Summer Social Media PSA for Teens & Tweens

Texting by Jhaymesisviphotography from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Texting by Jhaymesisviphotography from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Summer is officially here! It’s hottest than Hades in Phoenix and the kids are out of school until August. I suspect that a lot of teens and tweens have a lot more free time than during the school year and they might be spending much of it glued to their cell phones and tablets. Here are my recommendations for having a summer without social media-based regrets:

Think before you post.

Think before you text.

Think before you chat.

Think before you tweet.

Think before you snap (a photo).

Think before you shoot (a video).

Think before you send (anything).

Remember, that there is a permanent record of everything post online or send to another person. You never know when someone is going to forward, download, screenshot what you thought was only going out to a small group or contained in a person-to-person communication. What you post or send doesn’t have the same emotional impact when we can’t hear the inflection in your voice or facial expression (especially sarcasm). You never know how a post will be interpreted out of context. What you thought was justified or funny in the moment may have long-term effects for you. (Just ask Justine Sacco – with one tweet she lost her job and appeared to anger the entire planet.)

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

These are my two rules of thumb regarding the internet:

  1. Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.
  2. Assume everything you post online will be seen by four people: your best friend, your worst enemy, your boss, and your mother. If you don’t want someone to see what you’re thinking about posting, don’t put it out there.

These rules also apply to emails and text messages.

For anyone who is applying for jobs or college, those decision makers may be looking you up online. You want to be sure that what you post online is congruent with how you present yourself in-person or on paper. You don’t want to appear irresponsible or that you lack good judgement.

I’ve had to read the riot act to a teen who misbehaved online, and I would be happy to do it again if it means I can help prevent someone from posting something they’ll regret later. If you want to chat more about social media dos and don’ts, please contact me or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

What Happened to Adult Wednesday Addams?

Haunted House by barb_ar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Haunted House by barb_ar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier this year, I discovered Melissa Hunter’s “Adult Wednesday Addams” on YouTube. It’s a collection of short videos featuring Melissa playing a grown-up version of the iconic Addams Family character. In each video, Melissa dresses up like Wednesday Addams (black dress, long braids, pale skin, and deadpan attitude) and plays out everyday occurrences (like interviewing to be someone’s roommate and going to work) while embodying the Wednesday Addams character. She is a talented, smart, and funny writer.

Recently I noticed that all of Melissa’s adult Wednesday Addams videos were pulled from her YouTube channel. (You can still find them on others’ channels.) Apparently, Tee & Charles Addams Foundation, the copyright holder for the Addams Family, flagged her videos for copyright infringement after her video where Adult Wednesday Addams responds to catcallers gained attention by the international press.

So of course, my question in this situation is, “Are the Adult Wednesday Addams videos infringing on the original Addams Family copyright or are they protected by fair use?”

The law is complicated and there is no mathematical equation that will definitively show whether this is fair use. That is up to a court to decide based on the merits of the case. There are four main fair use factors. I created an acronym of the fair use factors when I spoke at Phoenix Comicon last year on fan art and copyright: PAIN.

P = Purpose and character of your use

A = Amount of the original used

I = Impact on the market

N = Nature of the work you copied

Here’s my take on how the fair use factors apply to this situation:

  • P (Purpose): Adult Wednesday Addams transforms the original Wednesday Addams character who was a tween in the latest Addams Family movie (Favors Melissa). I don’t remember if Melissa was running ads on her videos, but if she was, that would be a strike against her – but not a deal breaker (Favors Addams Foundation).
  • A (Amount): Compared to the entire Addams Family franchise, Melissa only used a single character (Favors Melissa) but compared to the copyright in the Wednesday Addams character herself, Melissa copied a substantial amount (Favors Addams Foundation). However, part of what makes Adult Wednesday Addams work is that we know that she is copying the original. That’s what makes it so funny, and parody is generally protected by fair use.
  • I (Impact on the market): Apparently there is a new project in the works for the Addams Family, but I don’t know if Melissa’s work will have any effect on that. Melissa’s videos are only a few minutes long, compared to the longer TV shows and movies created using the original characters’ story line. Her work is definitely not a viable substitute for those (Favors Melissa).
  • N (Nature of copied work): The Addams Family has been made into cartoons, a TV show, and movies. Melissa Hunter created short YouTube videos. Although these are both audiovisual works, they cater to different audiences (Favors Melissa).

Do I think what Melissa did was fair use? Yes. I hope she’s fighting the claim that her work is copyright infringement, and I hope whoever is working on the Addams Family remake offers to hire her. Remember, fair use is a defense, not a permission slip, so Melissa has to prove to the court that what she did was legal if she chooses to fight this.

