Do Authors Need a Social Media Legal Handbook?


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By Brian Feinblum, Chief Marketing Officer, SVP

Social media is all over the place, and the legal system struggles to keep up with it.  Further, the masses using social media, especially authors to promote their books, are not fully informed on the existing laws as it relates to digital content and communications.

Legal Guide to Social Media:  Rights and Risks for Businesses Entrepreneurs is a handy guide from Allworth Press that helps us, in plain English, to interpret the law as it relates to Twitter, blogs, libel, and linking.

Author Kimberly A. Houser, an attorney, professor, and blogger lectures on Internet law and information technology. Her book shows what we need to know as it relates to many areas, including:

• Defamation and the risks of posting content
• Copyright issues
• Privacy laws
• Protecting your name and the content you create.
• Embracing intellectual property laws
• Legal issues revolving around your web site
• Legal pitfalls when setting up an e-business.

Houser acknowledges the world of Internet media law is always shifting, and is filled with minefields of lawsuits, criminal activities and wrong doings. She writes this in her introduction:

How can social media marketers avoid being sued or fined for posts they didn’t even know were violations of the law?  The easy answer is by becoming informed.

Unfortunately, there are not many places to look for this type of information. There is a great deal of false information posted on the Internet by non-attorneys regarding the legalities of social media marketing efforts. The legal websites and blogs out there simply describe recent lawsuits, which may be frightening but are not particularly helpful. The government websites only talk about the laws in their jurisdiction. None give practical advice on avoiding violations, and many contain inaccurate or outdated information. The most common types of risks, however, can be avoided by taking simple steps before, during, and after engaging in online activities.

Some of the passages in her book answer these pressing questions:

• Don’t I have the right to anonymity on the Internet?
• What legal risks are there in posting a photograph?
• What are the rules involving contests and promotions?
• What happens when people steal information from my site?
• How do I register my trademark?
• What is fair use?
• How do I file a take-down notice?
• How do I avoid liability for SPAM?
• Do bloggers need to incorporate?

The author imagines some future issues will need to be resolved or addressed.  She writes this in her conclusion:

Internet law is in a constant state of flux.  It is impossible to state what the law is today, because it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and the laws on the books are outdated by the time they go to press. Technology changes that quickly.  I predict that the following issues will be debated and potentially legislated in the near future:

• The excessive statutory damages being awarded in copyright infringement cases
• The inability to fully monitor trademarks due to the Internet
• Mobile apps
• Geo-locating
• SLAPP suits and enforcement fallout
• Cyberbullying
• Cyber-impersonation
• Copyright infringement and fan art
• Social media ownership after death

Indeed, the digital media landscape out there is filled with pitfalls. Authors need to understand their rights and have an awareness of the issues.

Related: Author Q&A with Charles Morgan: New Book Tells the Story of the Man Who Paved the Way for Big Data

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