IP-rimer: A Basic Explanation of Intellectual Property

Part I: IP-troduction

Maybe it’s a matter of knowledge bias, but I usually wince when I see a discussion of intellectual property online. At best, people make mistakes. Only natural, nobody’s perfect, but we can strive. At worst, people completely misunderstand every aspect of the topic. And this is a topic that comes up a lot online, after all.

So I thought I’d set the record straight with a set of essays discussing the topic, in a hopefully entertaining fashion, to improve understanding.

My Credentials

I am a lawyer, licensed in New York State in the U.S.A., and my work focuses on intellectual property. I have a background in computer programming, and during college I got interested in the intersection of law and technology (and found out I didn’t really like coding that much) and decided to pursue a career in law. I’ve interned for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Creative Commons, and the New York Civil Liberties Union focusing on technology issues. I currently work in a boutique (read: specialist) intellectual property law firm in New York City.

Please note this disclaimer (I’m a lawyer, after all): I am not your attorney. Do not rely on this in making decisions; consult your own lawyer. This is basic educational information on intellectual property, not specific advice related to any specific situation, and this is no substitute for personal, retained (and paid) legal counsel. We, you and I, do not have an attorney-client relationship.

I’m going to be talking about United States law here, because I’m a U.S. lawyer. Specific rules in other countries will be different, but I won’t be talking about specific rules much anyway, so what I say will generally hold up…broadly speaking.

What Is Intellectual Property?

A thing you own that isn’t a physical thing.

Not so helpful, huh? I know.

Philosophical question for you: When you “own” a physical thing, be it a piece of land (what we lawyers call “real property”) or things like your computer or backpack (“personal property” or “chattel property”), what does that actually mean?

This not being law school, I’ll give you the answer. It means that you can control who can do what with it, and the law will back you up. If someone goes onto land you own without permission, that’s a crime: trespassing. If someone takes a computer you own without your permission, that’s larceny, also known as theft (or possibly robbery or burglary, depending on the details, but that’s not relevant). That’s the fundamental right of ownership.

Further, in addition to crimes, trespassing and theft are examples of torts.

Torts?

I know, it’s a cinnamon bun. Do you know how hard it is to find a gif of a tort?

No, I don’t mean pastries.

Larceny and trespassing are crimes, meaning that if you commit them, the enforcement arm of the government, the police and the district attorneys —

In the criminal justice system…

— right, them. They, on behalf of the populace, prosecute crimes. They have the power (through the justice system) to lock the people who commit crimes in jail, force them to pay penalties, require community service, and other forms of punishment.

But also, if someone takes something of yours, or trespasses on your land, or otherwise harms you, you can sue that person to get your stuff back, or get them to stop, or even get some sort of monetary compensation for the harm that person did you.

The world of these lawsuits, called civil lawsuits, is divided into two types of lawsuit: contracts, which is to say, “I had a contract with you and you broke the terms,” and torts, which is to say, anything that isn’t contracts.

Really helpful, I know, but that’s actually the definition. Torts include theft (which is called “conversion” or “trespass to chattels”), trespassing on land…and the torts of infringement of intellectual property. (“Infringement” just means “violating a right to something.”)

Keep in mind that those “rights to control use” have limits. If someone is trying to escape a disaster, or the borders of your land aren’t clear, or even if there is a long tradition of using a path on your land as a shortcut and you haven’t done anything about it for decades, your lawsuit for trespassing can be weakened or even thrown out. (Those are all standard examples from law school, by the way.) For theft, if someone has a mixup and grabs the wrong laptop, you certainly can get it back, but you can’t complain that this was a horrible wrongdoing and you deserve many thousands of dollars in damages.

For that matter, if you can’t prove something was yours, you might not even be able to get it back — which is part of why bigger pieces of personal property, and especially real property, get registered with the government (such as deeds to land or titles to cars).

Real and Intellectual

To recap: When you own a piece of physical property, you can control who can do what with it, within limits.

The same is true for non-physical property, where the important issue isn’t the physical thing, but the thought or concept. Such as the idea and design of a product you invented (as distinct from any specific copy of that design, sold as a product), or the content of a book or song you wrote (as distinct from a copy of the book or a CD with the song on it), or the logo for your company (as distinct from a sign bearing that logo).

Not coincidentally, I just listed the three major forms of intellectual property (commonly shortened to “IP”): patents (invention), copyright (content of book), and trademark (logo).

Because trade secrets and the right of publicity are a bit outside the scope of an introductory essay.

