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.

Top Three Legal Tips for Dad Bloggers from Dad 2.0 Summit

Awesome Bo-Gos at the Dad 2.0 Summit 2015

Awesome Bo-Gos at the Dad 2.0 Summit 2015

I had an awesome time at Dad 2.0 Summit – an awesome conference for dads who blog. I was invited to the conference to hang out in the Knowledge Bar during the breaks to talk with people about the legal dos and don’ts when it comes to their blogs. One gentleman asked me what three tips I’d give to the conference’s audience. Here’s what I said.

1. Be Thoughtful about what Images you Use on your Site.
Unfortunately, a lot of people think they can use any image they find online as long as they give an attribution and a link back to the original. What you’re likely doing is committing copyright infringement and telling the artist what you did. I recommend getting permission from the person to use their image or only use Creative Commons images for your site. I only use images that come with the license that lets me modify and commercialize them.  For more information about this topic, check out this post and/or watch this video.

2. Register your Trademarks.
This is my soapbox issue for the year for bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters – register your trademarks! If you don’t, someone else can start using it, register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and they could essentially shut down your site. You’d have to decide whether to fight them for it or rebrand. It’s easier and cheaper to protect yourself by registering your brand first. Then that way you’ve secured your rights to your name, logo, and slogan everywhere in the U.S. For more information about this topic, check out this post and/or watch this video.

3. When you get Free Products or Write Sponsored Posts, Disclose It.
Federal law requires you to only give true and accurate reviews when you do product reviews and you must disclose when you are compensated for giving your opinion. You have to tell your audience when you get products for free, participate in campaigns for compensation, or have sponsors. This rule applies to blogs, review sites, and anywhere you post on social media when you’re compensated for doing so. For more information about this topic, check out this post.

The laws regarding blogging and social media are still developing so it’s important that you stay abreast of changes as they occur when they apply to you. I will do my best to create content on developments in social media and internet law. If you’re looking for a resource that reviews the laws that apply to bloggers, 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 Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube.

If I don’t see you before then, I look forward to re-connecting with you at Dad 2.0 Summit next year!

Does Your Business Need Cyber Liability Insurance?

Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Hackers by Ingrid Richter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Hackers by Ingrid Richter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Anthem Health Insurance was victim the latest cyber attack to hit the news. Approximately 80 million customers’ health records were compromised by this security breach. When you hear about these hacking stories, do they make you wonder about your company’s security system? Do you assume that you probably have nothing to worry about because hackers are only interested in big companies like Target?

I attended a workshop last month about cyber liability insurance where the presenter said that a 2011 study revealed that 95% of all credit card breaches were against small businesses. We only tend to hear about the security breaches involving bigger companies but any size company could be at risk. Data breaches can occur through hacking, theft by unauthorized access , employee errors, and stolen or lost paper or electronic files, laptops, smartphones, flash drives.

Any business that handles or stores private business, customer, or employee data should consider getting insurance to cover them if a data breach occurs. This data includes social security numbers, bank account information, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and email address. Additionally, you should take a look at your company’s policies and procedures related to data security. Are you taking the following precautions?

  • Secure sensitive data
  • Restrict access to data
  • Dispose of data properly – i.e., wipe laptops before donating them, shred paper files
  • Use effective passwords
  • Use encryption and secure remote access
  • Make sure your employees understand how to protect data and why it’s important

There are many benefits of having cyber liability insurance. Your provider should offer risk management services to help prevent a data breach from occurring. If a breach occurs, they will can professional assistance for damage control and regulatory compliance as well as cover the response expenses for mailing notification letters, credit monitoring services, and public relations. Your cyber liability insurance policy can also cover your defense and liability expenses if you are sued because of the breach.

This is a serious issue that can affect any company that uses the internet for business or commerce. If you have a traditional business liability insurance policy, read the terms carefully; it may not cover cyber liability. If you need a cyber liability insurance policy, contact a cyber liability insurance specialist to discuss your needs and options.

If you have questions or want to chat more about these issues, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, or you can send me an email.

