Questions People Ask About the Law, Photos, Sex Tapes, and Revenge Porn

Talk Shows on Mute by Katie Tegtmeyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Talk Shows on Mute by Katie Tegtmeyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The movie Sex Tape comes out this week. The previews look dumb, but I want to see it to examine the story from a legal perspective.

I’ve done a fair amount of research and writing about cyber harassment and “revenge porn.” I’m generally an advocate of personal responsibility and people not acting like asses, but judging by the terms people search for and end up on my site, a lot of people don’t share my views.

Here is a sample of the terms people have searched for and ended up on my site just in the last ninety days. (I corrected the spelling errors unless they were too funny not to leave in.)

I get a lot of hits on my site when people search for terms like this:

  • Can someone post your picture without permission
  • Can I sue someone for posting pictures of me online
  • If someone sends you a photo via phone can you post it online
  • Is it illegal to take a picture of someone and post it on the internet
  • Sex tape invasion of privacy
  • Expectation of privacy in sex stores
  • How to get a sex tape of you removed from a website?

I feel bad for these people:

  • What if someone wants to post your explicit pictures
  • Someone is threatening to put me on a porn site
  • My daughter videotaped herself doing some sexual things and now someone is threatening to put it on the internet what now
  • Someone posted nude pics of me, what type of lawyer do I need
  • Girlfriend took illegal pictures and put them on Facebook
  • If a site posts my porn video can I make them take it down
  • My ex-husband has intimate pictures of me what can I do
  • What is the legal steps you can take when someone is distributing a sex tape of you without your consent
  • My ex-boyfriend has nude pics of me. Can I legally do anything to make him delete them?
  • Can I get someone arrested for posting nude pictures of me online
  • Can you get someone arrested for distributing a sex tape?
  • Can you be classified as a sex offender for posting nudes on Facebook Arizona

These people kind of scare me because they either sound vindictive or clueless:

  • Wapsites to post my nude pics
  • Took photos of my ex naked while she was passed out
  • Can I post pics of my ex online
  • Can I post a naked pic on the internet without the consent of that person
  • If a person uploads sex videos in prone sites how much money will he get
  • Do you allow people to post nude pictures on your site I broke up with a guy
  • If u put wife nude video with name on internet can u get in trouble
  • Is giving out naked pictures of your ex- girlfriend breaking the law
  • Can you send xrated pics to get back at someone
  • Is it illegal to take a picture of someone and caption it with a degrading comment

These are just funny:

  • Can you sue a person for taking a photo of your butt in public
  • My ex sent me nude pics can I prosicute her
  • What to do to keep ur man after he saw ur nude pics sent to an ex
  • My boyfriend exposed my nude pictures. I will arrest him
  • Can you take pictures of people having public sex?
  • How to legally make fun of people on the internet
  • Why do people post stupid things online

Anyone who’s a regular reader knows that I constantly say “Think before you post.” When it comes to taking explicit photos or videos with your significant other, don’t do it unless you can handle the responsibility and have enough integrity to keep your private life private.

If you feel you’ve been the victim of a cyber-crime, contact the police in your community. If you want to chat about other issues related to cyberharassment and revenge porn, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Yes, Personal Facebook Posts can be Harassment

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A friend recently directed me to a post on Facebook that included a question about the following:

I have a friend who is having some legal problems that started from a facebook post called “harrassment by communication” for something that was written on their own PERSONAL facebook page. 

This is my interpretation of this statement: This person’s friend is being a accused of wrongdoing because of a post Friend made on Friend’s personal Facebook page.

That can absolutely happen. If you talk about another person on your social media profile, the fact that it was made on your page and not the target’s does not shield you from the repercussions. It would be similar if you were yelling about a person while standing on your own front law vs a street corner. You’re still making a statement about a person. The fact that you have more control over your lawn than a public street corner doesn’t change whether the content of your statement is illegal.

