Legal Trouble with Social Networks (Part 3) - User tracking on Facebook & Small businesses are vulnerable

5/9/2012 5:35:32 PM

User tracking on Facebook

Before sending a warning to your postal address, the copyright holder has to find the user. The ingenious methods used to spy on file sharing networks and identify IP addresses of file sharers do not work on Facebook. Instead, they have to turn directly to the company. In many countries, Facebook can be required to hand over the names and addresses of anonymous users in case they have broken the law.

Description: YouTube video

Dangerous links If you are unsure whether a YouTube video is safe in terms of copyright, then better not post it.

But while rightsholders have been quick to clamp down on suspected pirates in the past, they are less aggressive when it comes to networks like Facebook. They are usually satisfied if Facebook deletes the data in question, and do not press the company to reveal the identity of the user. Facebook has already received many such takedown notices, but did not want to reveal the name of the requesting party to us.

This does not imply that Facebook users should not consider themselves safe, since there have been cases that only a few know of. For example, if all the members of an amateur band upload a self-recorded video of a song cover and share it with their friends and family on Facebook, it will probably be seen by a few hundred people. Thus, the consumption of the song is no longer private; it becomes a public broadcast— and that costs money. If you post a video of yourself singing or dancing along to a song, or use it as background music for a video clip, you could be confronted with licence claims. If you want to cover a song or use it in any other way, you should ideally obtain permission from the rightsholder as well as the relevant broadcast licensing bodies.

Apart from music and videos in posts on Facebook profiles, you will also find extracts from books and articles, or witty comments from websites or speeches. Even these can turn out to be extremely expensive, as a few cases from the past prove. Anneliese Kuhn, heiress of the artist Karl Valentin, is one of a number of people who have been sending warnings out for years now. Lawyers set the value of quotes from Valentin (such as the well-known "A stranger is only a stranger in a strange land") at 10,000 Euros (RM40,000). This value, a part of every such warning, depends on the commercial interest of the claimant. But the actual costs according to a judicial process are much lower. You are safe using quotes if the quoted person has been dead for 70 years or more—then his copyright expires. Thus, Karl Valentin fans will have to wait till 2018. Protected quotes or text passages can generally be used only if you characterize them as quotes, cite the source and put in a context—like an academic work. Whether a status message on Facebook fulfils this condition is one of several unclear legal questions regarding social networks. But if you use the quote only as decoration for your profile or website, then you are definitely infringing on the copyright of the late artist's estate.

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.

Small businesses are vulnerable


Description: Sale on Facebook

If you are allowed to share content on Facebook only to a limited extent, then can you sell something? If you have bought yourself a new digital camera and want to offer your old one in your friends circle, you are already moving in grey areas. As a private citizen you can certainly sell something if you want. But as soon as you offer several units of the same object or many similar objects at once, then you are legally a businessman.

In this case—especially when dealing with strangers as customers—you have to give the same information as other web shops: complete contact details, correct instructions about returns and guarantees, information about long-distance shipping, and assurances of data protection as well as the right prices and delivery times. Warning letters between competing online shops are quite regular but experts believe that this will increase on Facebook also. However, this concerns mostly commercial vendors.

It is uncertain at the moment if a wave of warning letters will start hitting private users of Facebook, Google+ and other similar services. Christian Solmecke believes that it is only a matter of time before the legal industry makes social networks its next hunting ground. His theory is supported by the fact that obsolete legal regulations do not serve current scenarios and thus leave quite a few loopholes open. Guido Kluck believes that warning letters will be posted only if people increasingly publish copyrighted content, and if the copyright holder can get user data even from profiles that are not open to the public more easily. Then it might be completely possible "that a few organizations will discover this area as a business model for their legal teams to capitalize on". It took roughly five years from the launch of Napster in 1999 for opportunists to start hunting down file sharers, a practice which really took off around 2004. Today, thousands of cases are being filed in order to flood the courts and force financial settlements. With such a precedent, Web users should start taking precautions right now.

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