Planning for the Digital Afterlife

Candlelight Vigil 6 by B. W. Townsend from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Candlelight Vigil 6 by B. W. Townsend from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Your accounts on websites and social media platforms, website domains, and all the content you post are your property, and therefore part of your estate.  When you pass away, your estate plan determines who will inherit your possession, including your property online. When you write your will, make sure it includes information about who will own your online content when you die.

Copyright Ownership
Under the U.S. Copyright Act, you are the copyright owner in any original works you create the moment they are “fixed” in any tangible medium (including digital files). This includes the photos and videos that you take post on social media and the content you create and post on your websites. For any individual, the copyright in each work does not expire until 70 years after you die. It’s important to designate who will be the copyright owner for your content.

Maintain Accounts
You may have accounts that require payment to maintain them – such as your web domains. Your accounts could be disabled or delete if they are not maintained, meaning the content could be lost if someone doesn’t continue to pay your domain, hosting, and account fees. If you want a website to live on after you pass away, include instructions and money for doing so.

For your other social media accounts, check with each site’s terms of service about what happens to an account when a user passes away. There may be processes in place to transition your account into a memorial page and/or transfer control to your loved ones.

Settling your Online Affairs
When you create an estate plan, you designate an executor or personal representative for your estate who is responsible for settling your affairs. Consider designating a representative to oversee you online affairs. Provide a list of your online property and instructions regarding what should happen to it. You may also want to give this person instructions regarding the files on your computer, in your phone, or in the cloud.

You may select one person as your regular personal representative and a tech savvy friend to address your online affairs. Your online executor may need access to your passwords to your computer, phone, and for each account. (This is when using a password storage system like LastPass is handy.) Your online executor is also the best person to clear your browser history, delete images from your machine, and possibly remove items from your home that you don’t want your family to see.

Dying Without a Will
If you die without an estate plan (aka die intestate), you’ll have no say over who inherits what from your estate. The court will appoint a personal representative and the laws of your state will determine who inherits your estate. In Arizona, if you die without a will, your spouse inherits your estate. If you don’t have a spouse, your children inherit your estate. If you don’t have a spouse or children, your parents inherit if they are living, otherwise your property goes to your then-living siblings. If you are an entrepreneur, you should also be aware of what happens to your LLC when you die.

If you want to talk with me about who owns your online content now and in the afterlife, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Arizona’s New Revenge Porn Law

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona has rejoined the ranks of U.S. states that have criminal law against revenge porn. This bill was announced with much fanfare in January, but there was barely a whisper when Governor Ducey signed it into law earlier this month. And because this law was passed on an “emergency” basis, it became effective the moment it was signed.

The New Law
A.R.S. § 13-1425 makes it illegal to intentionally disclose the image of an identifiable person in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity, when the person has an expectation of privacy, with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the depicted person. Some important things to note, “image” includes photos, videos, and other digital recordings; and to “disclose” an image means to display, distribute, publish, advertise, or offer.

Offer. Just offering to share revenge porn could be a crime.
Let that sink in for a minute.

The Penalties
If you are convicted of revenge porn using electronic means (email, text message, or social media) under this new law, it’s a Class 4 felony, which is punishable by 1.5 years in prison and a fine up to $150,000.

If you’re convicted of threatening to post/share revenge without actually disclosing the image, that’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in prison and a fine up to $2,500.

Additionally, it will be up to the judge’s discretion to declare whether your crime makes you a registered sex offender.

These are significant punishments for actions taken when you’re merely pissed off at an ex. It’s not worth the risk when the consequences are this severe.

What if I Sext Someone a Naked Picture?
One question I’m frequently asked is if someone texts or emails you a naked selfie, whether you can post that image online. If someone sends you an explicit image, they have not relinquished their expectation of privacy. If you post that image online or share it with others, it could be criminal revenge porn.

