Social Media with a Side of Litigation

Remember Friendster? Maybe, maybe not. Social media has come a long way since 2002, and it is indisputably here to stay. And, as with anything which has such major impact on society, social media has also begun to become intertwined with the law. Businesses have to consider whether they need a corporate social media policy in place. Individuals need to recognize that their use of social media may be unlawful, regardless of their motives for posting certain content. And lawyers have to consider how to advise their clients on social media use and how social posts may be used as evidence.

Here are just a few recent social media incidents which may—or already have—lead to litigation.

  • People who create and share video on YouTube are becoming increasingly irate with Facebook over Facebook’s video player. Facebook has made major strides with its built-in player, generating more shares of Super Bowl ads earlier this year than did YouTube videos. Yet the new big kid on the block may find itself embroiled in a legal challenge similar to the one Google (YouTube’s owner) faced from Viacom in 2007. In the wake of that lawsuit, YouTube developed a Content ID system which allows video creators to flag or monetize illegally-duplicated videos. In contrast, Facebook offers little copyright protection and provides no ability to monetize videos that are uploaded onto the social network. This has led some YouTube creators to allege that their videos are being “freebooted”. Time—or maybe a lawsuit?—will tell if Facebook will develop its own way to manage copyright protection or video monetization.
  • A different video battle may be brewing between HBO and Periscope, with HBO recently issuing takedown notices to Twitter’s live video app. Periscope allows its users to stream whatever they are doing to their followers. Which can be useful and good… unless Periscope’s broadcasters are using the app to illegally broadcast copyrighted content. HBO alleges that this very activity happened earlier this year, when a number of Periscope users broadcast the season premiere of Game of Thrones to their followers. Periscope relies on notifications from its users that copyright infringement is occurring; HBO says that Periscope (and other developers) should have stronger safeguards in place. No word yet on if Periscope will be implementing any changes to its policy. In the meantime, the Game of Thrones season finale set a new piracy record.
  • Finally, Pinterest recently found itself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Photographer Christopher Boffoli claims that his photos have been posted to the social bulletin-board site more than 5,000 times and that Pinterest is failing to protect photographers’ rights in their work. Though he’s issued multiple DMCA takedown requests, the site has not removed his content. Boffoli has previously sued other websites including Google, Twitter, and Imgur over the unauthorized use of his images. While Pinterest has offered him a settlement, he says his lawsuit is not only about money. Trial is currently set for early next year.