It would a different situation if we were talking about a statement Friend made in Friend’s private diary they keep in their bedside table. In that situation, I wouldn’t expect anyone to find out what Friend wrote as long as he/she kept it private. There is no expectation of privacy in anything anyone posts on social media, regardless of your privacy settings. This is why I tell everyone to treat every post on social media as if it’s going to end up on a billboard or the front page of the newspaper.

Arizona has criminal laws against cyberharassment and harassment. They both involve communicating with a person with the intent to harass them or with the knowledge that the person was being harassed. The laws do not put limits on from where that harassment can occur. Both crimes are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

Additionally, I would expect the terms of service for every social media platform to include a provision that forbids users to the site to harass other users and doing so could result in the suspension or termination of the offender’s account.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

I have no idea if Friend referenced above did anything wrong or if he/she is merely being accused of doing something wrong. I can only say that Friend may have committed some type of harassment depending on the facts of the situation. The fact that they made the post in question from their personal page does nothing to protect them from the legal implications of their statements. The First Amendment does not shield you from the criminal consequences of your actions and there is no expectation of privacy on any social media platform.

Think before you post – because the consequences of your speech can be severe.

On the flip side, I tell people if they are being harassed online to document all the instances and take screenshots of all the offending posts – particularly in situations where the person who is making the statements are doing so from their own profile because you never know if/when they might re-think their actions and delete them.

If you need a resource that explains the legal dos and don’ts of social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need a resource to help protect yourself against harassment and cyberharassment, I recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

If you want to chat more about freedom of speech and cyberharassment, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How to be Anonymous Online – John Huppenthal Shows What Not to Do

Anonymous by Thomas Leth-Olsen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Anonymous by Thomas Leth-Olsen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It recently came to light that John Huppenthal, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, has been using various aliases to post comments on several blogs for years. Some of his comments have been described as racist and disparaging towards welfare recipients.  There were also times that he used his alias to write comments that endorsing himself and his position.

John Huppenthal, Image from the Arizona State Legislature

John Huppenthal, Image from the Arizona State Legislature

Allegedly Huppenthal said he used an alias to participate in the free exchange of ideas. To a degree, I get that. Before the internet, the best way to be heard was to write a letter to the editor. I knew of at least one public official who used an alias to express ideas as an individual rather than as a person holding political office. I also suspect that if this person was unmasked it would be a non-issue for them. (They also weren’t sending in letters dripping with discriminatory speech. They were just expressing themselves as a concerned citizen.)

So what can we learn from John Huppenthal’s mistakes about being anonymous on the internet . . .

Use an IP Address that’s Hard to Trace to You
According to the reports, Huppenthal made several posts from the Arizona Department of Education. If you want to be anonymous, make it hard to for people to track your internet connection. Don’t use the internet connection at work, home, or your personal hotspot. Use the public internet at a coffee shop, hotel, or library.

Protect Your True Identity
If you want to be anonymous online, take steps to protect your identity. Besides using a public internet source, create a dummy email address for your anonymous posts. Choose usernames that don’t reveal anything related to who you are, your job, your location, or your hobbies. Don’t use photos of yourself as your avatar.. That’s partially how Shashank Tripathi got caught as the man behind the fake tweets about Hurricane Sandy.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

Don’t Endorse Yourself
It’s one thing to use an alias to participate in public discourse and another to create a fake persona to endorse yourself when you’re running for or holding political office. If you want to respond to your critics, do it as yourself. It’s classier and it shows you have integrity.

Expect to be Unmasked
I frequently tell people, “Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.” This includes everything you post anonymously. Act as if everyone you care about is going to see what you posted with your name and picture attached to it. That way if your identity is ever revealed, you can own it without any personal issues.

If you have aspirations of being or remaining anonymous online, this video may help.

Huppenthal said he won’t resign over these posts and he’s currently up for re-election. We’ll see if the revelation of this behavior will impact his career. If nothing else, he’s the living embodiment of the risks that come with an attempt to be anonymous and the mistakes you can make when you think no one knows what you’re saying.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to be anonymous online, please check out my books, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. The latter includes an afterword by an anonymous award-winning legal blogger The Namby Pamby about the challenges he faces.