Yesterday, Melissa released a video with an update about Adult Wednesday Addams:

I’m glad to see that Melissa is as sassy as ever and that she’s working on this while putting energy into new projects too. Keep wearing that dress!

Fair use cases are usually complicated. If you want to chat more about fair use and copyright, please contact me or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Supreme Court Rules on Social Media & Free Speech – What It Means

Man Holding Laptop Computer Typing While Dog Watches by Image Catalog from Flickr (Public Domain)

Man Holding Laptop Computer Typing While Dog Watches by Image Catalog from Flickr (Public Domain)

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling on the first social media free speech case.

Anthony Elonis was previously convicted for violating a federal law for posting threatening messages on his own Facebook page. The court that convicted him did so based on the negligence standard, which is whether a reasonable person would interpret his statements as threats.

The Supreme Court ruled that the lower court used the wrong standard in making its decision. A court can’t use the reasonable person standard to decide cases like this – it has to be higher standard than that.

So what happens now? The Supreme Court sent the Elonis case back down to the lower court. The lower court will have to decide whether it should apply the recklessness standard or whether it should examine Elonis’ intent behind the posts in question.

What does this mean for other cases, perhaps those involving domestic violence or cyber harassment? We’ll see. All we know now is that the court has to apply a higher standard than simply asking whether a reasonable person who interpret a statement as a threatening. We will have to wait and see what standard will ultimately apply.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverDo I think the Supreme Court made the right decision? Yes. Words are clumsy beasts, especially on social media where we deal with words without inflection and non-verbal cues to decipher what the speaker is saying. I don’t want to see people punished for being inarticulate when exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. We need to examine the statement in the context in which it was made when determining whether a statement violates a criminal law.

As always, think before you post. Don’t use this decision as a license to post whatever you want online. You can face serious repercussions criminally, civilly, and socially for what you post on the internet. If you want to read more about this situation, I highly recommend a post written by my fellow legal eagle, Mitch Jackson. If you’re looking for a resource about internet and 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 more about free speech and the internet, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Dislike or Defamation – Rules about Online Reviews

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesper/269194762

John and Jesper | Thumbs Down by Jesper Rønn-Jensen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When it comes to online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, it may be difficult to do to determine when a reviewer is a legally sharing their dissatisfaction about you and when they are out-and-out defaming you. The former is legally protected speech that requires damage control; and the latter may require a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit.

One of the best things of out the Internet is that it gives Joe Average people a platform to share their thoughts. Review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor let multiple people share their experiences with a business that others can read and the business owners can respond to reviews within this forum. They can give you an idea of what to expect before you arrive and whether a particular place will fulfill your needs or expectations. I find it highly valuable, and when I’m satisfied with the service I received from a company, I often asked them where I can leave positive feedback for them online.

When a company sucks, I don’t hesitate to share those thoughts either. I believe that friends don’t give friends bad referrals, and that there is no problem with calling out a business that does a particularly bad job. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

1. Stick to the Facts: Unless you have a nondisclosure agreement that prevents you from sharing in your experience, there shouldn’t be a problem if you simply state the facts of your experience – i.e., the delivery people were 2 hours late, your food was cold when it arrived, the clerk apologized for not having the item you wanted.

2. Share your Feelings: Share how you felt during the experience – you were pleased that the restaurant comped the meal that you sent back, you were angry that you missed an appointment while you were waiting for the delivery guys, you were shocked that the clerk stared at your chest instead of looking you in the eye when he/she spoke to you.

3. Be Accurate: Federal law requires you to be truthful and accurate when giving a review. Avoid half-truths and insinuations. There should be no doubt in the reader’s mind between what you wrote and what you meant. This law also requires you to disclose when you are compensated for providing your opinion – such as getting free products or paid for providing a review. (The penalty for violating this rule is a fine for up to $11,000.)

In general, be thoughtful about what you post online and reading each review carefully before you hit “post” or “save.” If you are making a statement that sounds like a fact, make sure that it is verifiable. So that means you can’t say that a particular restaurant gave you food poisoning unless you can present hard evidence (like a doctor’s note) that that particular meal is what made you sick. Otherwise, you might be better off calling or email laying the manager directly and explaining that you were sick shortly after eating at that restaurant and that they might want to make sure all employees are complying with the rules to avoid foodborne illnesses.

If you believe and online review may have crossed the line from expressing dissatisfaction to defaming a person or the company, contact a social media attorney to review the situation and advise you of your options. With so many people sharing their opinions and experiences on a multitude of platforms, this is an issue that is not going away any time soon. If you want to talk more about this topic, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

If Someone Sends you a Photo of Themselves, Do you Own It?

