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Who Really Owns Your Facebook Posts?

Another year has likely brought about another round of faux legalese to your Facebook news feed. If you have been on Facebook within the last week or two, you have probably seen something like this:

"Channel 13 News was just talking about this change in Facebook's privacy policy. Better safe than sorry. As of September 27th , 2015 at 02:07 a.m. Eastern standard time, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. You MUST copy and paste."

Posts similar to the one above made the rounds in 2012, 2013, 2014, and earlier this year. Their first appearance in 2012 coincided with a change in Facebook's terms of use that allowed Facebook to share account information with its subsidiaries. In response, some Facebook users who were concerned about their intellectual property rights in their Facebook content, including countless photos and written posts, began circulating disclaimers similar to the one above.

So who really owns your Facebook content? You do. Anyone who uses Facebook owns the information and content that he or she posts, as Facebook itself previously stated in a news release. Facebook's terms of service govern its relationship with its users, and they are the only source of Facebook's rights in its users' intellectual property. Pursuant to Facebook's terms of service, a user grants Facebook "a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook," which "ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it." This means that Facebook does not own your photos and other posts, but it can use them unless and until you cancel your account.

But can you alter the terms of service by simply citing the Rome Statute (an international treaty primarily addressing war crimes) and the Uniform Commercial Code (which governs commercial transactions) in a Facebook post? In a word, no. You accept Facebook's terms and conditions by creating an account, and you cannot unilaterally alter those terms by saying that you do not wish to be bound by them. As a practical matter, your only option is to delete your Facebook account if you are not satisfied with its terms of service.

So what do you do next time this privacy notice hoax makes the rounds? Don't take the bait-it's not going to stop Facebook from doing anything with your data. At best, all that these notices are capable of is making your Facebook friends who know better chuckle.

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