You don’t have to read 200 pages of William Paltry’s Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars to understand that copyright law in the digital age is a difficult thing to grapple with. Paltry, the Senior Copyright Counselor at Google and the Copyright Counselor for the U.S. House of Representatives, hammers home the idea that new technologies and old understandings of copyright law have left consumers and enterprises in a state of uncertainty.
To save you from reading this dense pontification on the theory of copyright in 2015, especially surrounding social media, the following identifies the legal issues a company may face as it integrates social media into its business practices.
Neal & McDevitt, an Intellectual Property Law, Marketing Law, and Internet Law Firm based in Chicago identified the following as the “Top 10 Legal Issues in Social Media.”
1. Disclosure of Confidential Information
- This might be the most simple of the 10 suggested by Neal & McDevitt. Don’t disclose confidential or proprietary information about your business or consumers on social media.
2. Unauthorized Use of Trademarks
- In most situations it’s “fair game” to refer to a company in the form of a testimonial with positive or negative sentiment- but it’s not permissible to use the trademarks of others to create a false endorsement of a company.
3. Unauthorized use of Copyright-Protected Works
- Copyright-protected works, such as text, videos, music, pictures, etc are often copied from one location or social channel and used on websites without the authorization of the content owner. Site owners may me protected as “safe harborers”- and simply asked to remove the infringing content- but site owners aren’t guaranteed notice.
- The best practice is to seek permission before using material that appears to be copyrighted. Issues for brands arise when attempting to do this at scale.
4. Defamation Issues
- Everyone be nice to everyone :) If you think you’re protected behind the veil of internet trolling, even anonymity doesn’t protect you from being liable for your words.
5. Electronic Discovery
- This applies to litigation as courts have begun to use 140 characters in the same way that they’ve used emails and scanned documents in the past.
6. Dynamic Information
- Information that can be edited by everyone, such as Wikipedia, and the potential of anyone to use that forum to add unfavorable or even untrue information about a brand.
7. Human Resources Issues
- Issues centered on unlawful discrimination based on social profiles.
- Similar to defamation but protecting securities. Neal & McDevitt sites a situation in which the CEO of Whole Foods tweeted about his competitor Wild Oats- and their stock price fell.
9. Privacy / Publicity
- Neal & McDevitt use the example of a “seemingly innocuous Twitter comment” about a hospital patient’s condition- violating the privacy and policy rights of individuals.
- The Federal Trade Commission has mandated that bloggers must disclose any paid endorsements.
I am by no means an attorney but this list reflects my best summery of the Neal & McDevitt report that you can see here.