YouTube Pulled My Video

Leaked YouTube Video by C_osett from Flickr (Public Domain)

Leaked YouTube Video by C_osett from Flickr (Public Domain)

Carter Law Firm releases a new Question of the Day video on its YouTube channel every Wednesday. I record these videos in advance in batches and then schedule them to be released on a weekly basis. The questions and topics for this videos come from terms people search for and end up on my site, questions I receive via email, and recent events related to business law, social media law, and intellectual property.

I schedule the videos to be published at 3am Arizona time so each new video is live by the time I get up on Wednesday morning. This past Wednesday, I awoke to a surprising email from YouTube:

The YouTube community flagged one or more of your videos as inappropriate. After reviewing the content, we’ve determined that the videos violate our Community Guidelines. As a result, we removed the following videos from YouTube . . . .

Wait…what?!? I do Q&A videos about legal questions. How did I violate their community standards?

The video in question was entitled, “Posting Pictures of a Girl you Bought Online.” This was a phrase someone searched for an ended up on this site. I started this video by questioning whether the person was asking about the legalities of posting a photo that he/she had purchased and the image depicted contains another person (copyright and rights of publicity issues) or if the person had purchased another human being and wanted to know if he/she could post an image of the purchased person online (human trafficking issues). I assumed the person was asking about copyright and publicity rights and addressed those issues in a general sense.

So why was the video pulled? Perhaps someone thought I made too light an issue of human trafficking (which I would never intentionally do). Whatever the reason, I sighed and thought “Their site. Their rules.” Whoever controls a forum decides what others can and can’t post on it. If they had an issue with my video, it was their prerogative to remove it. If you want to see it, I posted it on the Carter Law Firm Facebook page.

If you have a website where others can post comments or other content, you get to set the rules regarding what is and is not allowed. As long as your rules aren’t illegal, you can write them however you want. Even this site has a terms of service.

If you want more information about website terms of service, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about YouTube’s policies or terms or service in general, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Why Taylor Swift Won

Taylor Swift 092 by GabboT from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Taylor Swift 092 by GabboT from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few weeks ago, Jesse Braham sued singer Taylor Swift and her record label for $42 million for copyright infringement, alleging that she copied the lyrics from his song “Haters Gone Hate” in her song “Shake It Off.” Braham claimed to be the author of the phrases “Haters gone hate” and “Playas gone play,” which are similar to the lyrics in Swift songs. He claimed that Swift never could have written her song if it wasn’t for his. (Note: There are no other obvious similarities between these two pieces of music.)

Last Friday, United States District Court Judge Gail Standish dismissed the case in a brilliant fashion, saying, “At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court. But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them.”

So why did Taylor Swift win this case, legally speaking? (Anyone who read the article about the lawsuit probably thought Braham had no basis for bringing the claim.) Under the U.S. Copyright Act, to get a copyright, you need an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. Writing lyrics for a song on paper or creating an mp3 of a song would each qualify as a copyrightable work. Short phrases are typically not original enough to quality as an “original work of authorship.” That’s why Paris Hilton couldn’t get a copyright for “That’s hot.”

If Braham had a copyright in “haters gone hate,” he could stop anyone from using the phrase unless they bought a license from him. As far as I know, he only went after Swift for infringement.

Braham also wanted credit as an author of “Shake It Off.” I suspect he was hoping for a similar outcome as the Sam Smith/Tom Petty case over Smith’s song “Stay with Me” where Petty was credited as a co-author in the settlement.

My question in this situation was, “What lawyer would take on case?” It’s a violation of the Rules of Professional Responsibility for a lawyer to file a lawsuit if their client doesn’t have a case. It turns out, Braham didn’t have a lawyer. He filed the lawsuit by himself. He also requested that the court waive the filing fees, saying that he had not had a job since 2006.

If you believe that someone is violating you copyright, please contact an intellectual property attorney in your community. These cases have to be evaluated on the facts of each situation. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to copyright law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Residential Holiday Light Shows | Is That Legal

Christmas Lights by Luke Jones from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Christmas Lights by Luke Jones from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A friend sent a link to this article on Gawker about Kevin Judd of Riverside, California who had an awesome Halloween light show that was synchronized to music like Gangham Style . . . at least he did until his HOA shut him down. My friend asked if displays like this are otherwise legal.