So, this is the upshot:

If you have a patent or copyright or trademark, then you can control, within limits, what people do with your idea or content or logo.

Next, I’ll discuss the specifics: why intellectual property exists, what each form of intellectual property right protects, and the limitations on each form.


Part II: IP-tensive

Why Do Intellectual Property Rights Exist?

IP rights have a somewhat complicated history — there are a lot of debates about why they exist, and many scholars end up tracing back to a guild monopoly in England. But in the modern United States, two of the three forms of IP are specifically provided for in the U.S. Constitution, which lists among the powers of Congress the following power:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

(That’s in Article I, Section 8, clause 8 of the Constitution, if you’re curious.)

This is called the Patent Clause (for the part about inventors and discoveries) or the Copyright Clause (authors and writings). It clearly sets out that in the U.S., the purpose of intellectual property rights — patents and copyrights at least — is “the promotion of the progress of science and the useful arts.” This is an economic rationale: in order to encourage more people to create, the government agrees to allow creators to make a profit from their creations (generally by selling or licensing them).

This constitutes a deal between the government and the creator: the government will recognize (and sometimes even enforce) the creator’s rights for a limited time, and in return, the creator will promote progress by creating.

Note that the deal is “for limited Times.” What this means is that once the time period runs out, the IP is available to everybody, universally. Patents and copyrights both have time limits.

And once that limit is hit, you’re…

In other countries, primarily much of Europe, there’s sometimes another related reason that the U.S. doesn’t generally recognize, which is called a “moral right,” that is, a right based on the more abstract notion of “this is my creation, which means I get to control what happens to it.” This isn’t tied to the economic benefit, but a less tangible “rights of the creator” concept. It’s beside the point here.

Trademarks are a little different, because the general rationale for trademarks is to protect and help consumers. Trademarks are a statement of quality — the manufacturer and/or seller says it’s good enough for them to sell, and you the consumer can use that judgment and your familiarity with the people who have put their name on it as a shortcut for deciding if you want to buy it. And if the product isn’t up to snuff, you know who failed you. So it’s a similar but slightly altered deal: the government protects trademark rights, so companies use trademarks to protect consumers.

What Are the Rights?

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks each have a different scope of protection, a different length of time where the protection applies, and different limits and conditions. Here, I’m going to be showing my U.S.-centric view, I admit, especially regarding the time of protection.

Patents

A patent is the right to control the manufacture, sale, import, and use of an invention.

The scope here is “inventions.” We’ll broadly define those as “products or ways of doing things.” New machines, new formulas for drugs, new ways of manufacturing computer chips. These inventions have to be fully described in the process of getting the patent, so that it’s clear exactly what you’ve invented, and to make sure you haven’t just “invented” something that isn’t really an invention, but just some obvious minor change to an existing thing (like painting a blue chair red and calling it a new chair). Also, depending on exactly how the patent is written, it can cover other specific implementations of the same basic concept. Generally we use the term “idea,” to represent how broad patents can be.

The protections on patents are the broadest. You have near-complete control over who can make or use your invention. Even if someone comes up with the same invention without knowing about yours, you can stop them from making or using it. If somebody wants to license your invention, meaning they pay you for the right to make or use it, you can set whatever terms you want (within the bounds of reason common to all contracts; you can’t contract away basic human rights, for example).

By contrast, the time period is pretty short: Twenty years from when you apply for the patent. (There’s some flexibility on that, but it’s pretty involved and outside the scope of this.) After that, the invention is available for all — and because, as I said, getting a patent involves explaining how to build and use it, you can’t really hide details and get to be the only one who can successfully make it even after the patent expires.

Copyrights

A copyright is the right to control the reproduction, sale, distribution, performance, and derivatives of an original work of authorship.

This time, the scope is “an original work of authorship,” sometimes called “a creative work.” Books, articles, songs, paintings, sculptures, plays, movies, building blueprints, detailed character designs, and more are all examples of creative works. Very importantly, though, copyright protects the specific works, and not the ideas behind them.

I’m going to say that again, because it’s very important, and tends to be misunderstood a lot: You cannot copyright an idea. The best you can do is copyright your specific work based on an idea (this is called the idea/expression distinction in copyright law). So, for example, you might not be able to copyright the idea of “a story where two people from different, competing families or communities fall in love”…but you can (well, the writers can) copyright the words and music to West Side Story or The Fantasticks. Note that these are both generally considered to be based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which itself had earlier incarnations, like the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe — which Shakespeare used again, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s my point: those are all very different expressions of the same basic “two households/star-crossed lovers” idea, and all of them could be separately copyrighted.