Parade Selfie by Paul Sableman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Parade Selfie by Paul Sableman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Frequently I hear questions like, “If someone emails or texts me a photo of themselves, does it become my property?” Many people in this situation want to know if they own the photo and what they are allowed to do with it.

The answer to “Do I own the photo?” is “Yes” and “No.” Yes, you do own a copy of the photograph by virtue of the fact that someone gave it to you. However, owning a copy of a photograph does not mean that you own the copyright in the image, which is why you can’t do whatever you want with the picture. If the person who sent you a photo intended to give you the copyright as well, the copyright assignment would have to be in writing.

Think of getting a photo via email or text message like it getting a postcard in the mail. The postcard was addressed to you so you now own it, which means it you can look at it, put it on your refrigerator, and if the message doesn’t contain something that any reasonable person would know the sender would expect to be kept private – you could show it to others. However, you cannot make photocopies of the postcard and sell it or send it to others without the copyright holder’s permission.

Keeping this in mind, it should be obvious that the fact that someone sent you a photograph does not give you permission to do whatever you want with it. You would have to get permission from the copyright holder to post it online, and if it’s an image the sender would expect you to keep private, merely showing it to others could be illegal. If the photo in question is an explicit image, showing it to others could violate your state’s revenge porn law, which may be a felony.

With few exceptions (like child pornography) having a photo is not illegal but what you do with it could be. Therefore, if someone sends you a photo of themselves, you may keep it for your personal viewing pleasure but it could be illegal to share it with others.

This is an area of law that is still evolving. Since mobile devices come equipped with cameras, it’s important for everyone who has one is mindful of their dos and don’ts regarding sending and receiving images. If you want to talk more about this topic, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

What’s Up with the Cactus-Cams in Paradise Valley?

Four Peaks Seen Through Cactus Goal Posts by Alan Levine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Four Peaks Seen Through Cactus Goal Posts by Alan Levine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you’re at an intersection in Paradise Valley and you see a saguaro cactus that looks fake, it probably is.

Paradise Valley recently installed three fake cacti that contain cameras that will be snapping photos of every license plate that goes by. Ken Burke, Paradise Valley’s City Manager said the images will be compared against the “hot list” which includes cars that are reported stolen or part in Amber Alerts. The city said the images that are not connect to any investigations will be destroyed after 180 days.

I’m a bit skeptical of this reasoning for the cameras. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, vehicle thefts have been steadily declining in recent years. And according to the official Amber Alert website, there was only 1 Amber Alert in Arizona in 2011, the most recent year for which a report was released. I wonder if they installed them to search for cars that are related to crimes or people with warrants.

And what about privacy? The law has firmly established that you have no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public, including where you go in your car. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police need a warrant to put a GPS on your vehicle. Snapping your photo every time you drive through a particular intersection isn’t as extreme as tracking your every move, but it could be used to track patterns of behavior.

On its face, this looks like a waste of time and money, but I would be curious to hear an update about these cameras in six months. I would want to know how many crimes they’ve helped solve and if they’re being used for additional tasks.

Privacy issues aren’t going away any time soon. If you want to chat more about this topic, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Can Someone Post Your Personal Information Online?

Graffiti by Alberto Garcia from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Graffiti by Alberto Garcia from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This is a question I’ve been getting more frequently lately – people asking about the legalities of posting another person’s personal information on the Internet, sometimes referred to as doxing. And of course as any regular reader would know, the answer to every legal question is, “It depends.”

If you have shared your information with others in a public place whether it’s through a directory like the white pages or informally through social media, there may be nothing you can do to stop somebody from sharing information that you have previously freely shared with the public. Please note, regardless of your privacy settings, there is no expectation of privacy in anything you post on social media. It may be very easy for someone to piece together your name, your hobbies, where you work, what city you live in, and information about your family from posts and pictures you posted online. Look how easy it was for Jack Vale to surprise and frighten people based on what they posted on Instagram.

Conversely, there may be situations where somebody releases your private personal information, such as your unlisted phone number, your social security number, or other information that any reasonable person would know you would want to remain confidential. You are state may have a law against the public release of private information that you could use to get compensation from the person who shared your information. Depending on the circumstances and your local laws, sharing your personal information may be a type of harassment. If you think you’ve been the victim of cyberharassment, please contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

My advice is, “Think before you post.” Never put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper. This rule applies even if you think you’re posting anonymously or with an alter ego because there is always a risk that you could be unmasked. In addition to being careful about what you post online, be careful about what information you share with others both verbally and in writing. Also be careful about who you let use your computer or phone if you have information on it that you don’t want to get out, or else you might find yourself in a similar situation as a kind teacher who let students use her cell phone. They repaid her kindness by sharing the intimate photos they found on it.

