Legal Trouble with Social Networks (Part 1)

5/9/2012 5:32:46 PM

From file sharing networks to social networks, copyright organizations are going after naive users. Could you be the lawyers' next target?

Your mobile phone is always with you, and uploading photos of a party to Facebook is effortless. It's only later that some people face the nasty shock of legal notices, fines, and expensive lawyers' fees. People in countries around the world are waking up to a whole new side effect of using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other networks. So far, there has not been any reason to think about the legal and financial consequences of posting things online. On any typical Facebook profile, there will be party photos, YouTube videos, or text quoted from the web. These can earn a user warning fines of up to 15,000 Euros (RM60,000), says German media rights lawyer Christian Solmecke. He agrees that the feared wave of warnings has not really hit yet, something even other legal experts confirm. However, the danger—and this is where all specialist lawyers agree—is that the industry of lawyers and copyright organizations which has grown powerful by winning cases against file sharers, will now extend their efforts to social networks. Users of Facebook and the like are also spreading copyright-protected content without agreement of the copyright holder—even if they don't know it. If your profile is visible to everyone on the Web, it could become an expensive liability, as millions of people might be able to see a music video, photo or song you post.

Description: Google+

Safe circle - If you publically post on Google+, you can be warned in the same way. But that can be avoided with the circles function

Comic heroes and their dedicated fans

One ongoing trend is that of Facebook users replacing their profile pictures with those of comic heroes, thus provoking the outbreak of copyright warnings.

So far, nothing has happened. Lawyer Guido Kluck of K&W Legal confirms that copyright holders have been very tolerant of such behaviour till now. Still, it is not technically permitted for users to copy pictures from anyone else's Websites to decorate their own profiles. Publishers like DC Comics and Marvel own the copyright for these images, and only they can decide about allowing their use.

Description: Ban - Social - Media

Even photos of real people can be expensive. Lawyer Hagen Hild tells us of a case in which a female Facebook user used the photo of a model. On being contacted, she showed some sense and § removed the picture. You can publish | images of celebrities if you are reporting | about a current event—but this sort of reporting is not usually done via social 1 networks. A post or a comment does not 3 fulfil the criteria.

A good source for less dangerous images is databases like Pixelio or Fotolia. Here too you have to look closely since often it is written in their fair use clauses that the rights for these photos are not to be given to a third party. Facebook reserves exactly this right for itself in its terms of use, which would then violate the photo databases' terms and conditions. Users are complacent because in most cases, copyright holders do not take legal action against personal use, only against commercial use of their pictures.

Posting responsibly

Actual warnings that Facebook users have received usually involve posts with embarrassing photos of others which are not removed even on request. This could happen to anyone, anytime: you might take photos of your colleagues drinking at a party. If the people in the photo object, they have the right to ask you to take down the photos. Ideally, you should not post any pictures without the express approval of the subjects. "Just taking photos at a party does not give you the right to publish them later", says Christian Solmecke.

However, if the party photographer informs all guests in advance that he will post their pictures later on Facebook and nobody protests, then legal experts say that it is implicit consent. In case of any doubt, the person who is posting the photos on to the Web should be able to prove that all the photographed people agreed to be published and that he has the rights to these pictures.

Got one? What now?!

  1. Control is better

Check if you have actually posted the content. If not, reply to the warning in writing within the stipulated time.

  1. Don't sign anything

Don't sign a warning letter in a hurry. It can put you at a disadvantage since it is a legally binding admission of guilt and cannot be terminated.

  1. Take the advice of a specialist lawyer

Take heed of the time limit given in the warning letter and get the demands checked by a specialist lawyer. He or she will mostly be able to negotiate the fines down.

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