(Look up “Abie’s Irish Rose” and “The Cohens and the Kellys” if you want to see more examples.)

That’s Paul McCartney.
And that’s John Lennon. Really.

Back to the analysis: the protections are somewhat more limited. You have primary control over copying and related actions. You get to say who can make copies of a work, display a work if it’s artistic or a movie or the like, perform a work if it’s a play, sell or give away copies, and make derivative works like sequels or retellings. However, there are all sorts of limits on that right. For example, if you own the copyright on an architectural work — if you designed a building — you still can’t stop people from taking pictures of the actual building itself. The most famous limit says that it is not a violation of a copyright to make “fair use” of a work. What constitutes “fair use” depends on a bunch of factors like how much of the work you’re using, whether you’re making money from it, and why you’re doing it — some purposes, such as education, news reporting, or critique, are more likely to be “fair.” We’ll discuss fair use again later, I promise.

Finally, the time period: the term of copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years. In the case that the “author” isn’t a living person but a corporation (this is possible under what’s called the “work for hire” provision, and applies to a lot of the most famous copyrights such as Mickey Mouse), copyright lasts for 120 years from creation or 95 years from first publication, whichever comes first. After that, the work enters the “public domain,” and is free to be used by anybody, for any purpose.

Trademarks

A trademark is the right to control the use of a mark in association with a good or service.

The scope here is a “mark.” This is a word, phrase, symbol, picture, or even sound — NBC’s chimes are trademarked — that is used with a good or service to identify the source of origin.

The protection is “use in association with a good or service.” When you get a trademark, you get it for the specific thing you make, or job you do. If people put your mark on the same or similar stuff they’re selling, you can stop them. Also, if they use your trademark in a way that will hurt the brand recognition of your stuff with your consumers, what’s called “diluting” your trademark, you can stop them. Trademark law protects against falsely claiming where stuff comes from, or damaging people’s brand recognition of your mark.

No, not that sort of Brand…

This has the most varied limitations and factors. How much you can stop people from using or diluting your mark can depend on a few factors: one is the “strength” of your mark, which is whether it means something apart from as your trademark. “Kodak” is considered very strong, because it doesn’t mean anything except the trademark. “Apple” has meaning outside the trademark, but only a few trademarks, one of which is very recognizable, so that’s considered somewhat strong. “Delta” has a bunch of non-trademark meanings, and a number of distinct trademarks (a faucet company and an airline, to name just two), so those are on the weak side.

Mark strength can change, too. If trademarks become sufficiently weak, they can end up not being trademarks anymore. “Band-Aid” and “Kleenex” are technically still trademarks for adhesive bandages and tissues, but they’re in danger of becoming just the generic terms, which you use whether you’re talking about Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages and Kleenex Brand Facial Tissues, or the off-brand stuff you got at the drugstore. (Because this sort of thing is more thoroughly policed in TV dialogue than everyday speech, you’ll occasionally hear very clunky script dialogue regarding trademarked names, like “Do a Google search on it” instead of “Google it,” or, infamously, “I am stuck on Band-Aid Brand…”) Don’t even get me started on “Coke,” especially in the American Southeast.

“I’d like to teach the world to remember a famous commercial…”

Another factor is the fame of your mark. The McDonald’s “Golden Arches” are probably one of the strongest trademarks in the world, because they’re so recognizable. Even if McDonald’s doesn’t sell a given product, if someone else who isn’t Mickey D’s uses the Golden Arches on basically anything, people will think it’s from the “real” McDonald’s, and like I said, trademarks protect falsely claiming where stuff comes from. So that will be infringement.

Given that it’s the weakest form of protection — because you can only stop some things under some circumstances — trademarks have the longest term: as long as you continue to use and defend your trademark.

And we’re done.

No, not really. Next, I’m going to discuss some of the issues in IP law, especially public-facing ones, especially in copyright.


Part III: IP-ssues

So now that you know some of the basics about intellectual property, let’s go a bit further.

But first, it’s time to narrow our focus. Patent law occasionally reaches individuals out in the world, but really, patents are mostly issues between corporations and inventors, not the general public. It’s not common for patent law to interfere with people’s daily lives. If you have a patent law issue — and especially if you’re an inventor or patent holder of some sort — talk to a patent lawyer, but unless you go looking, it’s not likely you’ll have one.