To be clear, I’m not a scrooge when it comes to these types of light displays. I appreciate the time, effort, creativity, and innovation that goes into putting one of these amazing shows together. When I was a law student, watching the video of a light show to David Foster’s Carol of the Bells was the only thing that could make me smile while I was studying for finals.

Despite my enjoyment of these light shows, there could be legal issues related to them. The main one I see is copyright infringement. Whoever owns the copyright in a song gets to control where the music is performed. When you buy a song on iTunes, it’s for personal enjoyment, not for public performances. If anyone who created this type of light show, especially if it’s they’re making money from it, they should get a license to play it.

However, I wonder if these light shows qualify as a permissible use under fair use. (Fair use protects the use and transformation of others’ work to create new works, as long as you’re not interfering with artists’ ability to benefit from creating their original art.) My mnemonic device for the fair use factors is PAIN:

  • Purpose: Definitely transformative and noncommercial if you’re not charging people to watch it.
  • Amount Used: The whole song is typically used, but that makes sense given the circumstances.
  • Impact on the market: Attending a light show will likely not be a replacement for someone who only wants to listen to the music.
  • Nature of the Works: Integrating an audio file into a larger multimedia performance.

If someone is doing a light show on their home without charging a fee, there may be a decent argument that what they’re doing is protected by fair use. To date, I have no heard of a record label ordering someone to stop using their music in a holiday display on a home. I suspect they appreciate the free advertising and they don’t want to be seen as the mean rich record label that shut down the light show that made children happy.

Even though using music in a light show may be legal under copyright under fair use or a license, there may be other legal implications like HOA rules, city noise and/or light ordinances, and causing traffic problems. If you want to chat about the legal issues related to your holiday display, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

No Easy Answers in Social Media Law

Math Castle by Gabriel Molina from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Math Castle by Gabriel Molina from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier this week I did an interview for Casual Fridays with Tyler Anderson about social media law. I had a great time talking about copyright, trademark, and the FTC rules that apply to social media and the internet in general.

Whenever I do a Q&A on social media law, I tend to get the same types questions over and over again:

  • Can I use any image I find online if I give an attribution and a link to the original? What if I’m not making money off it?
  • I just want to use 10 seconds of a song. Is that ok?
  • If someone sends me a photo, I own it, right? I can do anything I want with it, right?
  • How much do I have to change someone else’s work to qualify for fair use?

As I listened to Tyler’s questions, I realized that he and most social media marketers and entrepreneurs are looking for clear answers. They want things to be as black-and-white as possible, but unfortunately the law is filled with shades of gray, especially in emerging area of law where the technology is advancing faster than the law can keep up.

The best a person can do is to be aware of the basics of copyright, trademark, contract, and privacy laws and assume that there are no easy answers to their questions, even when it seems simple. I also recommend that business owners meet with their lawyers once a year (just like you meet with your accountant) to review their business and standards of practice to make sure that your business is in compliance with the law.

If you want more information about social media law, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

FTC & Promotions – Always Disclose Relationships

My box of Mental Mojo - love this stuff! (Thanks to the owners for sending me free product!)

My box of Mental Mojo – love this stuff! (Thanks to the owners for sending me free product!)

My friends own a company called Mental Mojo – it’s a powder that contains caffeine and cognitive enhancers that you mix in water. I drink it when I’m tired – it helps me get my work done without making me jittery. (I love that it turns my water super nerd green, which reminds me of this infamous exchange between Data and Scotty on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Because I talk about it so much online, I usually get my Mental Mojo for free (and they’ve invited me to the taste test for the new flavors). I’m not a paid spokesperson for this company, but I do get benefits from promoting the product. As such, every time I talk about drinking free product, I need to disclose my relationship with this company – not just because it shows transparency, but because the federal law requires it.

FTC Rules about Promotions
The Federal Trade Commission has strict rules about making “clear and conspicuous” disclosures when a person has a relationship with a company. These rules apply to spokespeople, online contest participants, product reviewers, and companies that use affiliate links on your site. When you are compensated for giving an opinion, you have to disclose your relationship.

If you fail to disclose a relationship with a company, the FTC can fine you up to $11,000. And they can go after you or the company.

Even in 140 Characters
And don’t think for a second that tweets or other micro-form social media sites are exempt from this rule. At the very least, you have to include “#ad” on your post. It’s not enough to include a link to a site that includes the disclosure of your relationship.

