Facebook: Is this your personal property or not?


November 05 2014


Within five seconds, you can take a photo on a smart phone and share it with the world. Or the world on Facebook. It can’t be denied that Facebook and other social media sites have revolutionised the way we communicate with our ‘friends’ or our potential customers. However, the question of whether you continue to own your Facebook profile is a matter of debate.

You would assume that you have ‘ownership’ of your Facebook ‘page’. You have possession and control of your Facebook account and profile. The ownership of original work relating to photographs, literary work and videos is covered in New Zealand by section 14 of the Copyright Act 1994. In the common law, a body of case law supports a copyright owner if any entity infringes the rights of a copyright owner. Potentially, with Facebook accounts, each Facebook post is arguably an original work being published and this blurs the lines of the law relating to copyright. On a practical level, it’s now a case where technology and society has moved light years ahead of the legal rules applying to this area. So what can you do to protect your privacy and information?

At the bottom of the Facebook page there’s a link to the Terms and this takes you to another website page detailing the terms you agree to when you’re a Facebook user. In using Facebook, you’re required to continually abide by their Terms at all times, keeping in mind that Facebook is entitled to change its Terms at any time. If you’re a Facebook user, the top three facts you need to know about the content and information that Facebook ‘receives’ from you are below.

1. Do I own my Facebook account?

Your account includes your login, the information you provide Facebook and the content you upload and share. The Terms define the words ‘content’ and ‘information’ as being separate. Your content is the photos, videos and posts that you make while using your Facebook account, whereas your information is your name, date of birth and any email address or mobile number you supply. For a business, if you’re thinking of selling your business then it may mean supplying your Facebook account details as a part of the deal. Facebook Terms maintain that it’s your responsibility to understand your account and privacy settings. Therefore if you don’t bother to set your own controls, then the risk is on you entirely for any information and content being circulated that you don’t want out in the public arena.

2. Do I own my Facebook content?

Initially, you own the photograph and/or the video you take. You will, most likely, be able to maintain control of the specific photograph or video if you don’t email or share in any way. But what’s the point in that we hear you ask? Remember, once you upload your content to your Facebook account, your ‘Friends’ can share with their ‘Friends’ and so on. The best option is to be prepared that once you share a photo then you have lost control of who can use this image. This doesn’t impact so much if you’re using Facebook on a personal basis. There is, however, more risk if you’re using Facebook for business as you can upload content which breaches another’s copyright or another person can more easily set up a business which looks similar to yours at very little or no cost.

3. What can Facebook do with my information?

Facebook largely uses your information for promotional purposes to target advertising for a specific demographic. Whilst Facebook may promise that it will always be free to the user, this comes at the price of foregoing some of your privacy and being subjected to advertising while trying to see what your ‘Friends’ are up to on holiday. If you want to avoid a breach of your privacy, then we suggest that you provide as little information as possible to Facebook. In short, you can’t assume that you’ll always be able to control your content and information once the Facebook platform has received your information and content. Remember you are a Facebook user at your own risk.


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