Legal, Privacy and Copyright Issues for Social Media Users
Posted by On Road Elizabeth on 27/02/2011
N.B. We are not legal experts (obviously!) so we are simply signposting useful information we’ve found on our travels and we hope you find it useful too!
Guidelines, Disclaimers, Comments Policies and the Creative Commons
It is not unreasonable to be a little anxious about the possibility of your use of social media having negative repercussions. It is not unreasonable to be anxious but, you are not alone, and I found that there were some resources available which may help me to minimise the likelihood of my having problems online, legal or otherwise.
News organisations and online journalists, in particular, are laying down helpful guidelines and codes of practice, or rules of engagement, and I found the following codes of practice good preparatory reading:
The Editor\’s Codebook is a pdf Code of Practice for newsrooms and editors published by The Newspaper Publishers Association, The Newspaper Society, The Periodical Publishers Association and The Scottish Newspaper Society. It is a 98 page document that can be viewed online, downloaded and printed. Although it was created for, and by, mainstream media, the case studies and topics covered by this publication should be relevant to anyone concerned about current codes of practice. This publication has been revised for 2011 and contains new information about social media: “Ruling on Blogs” (p.23), “Social Networking Sites” (p.31-32) and “Social Networking and Blog Standards” (p.75).
The December Newsletter from the Press Complaints Commission, entitled “Privacy in the age of social media” discusses the latest privacy cases concerning the Press using social media to source stories and concludes that “journalists should ask themselves many of the same questions as they would when deciding whether to publish any other material. For instance: what is the nature of the material (how personal is it) and what is the public interest in publishing it? But they also need to consider questions that are specific to this issue, such as: has the person sought to restrict access to the material; is the person actually responsible for uploading it themselves?”. Therefore, the PCC suggests that the usual PCC’s Editor’s Code of Practice applies to publishing articles or news online and using online sources.
Disclaimers and Blog Policies
Firstly, what is a disclaimer? If you haven’t yet felt the need to write one, you may be a little uncertain about what they do and why people use them. Wikipedia says that a disclaimer is:
“generally any statement intended to specify or delimit the scope of rights and obligations that may be exercised and enforced by parties in a legally-recognized relationship. In contrast to other terms for legally operative language, the term disclaimer usually implies situations that involve some level ofuncertainty, waiver, or risk.”
And Wise Geek clarifies that “a disclaimer notice is a short passage typically telling a reader that the person responsible for the information or service has no responsibility should some problem result from use of that information or service. The question of whether various types of disclaimers are an effective legal defense often comes up, especially once one party has sued. In general a legal disclaimer notice does not totally absolve the party issuing it of negligence or wrong doing, but could help in some cases” and reminds us that “those who read a disclaimer, or even sign a waiver of liability, could still sue. The disclaimer or waiver is given some weight by the court, but does not give the other party the freedom to act in any manner they choose”.
So, I expect a disclaimer to be helpful but I am not going to be mistaking it for full body armour for my blog. A disclaimer, hopefully, will demonstrate that I know my rights and am willing to protect myself against unnecessary abuse but it also, along with a Comments Policy, should allow my blog to continue to function and welcome comments without requiring that I continually remind visitors how they should behave.
Lorelle VanFossen, on her Lorelle on WordPress blog, covers disclosure and blog disclaimers in her January 2011 post, and links to her own Does your blog need a disclaimer? and Writing a blog disclaimer posts written for The Blog Herald in 2007. 2007 references may seem dated but I liked the information (and some of the examples were quite amusing!)
It appears that, searching around the web, blog disclaimers can appear in many different forms. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science Blog adopts an informal approach to disclaimers and chooses to outline rules of engagement under a page called How to use this website – The Rules:
“Rules. Like I want to make rules.
You can comment on most of the text: just click on the article’s title, and a place for you to write will magically appear. This is healthy and more people should do it.Sometimes you’ll find that there’s a fight going on already. Try to be combative, intelligent, and rude, but remember these three things: personal stories about your health will always be deleted; childish personal attacks are only permitted when they are very funny; and if your post is more than one thousand words long then you are officially a loser.
If your post is off-topic, or simply rabid, and you want to talk about you, you, and you, you might want to go here instead, where it won’t get in the way of an ongoing discussion. The discussions here are unusually high level, and linear, people read each other. If you prefer to troll then I’ll happily give you space but not at the expense of an interesting ongoing discussion.