Truthfulness and Transparency
Whenever you write a product review, whether it’s on a review site like Yelp, a product review blog post, or providing a quote for their website or LinkedIn profile, you must provide a truthful and accurate review of the product or service. Posting fake or embellished reviews (positive or negative) violates the FTC rules.

I’ve written product reviews and I appreciate that my editors respect the FTC rules by asking us to describe the benefits and drawbacks of each product we try.

Video Disclosures
If you do reviews in video form – including unboxing videos – you need to disclose when you get free product and provide honest reviews. The FTC says it’s not enough to have the disclosure in the video notes. You have to say it or post verbiage to that effect at the beginning of your video and possibly repeat this information throughout the video depending on its length.

This disclosure doesn’t have to be complex. It can be something like, “The guys at Mental Mojo sent me this free box of their product. Let’s try it out.” (If you are trying Mental Mojo for the first time, the flavor may be a bit strong. Until you get used to the taste, you may want to mix it with club soda instead of plain water. The carbonation helps take the edge off.)

Final Thoughts
Disclose disclose disclose. If you get a benefit from talking about a product or company online, disclose it. Whether it’s your employer, a client, or a company that sends you stuff for free – it should be crystal clear to anyone who sees your posts that you have a relationship with the company.

If you work with spokespersons or campaign partners, make sure part of your relationship includes an educational component about their obligation to disclose your affiliation whenever they talk about you on any platform.

I spoke about this topic earlier this year at Content Marketing World. Be sure to check out the follow-up article about this panel by Northeast Ohio Media Group.

If you want more information about this topic, please check out 6 Things to Know About FTC Disclosures When Working with Influencers or my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to the FTC rules and promotions, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Periscope Summit Recap

My Badge from Periscope Community Summit - September 2015

My Badge from Periscope Community Summit – September 2015

I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Mitch Jackson to discuss the legalities of live-streaming video apps at the Periscope Community Summit last week in New York. We had a blast. Special thanks to the organizers of this event.

The Periscope user community is so friendly and accepting. I hope we’re invited back to the next Periscope Community Summit in San Francisco this winter. Here are some of the take-away lessons from our panel:

There is No “Undo” Button. Unlike other social media platforms where you can edit your work before you release it, Periscope videos are live. If you are someone who tends to embellish, be excessively emotional, or otherwise get carried away, perhaps you shouldn’t ‘scope without thinking your ideas through. Because once you put something out there, you can’t take it back and you may not be able to apologize your problems away.

It’s Probably Illegal to ‘Scope that Concert. Many artists don’t allow photos or videos during their shows. This also applies to Periscope and other live video apps. Ditto for professional sports. Read the back of your ticket carefully and be prepared to be kicked out if you do it.

Be Careful if you do Karaoke on your ‘Scope. It seems like a lot of people sing when they are on Periscope, whether they are singing to a backing track or along with a song. When you buy a CD or an mp3 of a song, you are usually making a purchase for individual use and enjoyment. If you play that song on Periscope, you’ve created a public performance, which usually requires a separate license. If you use Periscope to promote yourself as a musician and you’re doing covers, you should look into buying a license from the appropriate source like BMI or ASCAP.

Playing Clips with Commentary is Probably Ok. If you review books, music, movies, and/or video games on your ‘Scope and you want to play audio or video clips of whatever you’re reviewing, that’s likely permissible under the fair use provision of the Copyright Law. This is particularly true if you’re adding your original thoughts on the topic and you aren’t a substitute for the media you’re discussing.

A Word of Warning: Whoever owns the copyright in a work has the exclusive right to decide where and when the work will be copied, distributed, displayed, and performed. If they suspect that you are violating their rights on your ‘Scope, they will decide if and how they will lay the smack down on you for violating their rights. This could be anything from a cease and desist letter to a lawsuit in federal court.

As always, these are my two rules of thumb for staying out of trouble on the internet:

  1. Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.
  2. Assume that everything you post or broadcast online will be seen by four people: your best friend, your worst enemy, your boss, and your mother. If you don’t want one of those people to see what you’re thinking about posting, don’t share it (regardless of your privacy settings).

If you want to know more about the legalities of streaming your life on the internet, please check out this post I wrote about the law and Periscope. If you want a resource that addresses the broader issues of how the law applies to all social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to copyright or internet law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Fair Use Victory!