If you want to chat with me about anonymous speech on the internet, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Book – The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers

The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers

The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers

Having a blog is still awesome. Getting in trouble because of your block isn’t. When you’re lawyer, staying out of trouble when you have a blog is a little more complicated.

I became interested in the legalities of blogging when I started my personal blog, The Undeniable Ruth, in 2010. I have a lot of friends who are outspoken online and I wanted to know how far we could push the envelope before one of us crossed the line. That became a blog series, which inspired a paper for my Cyberspace Law class, and became the basis of my first book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. I tried to write as a blogger for other bloggers – in English instead of legalese. I tried to give as many straight answers as possible in an arena where the law hasn’t kept up with technology.

When I signed on to write The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers, I wanted to address all the common legal questions any blogger would have and also address some issues that are specific to the legal profession.  I added sections about the type of disclaimer every legal blogger should have on their site and under what circumstances lawyers can blog about their own cases. Lawyers also have to be mindful of their state’s ethical rules about lawyer advertising. This shouldn’t be that big of an issue because if your blog constitute advertising, you’re probably doing it wrong.  The book also includes practical advice on how to respond to people who leave comments on your site that ask for legal advice – despite the fact that your disclaimer clearly states that anyone in that situation should schedule a consult with a lawyer in their community.

I also added three appendices that list the state and federal laws that apply to blogging, online resources related to the legalities of blogging, and a list of recommended books about blogging and social media marketing.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the afterward written by anonymous legal blogger The Namby Pamby – a man who has personally experience blogging about his cases with the added burden of keeping his identity a secret. His blog is hilarious, and I loved hearing his take on my work.

After the book came out, I had the pleasure of talking about the book on the JD Blogger Podcast. Host John Skiba said that he liked the book can be used as a resource for lawyers with cases that are related to the internet because it’s filled with citations to the applicable cases and laws.

If you want your own copy, The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers is available through the American Bar Association.

If you want to chat more about the legalities of blogging, you can connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Trial in Crystal Cox Defamation Case – What Does It Mean for Bloggers?

First Amendment to the US Constitution by elPadawan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

First Amendment to the US Constitution by elPadawan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Crystal Cox will get a new trial for the defamation lawsuit that was filed against her. Cox calls herself an “investigative blogger” and she wrote a blog post where she accused Oregon bankruptcy attorney Kevin Padrick and his company, Obsidian Finance Group LLC of committing “fraud, corruption, money-laundering and other illegal activities.” Padrick sued Cox for defamation and an Oregon court awarded him $2.5 million in damages.

In general, defamation requires a false statement about a person communicated to a third party that hurts that person’s reputation. Based on this definition, it’s easy to see how a blogger could be accused of defamation if someone suspects the blogger is lying about them in a post. The court applies different standards for different situations involving situations which will affect whether the author has committed defamation and what damages can be awarded.

A court may award compensatory damages to make up for the person’s damaged reputation and punitive damages to punish the person who committed the defamation.

Here are the three standards that can apply in a defamation case.

  • Defamation of a public person: The alleged victim must prove that the author knew or should have known they were lying when they made the statement in question – only compensatory damages available.
  • Defamation of a private person regarding a manner of public concern: Punitive damages are available in addition to compensatory damages if the alleged victim can prove that the author was negligent in making the statement.
  • Defamation of a private person regarding a matter that is not of public concern: Compensatory and punitive damages are available if the alleged victim can show that the statement was false and damaged their reputation.

It appears the lower court applied the standard for defamation of a private person regarding a matter that is not of public concern and the court of appeals ruled that they should have used the standard for defamation of a private person regarding a manner of public concern because the public has an interest regarding whether an attorney is corrupt and committing fraud. So the parties will have to settle the case between themselves or have a new trial and use the correct standard. But note, there is no dispute about whether the statement in question was defamatory, only what standard the court is supposed to use to decide the case.

