Why Does the Internet Think It's So Special?

Posted on September 7th, 2012 by True Media

Especially social media, and especially when it comes to the law, and legal issues?

Sandy Davidson, University of Missouri

This post came across my inbox, and it’s truly apropos of the discussion we were having recently at a local PRSA event. The PRSA luncheon was called “Can I Post That? Keeping Up with the Fast-Moving Target of Social Media and the Law.” It was presented by Sandy Davidson, professor, MU School of Law and MU School of Journalism. She is a truly wonderful and entertaining educator who really knows her stuff when it comes to legal issues with traditional journalism.  The main point of her talk was that traditional copyright and legal limitations should apply to online interaction, including social media, and that just because the medium is new doesn’t mean the old laws don’t apply.
I agree with this somewhat, but I still left feeling like I needed more information. I was hoping that we would discuss more examples of legal issues that arise from the prevalent use of social media in today’s society. I don’t really fault the speaker, I just get frustrated that there aren’t more legal precedents set for me to draw on for our clients, who come to me asking about whether or not they should link to a certain article in their corporate blog or share a certain picture or post on their brands’ Facebook page. Brands are scared of the many “what if’s” involved in engaging in a communication medium that they don’t fully control and don’t fully understand. I also don’t think that someone who is giving a lecture at a luncheon about social media should open with the fact that she doesn’t use most social media channels, if any at all. But I digress.
The lecture was very informative and gave me a refresher on what those traditional laws are as they relate to libel, privacy and copyright law. I’m no lawyer, and when my clients come to us asking those tough questions I advise them to run it by their corporate legal team. However it’s always good to know how, for example if something inappropriate or inaccurate is posted in a comment on a blog the publisher (i.e. the brand) is not necessarily liable for a remark that came from the community interacting with the brand. Also, that if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy then maybe you shouldn’t take that pic and share it out on Twitter to your 800 followers. This brought up the interesting and sad case of Tyler Clemente, and a rousing discussion about Google Earth, according to the law there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy from the air.” I’ll let you Google “most embarrassing Google Earth pics” on your own.
I think copyright laws win the category of most out of date in relation to the Internet. According to the law, the internet violates copyright laws all the time. So I guess the Internet does think it’s a little special. The vastness of the internet makes it very difficult to regulate, obviously, and the walled gardens surrounding social media the likes of Facebook make it even more difficult.
Time will tell when all this is sorted out. As social media grows and evolves precedents will be set. Until then we’re all just trying to figure it out. Know a good lawyer?