Bambi vs. Godzilla (211/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bambi vs. Godzilla (211/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Ninth Circuit of the Federal Court handed down an important ruling regarding fair use this week. In Lenz v. Universal, aka the “Dancing Baby” case was about copyright, DMCA takedown notices, and fair use. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued Universal Music Publishing Group after Universal sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice when a mother uploaded a 29-second video of her baby dancing to a Prince song.

The key element of this court ruling is that the court declared that “copyright holders must consider fair use before sending a [DMCA] takedown notice.” Prior to this case, fair use was regarded as an “affirmative defense.” If you’ve seen my YouTube videos, you have seen this one where I declare, “Fair use is a defense, not a permission slip.” This court said that’s not the case, but rather that fair use is authorized by the Federal Copyright Act. There is no copyright infringement if your use of another’s copyright-protected work is permitted by fair use.

If you’re interested in learning more about fair use, I wrote a post that includes a mnemonic device for the fair use factors for a panel I did at Phoenix Comicon on fair use and fan art/fiction.

There are two downsides to the case (at least for now):

  1. Although the court said that copyright holders must consider fair use before sending a DMCA takedown notice, they only have to have subjective good faith belief that the use of the copyrighted work is illegal, even if this belief is objectively unreasonable.
  2. This ruling only applies to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit is comprised of Arizona, California, and most of the western United States. However, this ruling is not binding on the other ten Circuit Courts, but they can take it under advisement in future cases.

This case is a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead to fewer abuses of the DMCA. You can read the EFF’s full report about the case here.

Footnote: This case took eight years to reach this ruling. Sometimes pursuing a lawsuit is the right decision, but you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

How the copyright laws apply to the internet is a legal issue that is constantly developing. If you need a resource about how the law applies to social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to copyright or internet law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Google is Not your Audience

Audience at Humanities Theatre by Mohammad Jangda from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Audience at Humanities Theatre by Mohammad Jangda from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week, I was talking with a fellow lawyer who wants to write more posts on his firm’s blog and to create a system for lawyers in the firm to regularly contribute posts. We talked about strategies for generating ideas for posts and ways to keep everyone motivated to create content when it’s their turn.

Then I asked him, “Who is your audience?”
“I guess our initial audience is Google.”

I had to resist the urge to immediately channel my inner Jack Black a la High Fidelity (you can stop watching after 1:46).

I get where he’s going. I suspect his web guy told him that adding content to the firm’s site on a regular basis will help the firm climb the ranks in search results. This is true (based on the current algorithm) but it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to create content. You have to create quality content.

Think beyond search engine results. Think about the big picture – having a blog gives you the opportunity to craft your reputation, the firm’s reputation. Don’t create noise. Write something that you would want to read. If something is interesting enough for you to write about it, it’s probably something that’s going to appeal to your audience, your community.

When it comes to law firm blogs, the audience is one of two groups of people:

  1. Other lawyers who you hope will refer you work
  2. Potential and/or current clients

If your audience is the former, you can use your blog posts to showcase your expertise and mastery of your practice area. Bust out those five-dollar words. Display your intelligence with pride. If your audience is the latter, your audience is people who are looking to you for help. Use your posts to demonstrate that you understand their situations and that you can help solve their problems. Always provide valuable information. Regardless of who your audience, if done well, your blog will instill confidence in your readers and give them a reason to choose you over your competition.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I write to my potential clients’ needs. I prefer to use English instead of legalese. My goals are to be approachable and provide useful information. And it seems to be working – half of my new clients find me after running an internet search related to their problem such as “non-compete agreement Arizona” or “posting my photo without consent.”

I enjoy working with law firms who are ready to make the commitment of maintaining a blog. It’s fun to help them develop their voice as a firm and the best strategy to maintain their commitment to creating content on a regular basis. Lawyers are professional writers, and so it’s not as hard as they fear it will be. I suspect many enjoy using their blogs as a creative outlet related to their work.

If you want to know more about legal blogging, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. If you want to chat with me about maintaining a legal blog, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Who’s Talking to your Kids Online?