Man Convicted of Running a Revenge Porn Site – What This Means For You

Cell Block D by Sean Toyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Cell Block D by Sean Toyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week a San Diego court convicted 28 year-old Kevin Bollaert of 27 felony charges including identity theft and extortion for running multiple revenge porn websites. He could face up to 20 years in prison. Here’s how the sites worked: people would post nude photos of their former lovers (often with the victim’s name, city, and a link to their Facebook profile) and the victims could get the images removed, if they paid a fee. These sites have since been taken down.

Prosecutors described Bollaert’s sites as a business based on blackmail. At the trial, several victims testified that they were humiliated and faced other repercussions because their images were posted on these sites without their consent. This appears to be the first conviction for an operator of a revenge porn website, but hopefully it will not be the last. The article did not state whether any of the people who posted the revenge porn images in question have also faced criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

This case should serve as a warning to anyone who is operating a similar website. If you encourage people to post revenge porn and charging the people in the images to get them removed, there is now legal president that this is a type of extortion.

This is also a legal gray area. It’s one thing to create a platform where people can post images and stories on your site, activities that are often protected by the First Amendment and copyright laws; but the person creating the posts could cross the line into invasion of privacy, cyberharassment, and revenge porn depending on the material posted. Depending on the circumstances, the owner of the site could also face criminal or civil liability, but often times simply providing a platform is not enough to hold the site’s owner responsible for what other’s posts unless there is additional evidence that implicates them.

I’ve been getting more questions recently about people who are being threatened with revenge porn where the image or video hasn’t been posted yet. Sometimes I’m unsure if it’s a situation where the would-be poster is saying, “I’m going to post your nude photos online” or trying to use the images as way to manipulate the person by saying, “If you don’t do XYZ, I’m going to post your nude photos online.” I’m conversing with the Phoenix Police Department about this issue to better advise my clients who are in this situation.

If you suspect you’re the victim of revenge porn, call your local law enforcement agency. I do not blame the victims in these situations, but I caution people, especially young people to think before they create or send sexually explicit material. If any of this content is released on the internet, you have no control over who might see it, share it, download it and even if you can get the original removed, it could still be out there on other sites. When in doubt, don’t send naked selfies, take intimate photos in the bedroom, or create sex videos. If you’re thinking about posting revenge porn, don’t.

If you have questions or want to chat more about these issues, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, or you can send me an email.

Bloggers & Vloggers: Register your Trademarks!

Registered by tup wanders from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Registered by tup wanders from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Ever since I heard about the Turner Barr story in 2013, I’ve been on everyone I know – including recreational bloggers and the vloggers – to register their trademarks in at least their sites’ names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If this isn’t on your to-do list for this year, take a break from reading this post and go add it right now.

For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, Turner Barr started an awesome blog called Around the World in 80 Jobs where he writes and creates videos about his travel adventurers and how he works from place to place. It was a simple but brilliant idea. He didn’t register his trademark. I bet the thought never crossed his mind. I bet he never thought that another company would register the trademark “Around the World in 80 Jobs” and essentially shut down his site. Thankfully, Turner was able to resolve the situation in part by publicly calling out the people he suspected stole his idea. He has since registered the trademark for his blog.

When I saw this situation where it looked like another company ripped off an individual blogger’s idea and name for themselves and basically (temporarily) stole it out from under him by registering the trademark, I became scared for every person I know who has an amazing blog or vlog. I don’t want to see them in the same predicament. It also reminded me to be a diligent about reminding and re-reminding my clients who are startup entrepreneurs about the importance or registering their trademarks so they don’t end up in the Burger King situation.

This is the type of situation potentially where someone can steal your idea and you will have to fight to try to get it back. And it’s the type of situation that is easily prevented by registering your trademark first. Once you have a registered trademark with the USPTO, you can stop other people and companies from using a name that is confusingly similar to yours in your industry.

Compared to the heartache, headaches, and what you will pay a lawyer if you end up in a situation like Turner Barr did, filing at trademark application is cheap. The USPTO recently lowered their filing fees so if you did your application yourself (which I don’t recommend) it may cost you only $275. If you’ve never filed the trademark application before, I suggest you at least consult a trademark attorney in advance just so you understand the trademark process including what information you have to give the examining attorney to prove that you’re using your trademark. It may not be as expensive as you fear.

And just to show that I put my money were my mouth is and that the shoemaker’s children have shoes in this situation, I recently submitted a trademark application myself for my personal blog, The Undeniable Ruth. I want to be able to call myself “undeniable” for the rest of my life and this is the first step to ensuring that.

