New & Improved – The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed

LSB - option 3In case you haven’t heard the news, the revision of my ebook The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed, is out and available in the Kindle Store!  (For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, there are free Kindle apps that will let you download and read it on your phone, tablet, and even your desktop computer.)

I love blogging. I love that every week I get to stand on my digital soapbox and pontificate about anything I want. (Don’t you just love the word “pontificate?”) Early on in my writing career a journalist friend told me that a journalist’s job is to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That has become my motto as well. I love that I get to write things that other people are thinking but maybe don’t have the guts to say themselves. I find it validating when people do that for me and I’m happy to pay it forward for others.

ruthcover smallerOf course when you’re an outspoken blogger and a law student (now a lawyer), you start asking a lot of questions about what you can say without getting into trouble. That led to me to writing a blog series about the legal side of blogging, taking a class on cyberspace law where I wrote a paper on the topic, and eventually this book. When you have a blog, you have an obligation to know how far you can push the envelope without crossing the line. And then when people get pissed at you because of a post, there’s often nothing they can do about it because you’ve done nothing wrong.  The law rarely gives you any type of recourse just because someone made you sad.

I wasn’t planning on writing a revision of my ebook so soon, but a conversation with the Copyright Office earlier this year forced my hand.  Apparently the word “published” had different meaning to normal rational people and the Copyright Office so I had to revise my chapter on copyright registration and I’m even more convinced that the Copyright Act needs a complete overhaul because it makes no sense when it comes to a lot of material that is only released on the internet.

Since I was doing revisions, I also added a section about anti-SLAPP laws too. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. This is the type of counterclaim you can file when someone files a lawsuit against you because of your blog in an effort to shut you up. We don’t like it when people sue people just because they don’t like what they have to say but what they’re saying is not illegal.

I hope you enjoy The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and recommend it to all your friends who are active on social media. I wrote this book with bloggers in mind but the lessons apply equally well to all types of social media.

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Maintaining Privacy with an Online Alter Ego

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

I just got back from the interactive track of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin – the most amazing conference for all things related to social media. I attended as many sessions as I could but there were dozens of other talks I wish I could have attended. I came back to Phoenix buzzing with ideas.

I attended an interesting session by author/journalist Pernille Tranberg from Copenhagen. She co-authored the book Fake It! Your Guide to Digital Self-Defense.  She uses her real name on LinkedIn and Twitter, but she uses fake names on Facebook and for filling out forms online. She has two complete alter egos. Her friends know her fake name on Facebook but she generally doesn’t share that information with others.

In a world that pushes of online transparency, her ideas run in the opposite direction. This is a great tactic for people to use who don’t want everyone looking them up or if they want to have a private online life that is completely separate from their professional life. Having a fake persona makes it less likely that your boss or prospective boss will be able to find you on Facebook or anywhere else you use your fake name. Additionally, if your fake identity is ever stolen it won’t be devastating for you because there are no assets connected to your alter ego.

If you’re interested in creating an alter ego for yourself, check out Fake Name Generator. It will give you a name, address, email address, username, password, profession, and even information like height, weight, blood type, and mother’s maiden name.

Now, does using a fake name violate the terms of service of social media sites that require you to use your real name or have a policy against one person having multiple accounts? Yes. But if no one reports you, how will they ever know?

I also attended a session on Bullying: Social Media as Problem and Solution which featured Marta Gossage, community manager for Reddit. She spoke about how people are encouraged to use pseudonyms on Reddit and by doing so it allows people to share and connect with people in a way that they don’t feel comfortable doing in real life. She said it also reduces the amount of harassment because most people don’t know each other in real life and participants on the site are good at enforcing the ideal that they can attack an idea but not the person.

Marta encourages people to use fake names because it’s easier to share without fear of judgment when no one knows who you are and because it’s easier to delete a fake identity than a real one from the internet. This is particularly true for young people who don’t think before they post and may regret the things they post which might affect their ability to get jobs or accepted into college.

I have a friend who maintained two Facebook profiles during law school – one was under her real name that was mostly a placeholder in case a professional contact tried to look her up. The other was under her fake name where she was free to be herself. Knowing what I know about her career plans, it made sense for her to separate her social life from her professional one. (Don’t worry – she doesn’t do anything bad. She’s just a bit of a free spirit in a conservative industry where some might look down on her boisterousness.)

