Eliza Steely

Social Media & The Law – 11 Things You Need to Know Now

social media and the lawAt TopRank Online Marketing, our Monday mornings are usually filled with lots and lots of coffee, the clicking and clacking of keyboards being furiously typed on, and the chatter of internal meetings. But this week, our Monday was full of bacon, social media, and the law.

Several of our social media savvy team attended the monthly Minneapolis and St. Paul Social Media Breakfast that delved into how social media and the law intersect.

A panel of lawyers, Emily Buchholz and John C. Pickerill, answered questions about everything ranging from copyright infringement and employers asking for account logins to what photos are ok to post and how to deal with negative comments online. If you’re involved in the social media world, legal issues can and will affect you.

Here are 11 important tips on social media and the law gleaned from Amie, Katie, Emily and myself from TopRank:

Amie Krone:

  1. Expect to receive the same consequences online as in real life. Freedom of speech is applicable to online communications, however you can still be fired for anything. Personal responsibility.
  2. Pinterest is a copyright infringement machine. It is only going to be a matter of time for someone to use for evil instead of good. Make sure you’re aware of copyrighted material. Although less likely, you could be held responsible for infringement.
  3. There is a ton of gray area – it all comes down to the details of each case. It’s best to use your best judgement and common sense. If you have a doubt, don’t post it. Once you do, it’s out there for good. It’s all about risk assessment.
  4. If running sweepstakes in social channels, be sure you’re aware of all of the rules & regulations for each state in terms of disclosures. Many are playing the risks until the FTC starts to get involved, since there aren’t many case studies to guide the way.

Katie Bresnahan:

  1. Using short phrases in online messaging will keep your quotation/attribution vague (and safer) – if you use the entire “heart” of a story, you’re running the risk of copyright infringement.
  2. If you want to cover your bases for utilizing photos of customers/attendees at an event or business in social media, be sure to clearly post that by attending they are implying consent unless otherwise documented.
  3. Facebook’s decision to take down the “I Hate the Pedal Pub” Page was more about Facebook’s judgement of its own site than it would be for the Pedal Pub to have legal grounds to have it removed. Be careful of what you post–checking site guidelines and being aware of what is acceptable (and not accepted) is important on every online platform.

Emily Bacheller:

  1. Taking photos of people at an event and sharing the photo on social media sites is fairly low-risk. However, the more places you share the photo (i.e. in a blog post or in promotional material) the higher your risk becomes as more and more people view the image. There also tends to be more backlash when they are photos of children.
  2. When running a social contest, make the rules clear, short and sweet to increase the odds that the participants will actually read and understand them.
  3. Use short phrases and include a link to the content that you pulled the quote from when using a direct quote in a social message. The clearer you are with attribution, the better.
  4. If content that you posted in a social message is fodder for a lawsuit, or you have been requested to cease and desist, taking down the content is usually an effective way to avoid litigation.

Eliza Steely:

  1. Following someone on Twitter or retweeting something they write doesn’t necessarily imply endorsement. It is still a gray area. However, engaging in a like is associated with approving of that specific content. If you’re uncomfortable with how your online interaction will appear to others, don’t do it.
  2. When it comes to using any non-original content it is important to be as specific and clear as possible. Remember to attribute, link to the necessary sources (especially with disclaimers, rules etc.). Infringement travels, and you don’t want to get stuck with a bad outcome. Read guidelines and laws first to make sure you know what you can and can’t do.
  3. Don’t necessarily delete all negative reviews/comments. They give you the opportunity to address any bad vibes. Plus, it looks a little fishy if all you have are rave reviews. Allowing all voices to be heard helps minimize your risk of being accused of false advertising.
  4. You can’t say anything just because you have the power to type it in. Be honest and truthful. Think your actions through–if it seems like a gray area, think it through even harder.

Essentially there are three things you can do to protect yourself online:

  • Attibute, Quote, Cite…however you have to identify your non-original material
  • Use common sense. If you don’t want someone posting that about you, don’t post it about someone else. If you’re worried about clicking “send” or “post” there’s probably a reason, so don’t do it
  • Know the rules. It’s easier to break them if you pretend they don’t exist, but doing so opens you up for litigation, and backlash in an arena where news travels fast.

A big thanks to all the lawyers who took part in the panel, and the audience members who thought of great questions to ask! As well as Mykl Roventine and the Social Media Breakfast MSP volunteers.

Have you run into any sticky situations with social media and the law? What are some questions or tips you have on dealing with them?

Image: Shutterstock

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  1. Well done Eliza, Aime, Katie and Emily!

  2. Great things to remember while posting!

  3. Avatar Conectivista says

    very useful quotes!

  4. I am happy to see that law’s. Its great.

  5. Avatar Leslie Hawes says

    If it isn’t yours, and you don’t know the original source, don’t post it, specifically, photos or art. Disclaimers do not absolve you from copyright infringement. ‘Posting first and apologizing after the fact’ is the bane of the artist’s online existence.

  6. Avatar Carol Caldwell says

    Attributing, citing and quoting while nice are no substitute for asking the original artist, composer, author’s permission before you include their work. Failing to seek and get permission to use another’s work can leave you open.for a varity of reprecussions including facing charges of copyright infringmennt. Always ask first.

  7. Avatar michael bian says

    Great advice. Definitely I will bookmark it.

  8. I like the efforts you have put in this, appreciate it for all the great posts.

  9. Hi,

    Blogs and photos get shared across Facebook all the time. Are you allowed to share any blogs in Facebook posts though if you’re posting on a business Facebook page. I’m asking because there’s a great pictorial blog that the followers of my business social media pages would love but I’m nervous about mentioning them and posting a link to their site because their T&Cs state:

    “[As a commercial operation] You must not:

    (a) republish material from this website (including republication on another website);

    (c) show any material from the website in public;

    (d) reproduce, duplicate, copy or otherwise exploit material on our website for a commercial purpose”

    We wouldn’t publish their stuff on our website, we just want to alert our followers to their great blog posts, which in the end is good for them too.

    There are lots of grey areas with social media sharing, and I’d like some advice on this one. I’m pretty certain the answer is “no, we can’t link to their blogs”, but I just want to check.


  10. Everything that is on the internet is free to use for annyone! You are destroying net neutrality! A lot of artists don’t mind if there work is copied by other’s, that just means they like what they’ve made! And some people actually give credit to the artist.
    I don’t like this you people spread lies about how art is not free for everyone.
    People make parodies! Just accept it!
    The media industries took enough money from the artists!
    With the internet artists have mever been this free and what you do will put them back in the shackles of the industry.
    You don’t even know what you’re really talking about but you think you do