Hacker by Zodman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hacker by Zodman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Did you see this social media experiment by Coby Persin where he pretends to be a 15 year-old boy? He approached a handful of 12-14 year-old girls online and invited them to meet in person. In each situation the parents were in on the act and all of them were convinced that their daughter’s wouldn’t accept the invitation, but each girl did – meeting him at a park, inviting him to their house, and getting into his van.

This video was instantaneously popular when it came and it’s had millions of hits, but I waited until now to talk about it, because this isn’t a one-and-done topic. This is a conversation parents need to be having with their kids on an ongoing basis about talking to people online and crossing the line from online interaction to meeting in the real world.

I have always recommended that parents be on the same social media platforms as their kids so they can monitor what they’re children are doing online. Parents should also know the passwords for their kids’ phones so they can check their text messages and photos. (And I’m an advocate of teens having some privacy, but it shouldn’t be a free-for-all.) After seeing this video, I have a few more suggestions for parents to protect their kids online.

1. Be Aware of Who your Kids are Talking to Online.
Just like you have at least a passing familiarity about who your kid knows at school and in their extracurricular activities, you should talk with your kids about who they talk to online and via text messages. Know who is an influence in their lives. If they mention someone new or become more secretive, that should give you a reason to probe deeper into what’s going on. It could be standard teenage rebellion, but it could be a reason for concern.

2.  Remind your Kids: “Don’t Befriend Strangers Online.”
I have a personal rule – if you’re not my friend in real life, you don’t get to be my “friend” on Facebook. Anyone can message me (because I use social media professionally) but that’s where I draw the line. I recommend the same rule for kids. The fact that someone looks pretty or appears to be a friend of a friend is not a good enough reason to have an ongoing connection. They may have a conversation because they’re fans of the same thing or in a Facebook group, but that shouldn’t be enough to allow that person more than surface access to you.

3.  Teach your Kids: “People Present an Altered Self Online.”  
I believe that most people are good and have good intentions; however, when it comes to the internet, everybody lies. Some people present their best self while others blatantly present a false self. Think of everyone online as a persona more than a person – at best you’re only seeing one side of them. Just like you shouldn’t compare your body to airbrushed fashion models, don’t compare yourself to someone’s posts online.

Keep the conversation about online safety going. Show your kids Coby Persin’s video and TV programs like To Catch a Predator and talk about the fact that not everyone is what they appear to be in real life compared to what they say online. Every teenager should read and own The Gift of Fear by security expert Gavin de Becker before they get their driver’s license. (I am not a paid spokesperson for Gavin de Becker. I’m just a fan of his work.)

Internet safety is a complicated topic.  If you want to chat with me more, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Working with People who Don’t Understand Copyright

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s the scenario: You are a newly hired third party content creator for a company. You learn that your client has a habit of copying pictures from Pinterest or Google Images searches without verifying that they are allowed to use the images on their website and/or social media posts. They want you to do the same. What should you do?

Option #1: Your Client Needs an Education about Copyright
Some people truly believe they can use any image they find on the internet, particularly if they give an attribution and a link back to the original. There are so-called “gurus” who will tell you this is ok. It’s not.

What your client is likely doing is committing copyright infringement. Inform your client that he/she is running the risk of getting a cease and desist letter, a bill with a license, or a lawsuit. In the worst-case scenario, they could face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image they use, plus attorneys’ fees. Tell your client to thank their lucky stars they haven’t faced one of these consequences yet and advise them that the prudent thing to do would be to replace all images on their site with pictures they can legally use.

Use this an a teaching experience to educate your client about the importance of asking permission, using Creative Commons, and possibly exploring whether what they are doing in some situations qualifies as fair use.

Option #2: Your Client Understands but Disregards Others’ Copyright Rights
Fire your client.

This person is obviously an idiot. No money is worth being affiliated with this company. Run away as fast as you can.

Footnote: Every company should have a “No Jerks” rule when it comes to employees and clients. If you find someone violating this rule at a genetic level (not just having a bad day), cut all ties with them immediately.

The same rules about copyright that apply to your website also apply to your social media posts:

Whenever I work on a contract for the relationship between a company and an outside content provider, I always recommend that my client require an indemnity clause that will protect them if they are accused of intellectual property infringement based on material provided by the other party. Your contract is the master document for your working relationship. It should clearly define the parties’ obligations to each other which should include deadlines and deliverables and also how you will resolve problems when they occur.

If you want to know more about the complex issues related to copyright and the internet, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about this topic, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.