Thoughts on the Ashley Madison Hacking

Puzzle by Andreanna Moya Photography from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Puzzle by Andreanna Moya Photography from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I have had a lot of different thoughts about the recent hacking of the Ashley Madison website – both as a lawyer and as a person. Ashley Madison is a website geared towards helping people participate in infidelity. They apparently have over 37 million users. According to NPR, the company suspects it was an inside job. Allegedly, whoever did this threatened to release the identity of its users if the company doesn’t take down the website.

As a social media lawyer, I am against hacking. Whenever I work with a company on their website, I always ask what security measures they are taking to protect their users’ information, and I encourage them to explore whether they need cyber liability insurance. Conversely, people need to remember that there is no expectation of privacy in anything they post on the internet, regardless of their privacy settings. There is always a risk that they could be unmasked, which could lead to social, professional, and legal consequences.

Do I believe this hacker deserves to be punished? Yes. If this person has an issue with what this website does, assuming this was perpetrated by an employee, they should quit their job. Being personally morally opposed to a company is not a valid reason to potentially jeopardize millions of people’s lives.

Additionally, I am a huge advocate of everyone leaving each other alone (with a few exceptions related to safety and public policy). Stay out of other people’s relationships that don’t involve you. I have no idea what these 37 million people were doing on Ashley Madison. I suspect some of them were there with the consent of their significant other as part of an open relationship arrangement. Some people may be allowed to cheat as long as they do it discreetly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are partners where both people have profiles on this site. The only thing I know for sure, is that I don’t care about what these consenting adults do in the privacy of their own lives.

Part of what makes this situation so newsworthy is that it involves infidelity, and it forces us to acknowledge on some level that not everyone believes in or practices monogamy. This isn’t a legal issue; it’s a personal choice. And the only people who deserve a say on these decisions are the other people who are directly impacted (meaning that person’s significant other and possibly children). The fact that outsiders are outraged by these beliefs and activities is irrelevant.

I know this is a hot button topic for a lot of people, and I am open to continuing the conversation in the comments below, on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn, or you can contact me directly.

The Dark Side of Periscope

Mirror Image by The Joneses from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Mirror Image by The Joneses from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was on Periscope the other night, talking with people about the legal implications of using live video apps, when an awful thought struck me:

You know someone is going to use Periscope for evil.

I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that sometime (probably soon) someone is going to use Periscope or a similar app to share a live broadcast of a suicide, sexual assault, or other equally horrendous activity.

I hate that horrible things like this happen and that anyone might think that it’s a good idea to broadcast it to the entire internet-accessible world. I also hate how powerless I am to stop these people from doing things like this. It’s like a train wreck, and I see it coming but because I don’t know when or where it will happen, there is almost nothing I can do to stop it.

The only thing I can think to do is create a post like this that will hopefully raise people’s awareness so that if you see a bad act in the works and you are in the position to take an action to stop or prevent it, please please please do it. Do not stand idly by when there’s a chance that you could prevent harm to another.

If you see a crime being committed on a live video app, report it immediately to the administrators of the app and as well as law enforcement. If you don’t know where the act is taking place, report it to the FBI.

Two of the reasons I became a lawyer are I like to help people and I like to solve problems. It’s so frustrating to find myself in situations where I feel like there’s nothing I can do to help a situation.

Part of being a social media lawyer means I have to keep up on what people are doing online and could be doing online. The downside of this is I have to think about these worst-case scenarios and accept that it’s more likely than not that at least one of them will come to fruition.

I am watching the legal issues with Periscope, Meerkat, and similar apps closely. If you want to talk more about internet or social media law, please contact me or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Legal Issues with Periscope

Vents by SecretLondon123 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Vents by SecretLondon123 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Have you tried Periscope? It’s one of the new livestreaming apps where you can let everyone into your world and they can post comments and questions. I’m on it. It’s pretty fun – except when it overheats my phone.

Of course, being a social media lawyer, I started thinking about what types of legal hot water someone could get into using this or any other live video app. Here’s my preliminary list:

Copyright
You own the content you post via Periscope, but you grant Periscope and anyone who has access to it permission to use it.

An artist may be upset with you if you use Periscope to display, distribute, or perform their work without their permission – i.e., if you’re playing someone’s song, doing a dramatic (or not so dramatic) reading, or showing someone’s art (even with an attribution).

Trademark
If you’re using Periscope to talk about products, make sure you’re not confusing people by giving the impression that you represent the company.

Federal Trade Commission Rules
If you are lucky enough to have sponsorship or otherwise be compensated for reviewing products, make sure you disclose that too. If you’re doing reviews on periscope, you’re legally required only to give truthful and accurate reviews of products and services. Otherwise, the FTC could fine you up to $11,000.

Trade Secrets
Every company has secrets that give them a competitive advantage. Make sure you don’t accidentally disclose your company secrets on your videos.

Privacy
Although there is no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public, there are a few exceptions for bathrooms, changing rooms, medical offices, lawyers’ offices, as well as within the walls of your home. Be thoughtful and respect full when it comes to shooting videos of others.

Remember, you have no expectation of privacy in anything you post online.  Just like people have been fired for other social media posts, you can be fired for a Periscope video. You could also do tremendous reputational harm to yourself.

Defamation
I can foresee people using Periscope to vent when they are angry. Be careful that you don’t cross the line and tell a lie about another person. Even if you didn’t intend to tell a lie, you could still face a lawsuit for defamation. If you are especially upset, it may be best to wait 24 hours to calm down and verify your information before talking about the situation on live video. Think before you speak.

These legal issues apply to all live streaming video apps so be careful before you jump on your virtual soapbox. The FCC does not regulate online streaming video, so there are no “deadly words,” but there are also no 7-second delays or buttons to bleep you out.

These are my rules of thumb when it comes to posting anything on 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 will be seen by four people: your best friend, your worst enemy, your boss, and your mother. If you don’t want to one of those people to see what you’re thinking about posting, don’t say it.

This is an area of law that is still new and developing. I’m excited and curious to see what legal cases will come out of live video apps like Periscope and Meerkat. If you want additional information about the legalities of social media, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

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.