Fake Facebook Profiles: Are They Legal? Can I Get in Trouble?
Introduction to Fake Facebook Profiles
In August of 2012, CNN reported that there were currently over 83 MILLION fake / impostor Facebook profiles as of that time - and that Facebook was working hard to rid their site of these frauds.
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Crime #1: Violation of Facebook Terms
Facebook Terms state that each individual can only have one account. In a quote from Facebook: "Facebook is a community where people share and interact using their real identities. When everyone uses their real name"
So, as soon as you create a fake profile, you are entering information that is not your real identity. This fake information does not contain your real employment, relationship or other statuses:
and as soon as you type in this "fraudulent" information, you have officially violated Facebook Terms.
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Crime #2: Misrepresentation
Honestly, violating Facebook Terms is really the least of the issues you can face. The heavy-hitters come when you begin breaking the law Criminally and/or Civially.
The moment you upload photos of the "fake" individual, you have committed one or more crimes.
If the photo is someone you found through a google search or took off someone elses profile, you have just 1. Misrepresented your Identity, 2. Stolen interlectual Property and 3. Possibly committed Identity Theft.
Let's start with Misrepresentation.
Misrepresentation is legally referred to as "An assertion or manifestation by words or conduct that is not in accord with the facts."
What this means is that if you are John Doe and you live in Alabama and work as a fence rapir man and you create a profile claiming to be Jimmy Smith who lives in Michigan and works for Ford Motor Company; you have outright misreprensented facts: the "facts" are you are NOT Jimmy Smith, you do NOT live in Michigan and you do NOT work for Ford Motor Company.
The misrepresentation builds even further when you begin corrosponding with others acting as Jimmy Smith.
Misrepresentation is a Civil "Tort" as opposed to a "crime". Misrepresentation becomes punishable civally when it creates Loss for the listener/reader.
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Crime #2: Stolen Property (Images) Copyright Infringement
The photo(s) you pulled from the internet are not your property to use (unless you have purchased stock images, yet the terms of stock image site also state that images cannot be used in manners that violate the law - in which case, creating a false identity would be a violation of the law). Regardless, you did not take the photos, the photos are not of you and someone else DID take the photos.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) enacted in 1998, prevents others from using images or "work" in general without the permission from the author.
Legal Punishments for Copyright Infringement:
YOU will be fully responsible for ALL fees incured by the individual who had to incur Loss in efforts to get you to take down their photos.
The route the individual you ripped off the pics from is up to that individual. They may choose to do one or more of the following:
1. Hire a Lawyer to send you a Cease and Dessit Letter and demand you remove the photos (this is providing the individual knows who you are). The costs to retain the lawyer and have the letter sent to you can rang from $800 - $2,000 depending on how much effort went into locating you and the lawyers hourly rates.
2. Hire a Lawyer and file a legal case. This can be big, big bucks. If the Lawyer needs to send subpoenas to Facebook to obtain your information and so on, you could be looking at owing $8,000+.
3. U.S. law states that you are entitled to actual or statutory damages for infringement as provided by 17 U.S.C. Chapter 5, specifically section 504. The damages that you can receive from infringement can amount to 3x the licensing fee for images - so if you happened to rip off an image that was licensed; you could face even more fees. Civil penalties ("damages") for a licensed image can leave the pirate on the hook for up to $150,000 for each misused photo.
4. Even copyright infriengement cases of NON LICENSED images have resulted in judgements of over $2,000 plus court costs.
Crime #3: Identity Theft
Whether you purposely use someone elses identity as shown in court cases, or you just "make a fake identity", you are operating as an identity that is not your own identity and therefore is likely to cause confusion in addition to harm.
In the case that you make a fake facebook profile with the direct intention of using someone elses real identity; let's say you make a fake profile claiming to be me, or a celebrity or even a coworker - you have now committed identity theft. Court cases have already issued jail sentences for Fake Facebook profiles; in this particular case, a woman was sentenced to 18 months in jail for her Fake Facebook Profile she created to get back at her ex boyfriend.
Or, let's say, by pretending to be Jimmy Smith who works for Ford in Michigan....there indeed does happen to be a Jimmy Smith who works for Ford in Michigan and due to your fake profile, Jimmy Smith is now suspended or terminated (pending a full investigation); you may owe Jimmy Smith his salary in addition to legal fees.
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