If you want to create a fake persona online, remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Be careful to only share your fake identity with people who will keep it private.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Woman Attacks Camera Man on Camelback

Cholla Trail Landmark - Camelback Mountain by Dru Bloomfield - At Home in Scottsdale

Cholla Trail Landmark – Camelback Mountain by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale

Last week Pete Kosednar was hiking on Camelback Mountain when he saw a woman on the trail who didn’t have her dog on a leash. He turned on his video camera and asked her is she knew that her dog was supposed to be leashed. She didn’t appreciate being filmed and reacted by swearing at him and hitting him. Check out the video for yourself.

Was Pete Kosednar wrong to film this woman? No! She was in a public place where she had no expectation of privacy. As long as he wasn’t filming her to commercialize her image or filming her in a way that constituted any type of harassment, there’s nothing she could do to stop him from filming her. And now the video is on YouTube where everyone can see her behaving badly.

I understand that privacy is a hot-button topic for a lot of people. It is for me. However, you have no expectation of privacy for anything you do in view of the public so there’s nothing you can do to stop someone from filming you in most situations. Pete could probably strap a video camera to his head and tape most of his day-to-day activities without risk of penalty.

There are some places where you can expect to not be filmed like public bathrooms, tanning beds,  locker rooms, and retail businesses that don’t allow you to take pictures or shoot video in the store. This woman was on Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain. There are no special restrictions on shooting photos on video there.

It also amuses me when people make a scene about being filmed in public. We have surveillance cameras everywhere – in the stores and shopping centers, on courthouses, monitoring freeway traffic, etc. It’s funny when people accept those cameras as a part of every day life but freak out when someone turns on the camera in their phone when they’re standing on the sidewalk or in a public park.

The take-away lesson here is if you’re going to behave badly in public, whether you’re breaking the law, violating a social norm, or making an ass of yourself, don’t be surprised when you find out that someone videotaped it and posted it online.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.
Check out my ebook on Amazon – The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed

Hat tips to Phoenix New Times for running the story and Jeff Moriarty for telling me about it.

When Can Someone Post Photos Of You Online?

My Camera by Paul Reynolds

I’ve had a few people ask me about the legalities of posting pictures of other people online. I thought I’d tackle the most common issue with photographs – whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. I’m not going to get into commercializing a person’s image or misrepresenting a person. I’m only addressing whether someone can post a picture that they took of you on their Facebook page, blog, Flickr, etc.

No Pants Light Rail Ride 2012 by Devon Christopher Adams

Pictures of You in Public
You have no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public. This includes where you go and what you do while you’re there. For example, I just got an adorable basset hound named Rosie. We take walks every day. I have no expectation of privacy regarding where we walk, what I’m wearing when I walk her, or how I react when she pulls on the leash. That’s all in plain view for everyone to see. Anyone can take a picture of us and post it online, preferably with a caption that says, “Sassy lady and her awesome dog,” and there’s nothing I can do about it (as long as they’re not misrepresenting me or commercializing my image without my consent).

If you’re in a public place and someone snaps a picture of you while you’re falling down drunk, getting arrested, picking your nose, scowling at a crying baby, or not wearing pants, there’s probably nothing you can do if that picture shows up online somewhere.

The exception to this rule is you have an expectation of privacy in places like public bathroom stalls, changing rooms, tanning salons, and doctor’s offices that may require you to be partially or completely undressed.

Pictures of You in Private Venues
When pictures are taken of you at a private event or in someone’s private home, you have to ask whether you had an expectation of privacy in each particular situation. If you attend a party where there are no rules regarding photos and everyone has their cameras out, you have no expectation of privacy if someone takes a photo of you and puts it in their online album.

Some events come with ground rules regarding photos that could create an expectation of privacy. I had a friend in college who had a Decorate Your Nipples theme party where everyone had to decorate their chest. Some people put decorations on their shirts and some people opted to decorate their skin. The rule for that party was that no cameras were allowed except during the designated picture time. At picture time, all the photos were limited to one room. If you didn’t want any photographic documentation of your being at that party, you had to go to the no-camera room.

There may be activities where there are no specified rules about photographs, but where the nature of the event or activity gives you an expectation of privacy. For example, if you and your partner make a sex tape or take intimate pictures of each other, there’s an inherent expectation that no one beside you two would see them. If you break up, your partner can’t post the pictures online and protect themselves by saying that you never agreed to keep them private.

When it comes to the question, “Can I post pictures of other people online?,” the answer is always, “It depends.” My general rule of thumb is “Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the paper.” When it comes to photographs, the same rule generally applies because you might end up in a situation where you had an expectation of privacy but someone posted a picture of you online that they shouldn’t have. You might have a case against the jerk who posed it, but you still have to deal with the possibility that a lot of people saw a photo of you that they should have never seen.