the enforceability of these “click through” agreements, but generally they are held to be enforceable.) As a result, if Facebook’s terms said something different your alternative would be to stop using Facebook—a thought that, for some, would be more difficult than giving up food or oxygen…

More fundamentally, however, it’s worth embellishing on Dan’s response related to the rules of copyright law. As noted in my previous post, copyright protection for “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium” applies to works like novels, movies, and songs. These types of works are automatically protected under copyright the moment they are created and fixed in a tangible medium. So, for example, if you come up with an idea for a novel, your idea is not protected. But if you start writing the idea down on paper (or more likely on your computer), your creative work automatically becomes copyright protected. No “communique” needed.

Don’t get me wrong – posting that new, special poem you wrote (or awkward family photo) as your next Facebook status certainly makes it easier for someone to use or steal it, but your own, personal copyright in that work will technically be protected under U.S. copyright law no matter what your other Facebook posts say.

A Post by Karen Wenzel, Guest Blogger

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