Some people are calling this ruling a huge victory for bloggers because it states that the same defamation standards for journalists apply to blogging – and I’m going to respectfully disagree.  The landmark defamation cases may have started with journalists, but we don’t have different defamation laws for journalists and everyone else. (If this were a Shield Law case, it would be different.) There have been other defamation cases against non-journalists where the court applied the same standards. The fact that this might be the first time a court has said that bloggers can write about matters of public concern is an indicator of how few defamation cases go to trial more than anything else. No real new information has come out of this ruling by the Ninth Circuit.

This case is a good reminder about where you can be sued because of your blog. If you do something wrong via your blog and you get sued, the alleged victim is going to sue you in their state and under their state’s laws. In this case, Cox was living in Montana when she made the original statements and she had to travel to Oregon to defend herself under Oregon’s laws.

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Arizona may Pass a Law Against Revenge Porn

Pro Juventute Aufklärungskampagne ‚Sexting’ Themenbild_05 by Pro Juventute from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Pro Juventute Aufklärungskampagne ‚Sexting’ Themenbild_05 by Pro Juventute from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Arizona legislature is considering a bill that would make “revenge porn” a felony. Revenge porn is the term commonly used when a person posts nude, often sexually explicit, photos or videos of another person on the internet without consent, likely after a bad break up.

House Bill 2515 would prohibit a “person from knowingly disclosing, displaying, distributing, publishing, advertising or offering a photograph, videotape or film or digital recording or other reproduction of a person engaged in a sexual act or in a state of nudity without that person’s written consent.”

If this bill becomes a law as it’s written, violating this law would be a Class 5 Felony (punishable by at least 6 months’ imprisonment and up to $150,000 fine), unless the person in the images is recognizable, then it would be a Class 4 Felony (punishable by at least 1 year in jail and up to $150,000 fine).

Arizona already has a law on the books about cyberharassment. This law is broadly written and requires the perpetrator to intend “to terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass a specific person or persons.” This new revenge porn law doesn’t require a particular intent, just the knowledge that the perpetrator knew they were posting sexually explicit material without the subject’s consent. It only looks at their behavior, not their goal regarding the alleged victim.

This bill has a long way to go before it becomes a law, and it has some opponents. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is reported to oppose the law because people in the photos and videos often send the original images of themselves via “sexting” and they may be partially responsible for the continued distribution of the images.

“Once you send it out, I think there’s some difficulty in claiming that you have a right to privacy,” Farnsworth said. “You sent it. It’s on the entire system.”

What do you think about this bill – Should states have specific laws about revenge porn? Do you think the punishment should be up to a year in jail if the person in the photos or video can be identified?

I constantly remind people, “Think before you post.” Even if this law passes, victims’ lives could still be destroyed by revenge porn. You don’t know who is going to see it or where it might end up. If you can’t handle the responsibility of taking intimate photos  or videos, don’t do it.

If you want to chat more about revenge porn and this proposed law, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to invasion of privacy. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What the Yelp Lawsuits Mean for You

People Hate Us on Yelp by danoxster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

People Hate Us on Yelp by danoxster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There are a few lawsuits going on right now involving reviews on Yelp. If you are a business owner who is concerned about what people might post about you or a person who likes to post reviews of products and services online, you should be paying attention.

In the first case, the court ordered Yelp to reveal the identities of seven anonymous account holders who are being accused of posting false negative reviews about a business. The owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning filed the defamation lawsuit claiming that these people were not customers. Posting reviews of companies you haven’t used is also a violation of Yelp’s terms of service.

The First Amendment protects people’s right to share their opinions, including anonymously. However, it doesn’t protect against defamatory speech. The challenge with anonymous speech is you could be unmasked if you do something wrong or if someone builds a strong case that you could be wrong. These cases are hard because the owner doesn’t know who is posting the anonymous review so they can’t cross check the review with their customer records so they often have to sue to identify the person so they can determine if they’ve been illegally harmed.  This case doesn’t concern me too much as long as the court is applying the proper standards to determine if the plaintiff has shown enough evidence of harm that would warrant a subpoena to reveal the posters’ identities.