If you have questions or want to talk about your trademark needs, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, or you can send me an email.

Photos, the Internet, and the Law – FAQs

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I get a lot of hits on my site from people asking questions about what they can and can’t do with photos that they get from someone else that’s sent to them, texted to them, or that they find online. In many cases, the person who took the photo (not necessarily the person in the photo unless it’s a selfie) is the copyright holder and so they have the right to decide when and how their photo will be copied, distributed, and displayed. If you want to use their photo, you need their permission. If you want to own the copyright, they have to give it to you in a written and signed contract.

Let’s look at some of the more common and interesting questions I get. (Of course, any situation involving the legalities of using a particular photo is fact dependent and you need to consider the specific circumstances. These cases are often governed in part by state laws so you have to look at what rules apply to you.)

May I Post Someone’s Photo on the Internet without Consent?
If we’re talking about a situation where you want to know if you can take a photograph of another person and post it online, the answer is often “Yes.” If you’re the photographer, you’re usually the copyright holder so you get to decide where your work is displayed. However, if you want to make money off the photo or use it for a commercial purpose, you often need the person’s consent.

If were talking about a situation where you’re not the photographer and you want to use another person’s photograph, you need that person’s permission to use their work.

What if I Illegally used Someone’s Photo but I had Good Intentions?
The law often cares about what you did more than your intentions. In many cases it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to hurt anybody or that you didn’t know what you’re doing was illegal.

If Someone takes a Photo of Me and They Don’t Delete it, Can I Sue?
It depends. Remember you have no expectation of privacy in public so if you’re just upset that a photo was taken and they don’t use it to harass you, make money, or otherwise violate your rights, there is often little you can do about it.

What are the Laws about taking Photographs of People on Private Property?
You would have to look at what laws apply in your state, but typically the property owner or manager sets and enforces the rules, including rules about photographs. Be mindful when you go into businesses or attend events that there may be a notice posted that informs you that by being on the property, you are consenting to being photographed and the property owner can use those images however they want without needing any additional consent or payment of compensation to you.

Can You be Sued if You Post Someone’s Picture Online if They Sent it to You in a Text Message?
The law treats photos taken by cell phones the same as other photographs. If someone sends you a picture in a text, you have permission to look at it. It doesn’t give you permission to send it to other people or posted online without the person’s consent. Be very careful if this is a situation involving a nude or intimate photo because the depending on the person in the photo’s age, it could be child pornography. Additionally, several states have passed criminal laws against revenge porn.

What if Someone took a Picture off my Facebook Profile and put it on Theirs?
When you post a photograph on Facebook, the “Share” function implicitly gives permission to anyone who has access to the image to share it according to the settings of the site. If it’s a situation where somebody downloads your photo or takes a screen shot that include your photo, and then posts it to their profile or somewhere else online, that is likely of violation of your copyright rights.

Is it Illegal for a Family Member to Post Pictures of You on the Internet?
It depends. The law applies equally to family members as to other people. If it’s their photograph, meaning they are the copyright holder, there may be little you can do unless posting that image somehow violates one of your rights. If you don’t like that someone is posting images of you online, hopefully they will respect you enough to remove them upon request.

As I said before, cases involving photographs are governed by federal and state laws, so if you have a legal question in this arena please consult a copyright attorney in the your community for assistance. If you believe that you might be the victim of a crime that involves a photograph, please call your local law enforcement agency.

If you want to talk about this issue further, please connect with me on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If there is a specific situation you want to discuss, please send me an email.

Arizona Revenge Porn Law Suspended

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams; Concept by Devon Adams & Sara Santiago; Model: Sara Dobie Bauer (Image used with permission)

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams; Concept by Devon Adams & Sara Santiago; Model: Sara Dobie Bauer (Image used with permission)

Last week, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, at the request of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called for the enforcement of Arizona’s “revenge porn” law and legal proceedings related to it to be put on hold. The law was suspended so Arizona’s legislature can examine the law’s verbiage and narrow it so that it only targets people who are distributing revenge porn.