Taking it one step further, a lot of concepts in copyright law have mirrors in trademark law, and copyright tends to be more of a hot-button issue. Trademark is incredibly important, don’t get me wrong. And a lot of people use “copyright” when they really mean “trademark,” and that bugs me when I hear it. But if I’m being honest with myself, copyright is where the action is, especially as it applies to the Internet. So I’ll mention trademark a few times, but really, it’s Copyrights Ahoy! from here on out.

Doesn’t This Violate Free Speech?

Well…

As you probably know, the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States holds that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” (This has since been applied to other governments, like state and local governments, through the Fourteenth Amendment, but I digress. Again.) But that’s a government matter: your right to free speech gives you protection from governments or their agents— like cops — shutting you down because the government doesn’t like what you’re saying, not other people who claim ownership in what you said or did.

So, technically speaking, there is no violation of “free speech” in IP, because you’re not being governmentally anything-ed. But even I think that’s being disingenuous. So let’s look at censorship in general, not just First Amendment-invoking government censorship.

Fairly often, people use copyrighted or trademarked works as part of political commentary or criticism, either of the works themselves or society at large. Think Banksy and his use of big companies’ well known symbols (like, say, “Dismaland”) to comment on those companies or society (or both). If the owners of those copyrighted or trademarked works don’t like what they see, and/or don’t understand that complaining about it will just bring them even worse bad publicity (that’s called the “Streisand Effect”), the owners sometimes try to use copyright or trademark as a club against those people, to force them to stop by accusing them of infringement.

Here’s the catch: when the courts see someone trying to use IP law as censorship, the courts are Not Amused. If someone sues for a copyright or trademark infringement that’s really an attempt to censor, the courts almost universally find against the owner. A good example happened not long ago: a Florida blogger wrote some blog posts criticizing a local businessman, using an unflattering picture of him. The businessman bought the copyright to the picture in order to shut the blogger down. Several years and rounds of lawsuits later, the businessman was told to sit down, shut up, go away, and pay the blogger’s legal fees, because he should have known better than to try to use copyright law to censor the blogger. (See this report for the story.)

This was the picture.

I won’t deny that too many times, owners do successfully use IP to censor, because not everybody can afford the legal fees or time or energy to fight it. That’s awful, a perversion of both justice and law. But that’s a problem with how IP law is implemented and the complexity of the justice system, not the concept of IP.

What’s “Fair Use”?

I simply cannot believe this image actually exists, but…here it is. This is the source.

Like I said, the courts will usually smack around IP owners who overreach. Believe it or not, even judges can’t do whatever they want without a basis for it. (Though it certainly feels like it sometimes.) The actual legal basis for that smacking-around is frequently the fair use exception, which states that the “fair use” of content is not an infringement of an owner’s rights to that content.

The idea is that there are some times when using part of a protected work is something that we as a society want to encourage, but no owner would ever agree to let people do it. Negative reviews of books or movies, for example, that quote some lines of dialogue to describe how bad they are, are the sort of thing we as a society want, but no copyright holder would allow if they could stop it. And again, the use of trademarks to criticize the actions of the big companies that own the trademarks, a la Banksy, is the sort of thing that our society wants to support, but that the trademark holders would never authorize.

(Like I said, this is a concept in both copyright and trademark law, and while I’ll mostly use copyright law in my description, know that a lot of what I say has an analogue in trademark contexts.)

In analyzing whether you’re “fairly’ using something, the law looks at why you’re using it and how you’re using it.

The purpose, the “why,” has to be for something bigger than just your profit margin. The law gives an incomplete list of examples: “Purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” That’s the kind of use where the law is willing to entertain the idea that the use is somehow an exception to IP law. (Which is why this works as an anti-censorship argument: when people try to use IP law to censor something, the thing they’re trying to censor is almost always criticism, commentary, and/or news reporting.) This includes asking whether, and how, you’re going to make money from what you’re doing.

Ronan the Fair-User?

The use itself, the “how,” looks at what sort of work you’re using, how much of it you’re using, in what manner you’re using it, and how it’s going to affect the market for the original thing. Remember, like I said earlier, the US cares about the economic benefit of IP only; the argument of “it’s my baby and nobody is allowed to use it no matter what!” does not fly. So if you can show that you didn’t take a lot, you aren’t making money from it, you did something very different from the original, and what you did won’t serve as a replacement for the original (as in, “why would I buy this book when there’s a pirated version,” that’s an obvious market effect that will hurt a fair use case), you can improve your chances of winning a fair use argument.