In the second case, a contracting company is suing a former customer for $750K for defamation after she posted a negative review on Yelp where she claimed her “home was damaged, she was billed for work that wasn’t done and jewelry went missing after she hired” the company. Defamation generally requires a false statement about a person or entity that’s communicated to a third party, and that hurts the person or entity’s reputation. In this case, the owner claims the review has cost his company business, so there’s his damage. If anything in her review is untrue and led to the drop in business, that’s likely defamation.

Some people are concerned that these cases will prohibit people from posting negative reviews online, even when they are accurate. Given how many Yelp reviews have been posted and how few lawsuits have come out of them, I don’t think this should be a significant concern for Yelpers. I think these cases provide good lessons regarding internet law and etiquette:

  1. If you’re going to post reviews online, make sure you only share your accurate opinion. (BTW – Federal law requires you to only post your honest and accurate opinions.)
  2. The First Amendment protects your right to speak anonymously; however, if someone suspects your speech has harmed them, they may have to sue to get a subpoena for the website to reveal your identity to determine if they’ve been harmed. If you use your real name, they can cross check your review with their records.
  3. If you are a business owner, take care of your customers. If you treat them badly, have low quality products, or provide poor service, they will call you out online.

I also made a video about how to respond to bad reviews online from a legal perspective:

Most states have laws against strategic lawsuits against public participation, called anti-SLAPP laws. These are laws against filing lawsuits that are intended just to shut you up, not to address a situation where a person was legally harmed. If someone files a defamation lawsuit against you because of an online review and you feel like you’re being falsely accused, you should check to see if your state has an anti-SLAPP law.  

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Courtney Love Wins her Twitter Defamation Case – What Does It Mean For You?

Courtney at the Tabernacle by Katjusa Cisar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Courtney at the Tabernacle by Katjusa Cisar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week, a California jury reached a verdict in the Courtney Love Twitter defamation case – the first Twitter defamation case to go to trial. Love hired attorney Rhonda Holmes to represent her in a fraud case against the people who were managing Kurt Cobain’s estate. Their professional relationship didn’t work out, and in 2010, Love posted a tweet that said in part, “I was f***ing devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off.” Holmes sued Love for defamation.

In general, defamation requires a false statement about a person told to a third party, that hurts that person’s reputation. Essentially, Holmes argument was that the tweet was lie and that it damaged her reputation. Defamation is a state-law issue so check how the law is written in your state.

Initially, I was surprised when I saw that Love won this lawsuit, until I read the full article. Then I made a video explaining why Courtney Love won this defamation case.

The law applies different standard to defamation involving public persons versus private persons. When a public person is defamed, the victim can prevail if she can prove that the person making the statement acted with malice – meaning they knew or should have known that they were lying when they made the statement. When a private person claims they were defamed, they only have to show that there was a lie about them that hurt their reputation.  

Holmes isn’t a celebrity lawyer. She’s just a person. You might think that Holmes would be treated like a private person, but the court said she was a public person in regards to this case because of her affiliation with Love. (Some people are public people all the time – i.e., celebrities – and some people are public figures only regarding certain issues.) Here, the jury believed Love when she said she didn’t know she was lying when she made the statement, so that’s why she won the case.

So what does this mean for you? This case suggests that you can be Joe Average Nobody (private person) in your day-to-day life but if you are affiliated with a celebrity, you can be a public person in regards to your dealings with them. If you claim that your celebrity friend defamed you, you may have a higher bar to clear than if you were defamed by your Joe Average Nobody friend.

Here’s something else to think about – celebrities are public people because they put themselves into  the public spotlight. If you are “internet famous” or put yourself online for all to see via your blog, YouTube channel, or on other social media platforms, you may become a public person. When you’re a public person, you can expect more criticism and the law will protect your critics against defamation claims as long as they didn’t know or couldn’t have known that they were lying about you when they did it.