If you believe you are the victim of revenge porn or threatened revenge porn, contact law enforcement for assistance. I’m curious to see the outcomes of the first cases tried in Arizona under this new law. If you have questions about social media law or internet privacy that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Don’t Do Stupid Sh*t – V-Day Edition

Christ-Facepalm by Doc from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Christ-Facepalm by Doc from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Someone recently asked what I would do if someone gave me an ad on the Super Bowl. Now, I don’t follow sportsball so I may not fully understand that demographic, but I would use my air time to share a simple PSA: “Don’t do stupid shit.”

In honor of this Hallmark holiday, I feel obligated to post an unsolicited reminder about being responsible regarding your intimate photos and videos.

Sending Explicit Content
If you have any doubt about whether your crush or significant other can be trusted with an intimate image of you, Don’t Send It! Once they have a copy of your naked selfie, you have no control over who they might show it to or where they might post it online. Sending a sexy image to someone is not a decision you should make lightly. What you might think is a brilliant idea today may become tomorrow’s regret.

Yes, if you find yourself in this situation, you could go after the person for violating your right to privacy or file a police report for revenge porn, but that doesn’t change the fact that this person posted your intimate photo or video online without your consent and there is no way to tell how many people will see it before you can get it removed.

Owning Explicit Content
If you are lucky enough to have a significant other who will send or make intimate content with you, respect that! Do the happy dance and consider yourself lucky. No matter what happens in your relationship, never ever ever post this material online or show it to a third person without your partner’s consent. And don’t even think about putting a hidden camera in your bedroom.

(If you even think about doing any of these things, it is indisputable proof that you are completely unfuckable, and no one should sleep with you again. Ever.)

In the best case scenario, if you share someone’s explicit photo or your sex tape, you will inform the world that you are a complete asshat. In the worst case scenario, you could be sued for invasion of privacy, lose your job, destroy your reputation, and be arrested for revenge porn (which if the new revenge porn law passes in Arizona, will be a Class 4 felony).

When in doubt, keep your camera out of your sex life. Better yet, don’t even bring it into the bedroom, or wherever you’re having sexy time. I get calls and emails almost every week from people who are concerned about revenge porn and their nude photos and sex tapes being posted online or shared with others without their consent. If you have a question about revenge porn or internet law, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

I’m also going to revive my newsletter later this year. If you want access to my exclusive content, please subscribe.

Arizona Reviving its Revenge Porn Law

Figure and Form by The Narratographer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Figure and Form by The Narratographer
from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona lawmakers are trying to bring back the revenge porn law.

The Arizona House of Representatives unanimously passed HB2001 last week. This bill would make it a crime to share “revenge porn” without the person’s permission. The previous revenge porn law was suspended when the court ruled that the verbiage of the law was overly broad. This new version has been tailored to better address the problematic behavior. If this bill becomes a law, it will be

[U]nlawful for a person to intentionally disclose an image of another person who is identifiable from the image itself or from information displayed in connection with the image if all the following apply:
1. The person in the image is depicted in a state of nudity or is engaged in specific sexual activities.
2. The depicted person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Evidence that a person has sent an image to another person using an electronic device does not, on its own, remove the person’s reasonable expectation of privacy for that image.
3. The image is disclosed with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce the depicted person.

If this law passes, it will illegal to post your ex-partner’s naked selfie online or show it to a friend, even if your partner voluntarily shared the image with you. The requirement of intent is beneficial; it will protect artists, galleries, and bookstores from criminal prosecution if they inadvertently use a nude image without a model release.

If this law passes, the penalties will be similar to other sexual crimes:

I hope this law passes. Based on the number of questions I get about revenge porn, this is a problem that is not going away on its own. If it passes, I hope there will be campaigns to quickly educate people – in every age group. If you have a cell phone, you have the means to create explicit images and send revenge porn.  Comprehensive, age-appropriate education needs to be disseminated in homes, schools, community groups, and via social media, because ignorance of the law will not absolve you from the consequences.

Stay educated about social media law – this list of revenge porn laws in the U.S. is regularly updated. If you have a question about revenge porn, internet law, or photography rights, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

What’s the Answer to Revenge Porn?