Keep in mind that none of these things is itself a deal-breaker; this is a test of all the factors put together. Just because you might actually be making money, or you used a lot of the original, or it actually will affect the market for the original (like a bad review), doesn’t mean your use automatically isn’t fair. It’s really all up to the judge.

So, if you can show that your use was for a fair purpose, and the use was done in a fair manner, you get to say that even though you took a copyrighted work, or a trademarked name or logo, you didn’t actually infringe the copyright or trademark.

What’s the Problem with Fair Use?

Most importantly, fair use only comes up in court. As a function of what I was saying earlier about this being a complicated, multi-factor analysis, you can’t really say a use is fair until a judge says so. This has obvious consequences in the “not everybody has the time, money, or energy” point I mentioned earlier.

Relatedly, up until very recently, fair use was often interpreted, especially by big companies and far too many courts, to be a defense to copyright infringement — that is, when someone was accused of infringement, that person could say “I wasn’t infringing, I was fairly using!” But the accused person had to say it, requiring that person to have a lawyer and get involved in the lawsuit and all that.

This mostly comes up in the context of DMCA takedown notices. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA), which was an attempt to update IP law for new technology around the year 2000, a site like YouTube, which hosts content, isn’t responsible for any copyright-infringing videos that its users put up…as long as it has a place for content owners to send notices of infringement and procedures for taking down infringing videos. And the big media companies have argued for a long time that they didn’t have to consider fair use before sending those “takedown” notices…because it’s not possible to know if a use is fair until a judge says so.

Now, there has been some positive shift in a new direction — in a very recent and highly-watched case, Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., an appeals court recently ruled that fair use is a right authorized by the law, not an excuse or defense that the law allows, and content owners have to consider that question before issuing takedowns — but a shift like that is going to take time to work through, and a lot of media companies are going to be pushing back very hard the whole time.

What Other Issues Exist?

The other big issue you’ll hear about is copyright term. Simply put, a lot of people think that the life of the author plus 70 years is way too long to keep a copyright going. Especially if you consider the whole “economic rationales only” thing. Are we really saying that creators will be more incentivized to make content by the fact that their copyrights will survive 70 years after their death?

Case in point: “Happy Birthday.” Up until 2015 — this year! — that song was claimed as a copyrighted work owned by Warner Brothers. Yes, really. Any time you heard the song being sung in a movie or TV show, there would be a copyright notice in the credits and a royalty paid to Warner, and smaller entities — like chain restaurants — had to use different songs so they didn’t have to worry about being sued.

Let’s be clear: everybody (pretty much) agreed that Mildred and Patty Hill wrote the music for “Happy Birthday” in 1893. And yet, Warner claimed that by some legal sleight of hand, the copyright would last until 2030. It wasn’t until now that a judge has concluded the copyright has expired…and now that decision is getting appealed to higher courts!

Yay.

It doesn’t help that for the past few decades, the major force behind setting the copyright term in the United States has been Hollywood and its ilk: movie, TV, and music companies. Chief among those, the single greatest driving force in pushing for longer copyrights, has been the Walt Disney Company. In 1998 Disney was the primary force in encouraging the “Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” (or, as detractors call it, the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”), which upped the copyright term by at least 20 years across the board. Why? Well, see, “Steamboat Willie” came out in 1928. Under the old term, Mickey Mouse was set to enter the public domain in 2003. Now, it’s set for 2023.

A remix of an old Mickey Mouse cartoon, commenting on the Sonny Bono Act. Remix by Andy Baio.

Would anyone care to place a bet whether there will be another copyright term extension act in the next few years?

That’s about it for the big issues of IP, especially copyright. Next (and finally), we’ll talk briefly about fanworks (like fanart, fanfiction, and fanvids), terms of service, and where to go for more.


Part IV: IP-ternet

What’s This All Mean for Fanworks?

As a matter of technical definition, fanwork — fanfiction, fanart, fanvids, the whole kit and kaboodle — is derivative work. So, it’s either a fair use or an unlicensed violation of copyright, depending on your perspective and the fine details.

No fanworker wants to be the test case for this, and most creators (there are exceptions) don’t really want to be seen as the big bad guys. As a result, there’s mostly an unwritten rule in this sphere, which boils down to “don’t make money from it, and don’t show fanfic to the author.”