There is no cut-and-dry equation to determine whether you are a public or private person in regards to a defamation case unless you are an obvious celebrity. So if you are ever file a defamation lawsuit, part of the trial might be just determine whether you are a public or private person in the circumstances of the case to determine which standard applies.

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book,  The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Should You Blog About Your Crimes?

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Crime Scene by Alan Cleaver from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my friend Joe Manna. He wanted to write a blog pot about his experience driving a Prius and he had concerns about disclosing the fact that he was speeding – not just a little over the limit, but driving over 100 mph.

Luckily under the law the burden is on the prosecution to build a case against you. As far as we know, no one from law enforcement saw him speeding and we really don’t know which city/county he was in when this occurred, or even if he was in California or Arizona. Frankly all we have is his claim that he was speeding and anyone who’s ever heard a fishing story knows how much someone’s word can be taken at face value. As far as I know there’s no physical evidence of what actually happened.

Joe’s question brought up a good point – be careful about what you post online and aware of what others post about you. If you disclose that you committed a crime and post videos or pictures from it, that could be evidence that could be used against you.

Think about all the stories you’ve heard about burglars that were caught after they took pictures of themselves with their loot and high school pranksters who took pictures of themselves doing their senior prank or stealing their rival’s mascot.  They were busted in part due to their own stupidity.

This is one of the risks we take in the flash mob world. After each event, we post the blog, photos, and video from the flash mob so people can enjoy our shenanigans. If we did anything illegal during the flash mob, we just admitted it and probably gave law enforcement the evidence they need to prosecute us.

So does Joe have anything to worry about? Probably not. The worst thing he probably has to worry about is he’s put the police on notice that he speeds so maybe the cops in his neighborhood might pay a bit more attention to him when they see him out and about.

Can you blog about your crimes? Of course! Should you? That’s a different question. Think hard about the potential consequences of the post before you tell the internet-accessible world about your wrongdoings. You never know where that information will end up and what those people will do with it.

If you want more information on this topic, please check out my books The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Stance on Blog Copyright Registration

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Grrr . . . It seems like every time I call the Copyright Office with a question about blog copyrights, I have to change my stance on how and whether anyone should register their blog’s content. Mind you, when I wrote the Legal Side of Blogging last year, my research and ideas were approved by my cyberspace law professor and another internet/copyright attorney. We all got it wrong.

I used to think that bloggers should register their new content every three months because the Copyright Act says you’re eligible for statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever is first. In a previous call to the Copyright Office, the representative said it was permissible to register all your content as one work and that subsequent registrations would be derivative works of the prior ones.

A few months ago I was informed that content that is only available online (including blog posts) doesn’t count as “publications,” so that rule about registering within three months of publication doesn’t apply. For unpublished content, you have to register you work prior to the infringement occurring to be eligible for statutory damages. If you wait until after your work has been stolen to register you work you can only collect actual damages, which will be low unless you or the person who stole your work has a financially successful site.

I called the Copyright Office yesterday and was told that you can’t register posts that are released on different days as one work (though my experience is proof that you can) and you can’t register the same post as an individual work and as part of a larger work, (though I think there’s some wiggle room here).

So here’s my new stance – registering your blog content is not worth it for most people. The exception to this rule is you might want to register your work if you think it will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. If you’re in this boat, or think you might be, you should submit your application to the Copyright Office before you release the post on your site to ensure that your application will be in before any infringement can occur.

This is more proof of how behind the times the law is and that you can’t apply logic to copyright on the internet. I think it’s moronic that online content isn’t “published” when it’s released on the internet. I think this definition will change in the near future with so many publications switching from paper to being online only. As the law is written and applied the law seems unfair because it makes it harder for online writers to protect themselves.

There is a special copyright registration for “serial works” but so far the Copyright Office says blogs, including those that are released on a strict schedule like other serial publications, do not qualify. I think this is wrong and needs to be challenged.

For now, I’ve added a disclaimer to my ebook on Amazon that states that the copyright registration chapter is inaccurate and will be updated this summer. I hope to add the revised chapter to the book in the next month once it gets through legal review and editing.