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Why the Copyright Copypasta Persists

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Cresting at some point yesterday evening, a wave of celebrities began telling Instagram that the service is forbidden from sharing their content. “I do not give Instagram or any entities associated with Instagram permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future,” the copypasta — a slang term for any block of text that gets copied and pasted repeatedly — states. Every instance of the Instagram name is in a different font, which should be an obvious hint that this text is not an original work, and it cites a “new Instagram rule” as reported by “Channel 13” that Instagram now owns everything you post. That’s not how it works, but I am desperately hoping you already knew this.

The myth of platforms wresting ownership of intellectual property from users is an internet tale as old as time, and I have no idea why this particular example has caught on so strongly, especially among the celebrity crowd. Maybe growing fears of the power of Big Tech brought it back up to the surface. Like other privacy controls, the public rebuke lets us feel some semblance of power over systems we cannot effectively control.

Here is the vital component from Instagram’s:

forced-arbitration clauses. Back when terms of use were written in endless blocks of text in nearly impenetrable legalese, a sentence like Instagram’s licensing might be regarded as a trick.

Now Instagram and other big platforms have learned to spell things out in plain English: Right before the sentence granting them an endless license to users’ content, the terms state, “We do not claim ownership of your content that you post on or through the Service.” You could easily be forgiven, though, for maintaining your skepticism.

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