If your post doesn’t appear, it’s pretty unlikely that I’m “censoring” your comments, regardless of how dramatic and exciting you might find that prospect. The spam filter has probably been triggered, and I don’t get round to looking in that bin too often. Just bung me an email and I’ll hook you out.
I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to post anecdotes about your own health problems and treatments here. It’s extremely unlikely that they will inform a discussion about evidence, and experience here suggests that you may become offended and angry when other commenters disagree with your interpretation (as they are very entitled to do). Invite people elsewhere to discuss your anecdote, and if they want to, they will follow your link.
No libel, thanks. If you have been unfairly abused and you don’t like it tell me with an email and obviously I’ll get rid of it, sorry I can’t watch everything that happens here.I happen to think it’s slightly more stylish to comment under your own real name, but that’s one of few things here that is only an opinion. Perhaps you don’t want your employer catching you skiving on the interweb, or you want to avoid hatemail from the anti-MMR lobby (forward it to me for a hate archive I’m compiling).
Generally if you’re an “involved party” you probably ought to identify yourself openly. If you don’t I may do so, especially if you are from the company/lobby being discussed andpretend not to be.”
Amusing this is, and a very entertaining read, but this text is written in the style favoured by the Bad Science blog and I will probably want to create something in my own style for my readers.
If you are also worried about copyright then a Creative Commons License may reassure you.
Creative Commons Copyright Licenses
The Creative Commons “is a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation” and their copyright licenses appear to be free. They can be downloaded to your blog and Creative Commons provide instructions for how to do this.
In addition, or as an accompaniment to her license, Penny Red also provides her interactive readership with a Comments Policy:
“Penny Red used to be unmoderated, but following several spates of horrendous trolling, I’ve had to resort to moderating comments. If your comment isn’t blatantly and horrendously misogynist, misandrist, racist, ablist, homophobic, transphobic or xenophobic, and you’re not a spambot, it will appear on the site as soon as I get time to approve it. Bullying of any kind will not be tolerated on this blog. Essentially, if you’ve got a point to make, there’s no harm in putting it reasonably and objectively. Thanks :)”.
The Creative Commons allows you to search for sites which use their licenses and, by doing this, I found a blog called Snappy Lifestyle which chooses to precede a CC license icon with the following disclaimer:
“All content including photos, videos and designs are the property of Snappylifestyle. Short text extracts of the content found on this website may be reproduced elsewhere, on the condition that Snappylifestyle is properly credited as the source with a link to the Snappylifestyle URL: http://www.snappylifestyle.com
Imagery not owned by me are posted for commenting only and no photos are used for commercial purposes. If you own any of the images and want them properly removed, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Deciding whether to have a license, disclaimer, comments policy, or ignore them all and carry on blogging regardless, is entirely up to you and many bloggers appear not to feel the need to safeguard themselves with a disclaimer etc… Some, however, like Online Journalism Blog, keep it simple:
“Please do not make comments on the blog that are defamatory, discriminatory or prejudiced, or generally nasty. We reserve the right to remove comments that fit those categories, but very rarely do“.
My Online Freelance Writing Career, on the other hand, takes a more comprehensive, legal approach to disclaimers:
“My Online Freelance Writing Career makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy, currency or completeness of the content contain on this website or any sites linked to this site.
Limitation of LiabilityTHE MATERIALS AT THIS SITE ARE PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTY OF ANY KIND INCLUDING WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, NONINFRINGEMENT OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, OR FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR PURPOSE. IN NO EVENT SHALL My Online Freelance Writing Career OR ITS AGENTS OR OFFICERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES WHATSOEVER (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF PROFITS, BUSINESS INTERRUPTION, LOSS OF INFORMATION, INJURY OR DEATH) ARISING OUT OF THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE THE MATERIALS, EVEN IF My Online Freelance Writing Career HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH LOSS OR DAMAGES.
My Online Freelance Writing Career”
In my opinion, something is better than nothing, but what I say and how much protection I feel I need, is very much a personal choice. I quite like the idea of using a Creative Commons license and a Comments Policy (as Penny Red does) in order to keep the legal language to a minimum, and I will try to make sure that my Comments Policy encourages, rather than deters, people from commenting on my blog.
This entry was posted on 27/02/2011 at 9:29 am and is filed under Blogs, General Social Media. Tagged: blog comments policies, blog disclaimers, creative commons licenses, legal, privacy and copyright issues for social media users, social media codes of practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.