The first part of that is, you might say, a side deal layered on top of the copyright deal. This was most famously the deal that Lucasfilm had regarding Star Wars fanwork: they would countenance pretty much anything as long as it wasn’t done for profit. Hell, in some cases they even hired the creators! (Look up Ryan vs. Dorkman.) And, of course, if you were doing something through a sanctioned outlet like the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, of which there have been many, well, you’re sanctioned.

You may have noticed that I was talking about Lucasfilm regarding Star Wars fanwork, and as you might perhaps be aware, Star Wars is now owned by a different company that is historically not as…sanguine about copyright and ownership issues. The fact is, to the best of my knowledge, Disney has not cracked down on Star Wars fanwork any more forcefully (ha, ha); they also haven’t done it with Marvel. But rest assured, people are watching.

The second rule applies more to smaller creators, but what it boils down to is that a number of content creators, especially low-margin ones like authors, are scared of taking risks and even more scared of lawsuits (with good reason!). See, even an unauthorized derivative work can have a new and independent copyright in whatever new elements the derivative work added, and the idea of a tangled copyright suit involving a fanfiction creator suing the author of the work upon which the fanfic was based for infringing the copyright in the new elements in the fanfic are the stuff of publishing lawyers’ nightmares.

In the early- to mid-1990s, there were two reasonably well known examples in fan circles. One involved the late Marion Zimmer Bradley and a Darkover novel, the other an episode of the television series Bablyon 5; in both, the industry got concerned about similarities between fan work and the “official” work and took corrective, some might say overcorrective, action. The novel got spiked, the episode got shelved for two years while the producers tracked down the fan and got a signed release. There’s plenty of online discussion of both cases: I’d start with Jim Hines’s analysis of the Bradley matter, and J. Michael Straczynski’s own words for the B5 case.

The point is, in the wake of those, a lot of creators, particularly authors, have adopted a “hands and eyes off” policy on fanfiction: they don’t mind if you write it, but they won’t read it. This, of course, only generally applies to stories and story ideas; fanart tends to be much more relaxed. And, again, this is mostly a matter for individual authors. If you’re dealing with corporate-owned stuff like, say, Mickey Mouse (or Iron Man, or Leia Organa), this is less of a concern. But it tends to be the most common rule I’ve come across.

Another issue that can come up in fanwork is fanvids, where there are multiple overlapping copyright concerns — the source video material issues is separate from the song issue. Those are still being worked out, but smarter source video owners are seeing the video as free advertising for the source, while the song owners…well, given the changing nature of the music industry, and the prevalence of video sites, it’s a bit tricky for all concerned. In general, there seems to be a live-and-let-live policy developing, thankfully.

What About Facebook’s Terms of Service?

I’m including this one because I know I’ll get flack if I don’t. Yes, every once in a while there’s a flap on social media about some copyright licensing term in the terms of service of Facebook or the like. In short, this is bogus.

I would like to include a Snopes link and move on, and if you want that, here. But in short form, you own what you post on Facebook, and all you’re giving Facebook at any point is the right to post it. Which, because that’s what you want Facebook to do in the first place, is perfectly reasonable.

End of lecture.

Where Can I Go for More?

You mean I haven’t bored you to death yet? Wow. OK…

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the “ACLU of the Internet,” the leading organization advocating for civil rights, including free speech rights, online. They tend to be at the forefront of debates about copyright being used to censor or about overly restrictive IP terms harming the Internet, and I urge you all to support their work.

The American Civil Liberties Union is the ACLU of, well, everything, and they do work in this area as well, frequently alongside the EFF.

Techdirt does good reporting on tech/legal issues, especially IP, when they hit the news.

Lumen, formerly the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, archives DMCA takedown notices and other requests to remove information from the Internet.

The Creative Commons has developed an alternate system for protecting some IP ownership rights while encouraging a sharing and remixing culture.

Some of my favorite scholars in this field include (with their Medium names, or else Twitter handles): Lawrence Lessig, Casey Fiesler (@cfiesler), Tiffany Li (@tiffanycli), Rebecca Tushnet (@rtushnet), Henry Jenkins, danah boyd, Jonathan Zittrain, Bruce Sterling, and John Perry Barlow. I know I’m forgetting some, but that’s a starter for you.

Oh, and to all those people I just namechecked?

There, that should do.

Final Words

Thank you for reading this far. Even I’m shocked and I wrote the damn thing. I hope you learned something. Please share this link as widely as you can. If I’ve managed to use Medium correctly, it should be licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.

Oh, and if I’ve made any mistakes or missteps, please let me know.