What The . . . ? by Reinis Traidas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What The . . . ? by Reinis Traidas from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m frustrated.

I regularly review the terms people search for and end up on this site. Almost every day people are asking questions about how they can determine if their intimate photos and videos have been posted online or what they should do if a current or ex-partner is threatening to post their intimate photos.

Now, I have no issue with consenting adults creating photos or videos in the privacy of their bedroom or wherever they have sexy time. I have a huge issue when it comes to people acting irresponsibly with these media files. And the problem doesn’t appear to be getting better.

My rule of thumb is people shouldn’t create intimate photos or videos unless they are certain that everyone involved is responsible and respectful enough not to share them with anyone. If you know you might be tempted to post these file or show them to your friends, don’t have them on your phone, delete them if you have them, or better yet – don’t create them.

I suspect a lot of people feel embarrassed when they learn that their naked image is online or someone is threatening to post it, so they try to deal with it quietly. These bad actors get to be so abusive, in part, because they’re doing it in the shadows behind a computer screen. They rely on their victim silence. The best response may be to bring this person into the light. If you are a victim in this type of situation, call the police. You may be the victim of revenge porn, harassment, or extortion. You may also want to talk to a lawyer because you might have a civil case as well.

Depending on your circumstances, your most effective course of action may be to turn to the court of public opinion by calling this bad actor out for their abusive and disrespectful deeds.

Likewise, if your friend offers to show you the intimate photos or videos they created with their partner, forcefully decline. Tell your friend they’re a disrespectful dick for even considering sharing these. This person is a jerk who shouldn’t be dating anyone or engaging in any activities that might lead to procreation. The only exception to this advice is if your friend offers to hand you their phone to look at the images. The good buddy response would be to take their phone and delete the images – save them from themselves.

In thinking about these situations, one of the reasons why I’m so frustrated is because I feel powerless to stop this misbehavior. The answer to this problem may lie in the way we teach tweens and tweens about using their phones. Just like we teach kids to say “please” and “thank you,” they need to be taught that it’s unacceptable to create and share content designed to humiliate and disrespect others.

If you suspect that you are the victim of revenge porn threatened with revenge porn, please know that you don’t have to deal with this situation alone. Please call the police, your local domestic violence resource center, and/or a lawyer. If you have any questions about revenge porn or any other questions about social media harassment, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

YouTube Reinstated my Video

Webtreats - 272 YouTube Icons Promo Pack by webtreats from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Webtreats – 272 YouTube Icons Promo Pack by webtreats from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last month, YouTube pulled one of my videos within hours of it being released. My videos are typically uploaded in advanced and released early every Wednesday morning. That was the strangest message to wake up to.

The weird thing was that the videos on this challenge are mostly Q&A for legal questions about business, intellectual property, and internet law. Occasionally, I talk about more risqué topics like revenge porn and legal issues related to posting or sharing intimate photos and videos, but this video was about publicity rights. (The question I received was poorly phrased. As written it sounded like he/she could have been asking about human trafficking, but I’m pretty sure they were asking about the right of publicity.)

Since life is blog material, instead of posting the video that day, I posted about how YouTube pulled my video for allegedly violating their Community Guidelines. I do not know if someone reported my video as offensive or if an automatic process within YouTube detected suspicious verbiage and removed it automatically.

Initially, I was going to let it go, thinking “Their site, their rules;” but a friend suggested I appeal the decision. (I wish I could remember who suggested this! Thank you!) I went into the firm’s YouTube channel and submitted an appeal with a short note explaining that the purpose of the video was a discussion of publicity rights, not an endorsement of human trafficking. About a day later, I received the following response:

Thank you for submitting your video appeal to YouTube. After further review, we’ve determined that your video doesn’t violate our Community Guidelines. Your video has been reinstated and your account is in good standing.

In case you missed it, here’s the video that led to this predicament:

I’m glad this situation has a happy ending. The lesson I learned from all of this is that it’s worth it to appeal YouTube’s decision if you think a video was pulled in error. If you have any questions about a YouTube video or any other questions about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

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.

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.

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.

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.