Here’s what the law says is illegal based on the original verbiage:

It is unlawful to intentionally disclose, display, distribute, publish, advertise or offer a photograph, videotape, film or digital recording of another person in a state of nudity or engaged in specific sexual activities if the person knows or should have known that the depicted person has not consented to the disclosure. (Arizona Revised Statute § 13-1425)

As written, revenge porn is a Class 5 Felony (punishable by at least 6 months’ imprisonment and up to $150,000 fine), unless the person in the image or videos is recognizable, then you’ll be charged with a Class 4 Felony (punishable by at least 1 year in jail and up to $150,000 fine).

This law came under fire by bookstores and newspapers which could be accused of violating this law. To commit a crime, you have to engage in the actions with the mindset as stated in the criminal statute. Therefore to commit revenge porn in Arizona, you have to intentionally post or offer a video or image of a person who is naked or having sex without that person’s consent. Based on this, selling an art book that contained a photo of a naked person could be revenge porn depending on the circumstances even if the store it didn’t know that the author didn’t get consent to use the image.

Judge Bolton has basically sent the Arizona legislature back to the drawing board to revise this law. Perhaps they’ll revise it to change the mindset from “intentionally” to “knowingly” or “maliciously.”

Does this mean that revenge porn is legal in Arizona for the time being? No. It means that people won’t be charged or prosecuted under this law, but Arizona has other laws you could be violating like cyberharassment if you post revenge porn.

The Arizona legislature will be back in session in January. Hopefully it won’t take them too long to update this law so it will only target the real criminals.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of revenge porn, please call the police in your community. If you’re interested in more information about your legal dos and don’ts online, 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 this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Yahoo Taking Advantage of Creative Commons with Flickr Wall Art – Hope they Don’t Screw it Up

1404 Phoenix Zoo-59 by Devon Christopher Adams from Flickr (Used with Permission)

1404 Phoenix Zoo-59 by Devon Christopher Adams from Flickr (Used with Permission – Devon & I have a standing agreement about using his work.)

My friend and amazing photographer Devon Christopher Adams tipped me off about Yahoo’s announcement that people can buy Flickr Wall Art of Creative Commons images from Flickr . If Yahoo does this right, it’s a brilliant business move. If they do it wrong, I hate them.

When a photographer posts their images on Flickr, they can designate whether they are restricting all copyright rights (“all rights reserved” aka don’t use my work without ask my explicit permission first) or attaching a Creative Commons license to it. A Creative Commons license means anyone can use the photographer’s work as long as you follow the rules of the license. For example, I often use Creative Commons images on my blogs but I only use photos that come with the license to modify and commercialize them. This allows me to crop the photo and to use it for business purposes – like a blog post on my law firm’s website.

If Yahoo only uses images for its wall art product that come with the license to commercialize them, then Yahoo already has permission to print these images onto paper or canvas and sell them, as long as they follow the other rules of the license.

Every Creative Commons license I’ve ever seen requires giving the copyright holder an attribution for their work. (Always give credit where it’s due!) I would hope that Yahoo would put the attribution on the front of the image – in a lower corner, so anyone who sees it can know who created the image. If that’s not possible (and good luck convincing me it’s not possible), at least put a non-removable label or notice on the back of who the copyright holder is and a URL to the original image on Flickr. If they don’t give an attribution as the license requires, they could be committing copyright infringement and could face a cease and desist letter, a bill, or a lawsuit.

I’m a huge advocate of copyright holders, especially in the arts community. I think a lot of photographers aren’t given the credit they deserve because many people assume they can replicate a photographer’s work with their smart phone – until they try to do it and they see how much skill it really takes.  Photographers constantly have to deal with people stealing their work online. It’s so wonderful to see them becoming more savvy about their legal rights.

I hope Yahoo is diligent about giving photographers the credit they deserve and respecting when a photographer changes the license on their Flickr account to only allow non-commercial uses. This won’t impact a person’s ability to own wall art of it prior to the license being changed; but Yahoo should stop selling it if the artist doesn’t want the company making money from it.

I hope Flickr Wall Art becomes an avenue for photographers to get exposure for their work in ways that will create new opportunities for them and that they won’t feel like Yahoo is taking advantage of them. If done properly, whoever at Yahoo who came up with this idea deserve a muffin basket for seeing this business opportunity.

Copyright and the internet is a murky area of law, and one that is still evolving. If you want more information about this topic, 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 this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.