Facing Up To the Legal Issues of Facebook – Part 1

June 28, 2007

Thinking about suggesting some Facebook work to a client?  Make sure you read the latest post from our resident PR and Comms legal expert. 


The world of PR has been invaded with ‘New Media’ and with so many social networking sites springing up in the last couple of years it’s easy to see why it’s not just the geeks who are excited. It was the rapidly expanding Facebook which was the nurturing ground for this very blog.   

However, before PR agencies start promising the ‘new media’ world to clients, caution should be applied to ANY work involving Facebook.

Wait before you write that wall post

 Just over a month ago in late May, the UK’s first libel award against someone who had posted a comment on a social networking site was granted when a retired teacher successfully sued a former student who had posted defamatory comments about him on Friends Reunited. Reacting to this, just last week Keele University sent an open letter to all students warning them against placing defamatory comments about their lecturers on Facebook. This is merely a sign of things to come, and the real winners from social networking could turn out to be the Lawyers! 

Take Care over the Copyright

Everyone ticks the ‘I have permission to reproduce this photograph’ box without a care in the world. However, if you use a picture from Facebook without the owner’s permission, you run the risk of violating the copyright of the photo.  All photos put online are, in theory, owned by the person who took the photograph, and they are granted an automatic copyright over the image for their lifetime, plus up to 25 years after they die.  

A key thing to remember: just because a Facebook user has uploaded a photo does not automatically mean they have given their consent for it to be used away from the site. The only foolproof way to use an image is to directly ask the owner for permission to use it, even though that is exceptionally difficult considering the scattered nature of Facebook users. 

In the wider media, there have been instances where permission has been deemed unnecessary due to a “public interest”, for an image to be published. There has been a plethora of litigation on this point since the advent of the Human Rights Act, in 1998, specifically in relation to celebrities and paparazzi photographs (eg. Douglass and Zeta-Jones vs OK! and Naomi Campbell vs Mirror Group Newspapers), but again in the case of social networking sites, precedent has yet to be set on this issue. At this stage, the definition of what lies within the ‘public interest’ is exceptionally hard to pinpoint. 

Are the really out to get us? 

The internet conspiracy theorists have also been getting over-excited with Facebook’s assertion that it “may…collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook…in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience”. The more technically minded of the internet community have been speculating that Facebook has been allowing the CIA/The New World Order/Aliens to use the site for ‘data mining’ (the downloading of the vasts amounts of personal information to third parties without the knowledge of users). However, Facebook have publicly stated that this clause will soon be removed from an updated Privacy Policy, putting these rumors somewhat to bed. However, Facebook has not commented directly on the future of the clause which states “We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” Facebook have again publicly denied actively sharing user information, but remains to be seen if this ambiguously worded section will also be modified or removed. 


1.     When writing Wall Posts, never put anything there that you would not put on a postcard

2.     If you want to use a photograph from Facebook, at the very least credit the site, if not the person who originally uploaded the picture, if you cannot contact them directly.

3.     Somewhat obviously, do not reveal deeply personal information on your homepage, it really could come back to haunt you if you do.


2 Responses to “Facing Up To the Legal Issues of Facebook – Part 1”

  1. Pedantic surfer Says:

    Very interesting, clearly I’m going to have to stop stalking people on facebook using my new nokia n95.

  2. […] from these tips on avoiding legal issues (or these) on facebook, there are a few ways that I have used, and that […]

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