If you are interested in the dos and don’ts regarding privacy and the internet, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, or send me an email.

Why is it Hard to Remove a Post from The Dirty?

Clubbin' by rudlavibizon from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Clubbin’ by rudlavibizon from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

For those of you who don’t know, The Dirty is a website where a person can post “dirt” about another person. It’s a website where you can post celebrity sightings, make fun of people, and call out somebody for cheating on you, etc. The purpose of the site, from what I can tell, is to provide people a forum to post truthful stories and others can read and post comments about them.

As a social media attorney, I regularly get calls and emails from people who claim there is a false post about them on The Dirty or a similar site and they want me to get it removed. Many of these people don’t want to get the police involved, file a lawsuit, or pay a lot of money to make this happen. I think a lot of them hope that a letter from a lawyer would be sufficient to get a post removed. Sometimes that works, but sometimes that is not the case – especially when it comes to The Dirty.

The people who run The Dirty and that their attorney understand the First Amendment. They tell their users only to post truthful information, but for the most part, they can’t tell when someone is telling the truth or not in a post. If the poster says what they wrote is true and the person they wrote about says it’s not, how would the people who run the website know who is telling the truth? The Dirty gets thousands of requests from people claiming that a post on the site contains lies about them. With few exceptions, they won’t remove a post simply because you asked them to.

I’ve never met The Dirty’s attorney in person, but we’ve exchanged several emails. My conversations with him tell me that he is a kind and thoughtful man and also a very good attorney. He won’t tell his clients to remove a post just because a person is upset that a story about them is on the site or because he gets a demand letter from that person’s attorney; however, he will comply with court orders to remove material, which usually requires some type of injunction or prevailing in a defamation, invasion of privacy, or similar lawsuit. The Dirty also appears to have respectful policies related to revenge porn and false posts about an individual having an STD.

When I meet with someone when I meet with someone who claims to be the victim of defamation and/or invasion of privacy on one of the sites, I often have to inform Michael and that the law doesn’t care about what they believe or even what they know; the law cares about what you can prove. When it’s a case of he said v. she said, there is often not much I can do. Yes, my client could sue for defamation; however, if the other party doesn’t have any money, it’s usually not worth pursuing.

If my client feels like they are the victim of cyberharassment or revenge porn, I refer them to the police. Cyberharassment and revenge porn are crimes and there is a lot more information that law enforcement can get from a website related to a criminal case than a lawyer can get access to during a civil lawsuit.

If you feel like your rights have been violated in an internet post, please contact a social media attorney in your community for assistance. If you want additional information about defamation, privacy, and the internet, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. You can always send me an email if you ever have questions, and please stay connected with me on TwitterLinkedInFacebook, and YouTube.

Google Reverses Ban on Porn on Blogger Sites

Censored by Peter Massas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Censored by Peter Massas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last month Google announced an upcoming change in its terms of service that would ban all pornography from Blogger sites. (Blogger is Google’s blogging platform.) This change would have been retroactive and impacted some users who have used Blogger to post sexually explicit material for over 10 years. Users reacted hard and fast, saying that posting pornographic material on their sites is an expression of their identities.

Within days, Google made a second announcement saying that they won’t ban all porn on Blogger sites but rather they will be more diligent about their existing policy banned “commercial porn,” meaning porn that is posted online for significant commercial gain. If you have a Blogger site and you want to sexually explicit material, you’re required to mark those posts as “adult” so Google can put them behind an “adult content” warning page.

I found the initial announcement banning porn on Blogger puzzling. Why would Google, a company that serves an international community of amazing creative people, consider such a conservative policy change? I’m a huge advocate for preventing sexual victimization, child pornography, and revenge porn but those are very different issues than the voluntary creation of legal adult content, produced by adults for an adult audience. Blogger is a blogging platform so I assume most people have little or no financial gain from running their sites.

This is a topic where each person may have a slightly different belief regarding what is art and what is pornography based on personal and cultural differences. In the conservative U.S., a topless woman is considered explicit but in other countries, topless models (men and women) are used in mainstream advertising and anyone can go topless at the beach. Google made the right decision in regards to this by requiring everyone who uses Blogger to mark their material as “adult” and the consumers can decide for themselves what they’ll read and view and what they will block from their children’s access with parental controls.

Companies like Google that provide services to a worldwide audience have to decide how policies should be written, which appears to be a challenging task. I’m pleased to see in this instance that Google listened to its users and the culture of the internet in general and repealed this ban.

If you want to talk more about free speech, censorship, and the internet, please connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or send me an email.