Use Policy. Social Media.

Share

Social networking is the hottest discovery since email. It’s fun, fast paced, interesting, and allows you to connect with friends, colleagues, and clients in a way that you never could before. And for entrepreneurs and small business owners, it levels the playing field by allowing you to develop a network and marketing plan at a fraction of the cost. BUT don’t be lulled into thinking you can act with impunity. With all the good social networking can accomplish and the ease in which you can use it, there are landmines to be aware of.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll address a number of legal issues you should be aware of when playing in the social media sandbox, and actions you can take to side-step them. The first issue is the most basic and the easiest for you to comply with–having a social media use policy.

Have a social media use policy.
Do you have a social media policy in your work place? Do you think you need one? The average small business person does NOT have a policy on what’s acceptable behavior in their office, with regards to  social media use. Yet without a policy, which let’s people know what your expectations are, you can’t hold them accountable.  Whether you are a large or  small business, or sole proprietor, you should have a written policy letting people know, what you expect, in terms of their behavior in your workspace.

Communicate your policy.
Having a policy is essential to the effective running of your business.  But a policy alone is useless, unless everyone with a need to know, knows about it. So who needs to know about your social media use policy? At a minimum, the following people need to know about your social media use policy:

  1.  Full time staff
  2. Temporary staff
  3. Part-time workers
  4. Independent contractors
  5. Consultants
  6. Clients who visit and access your computers

Enforce your policy.
Having a policy and communicating that policy are all well and good.  But if you have a policy and don’t enforce it, or you enforce it against only certain people, then it is as if you have no policy at all.

Until next time, beware of social networking landmines!

Social Media Use Policy?

Share

Social Media.

Social media. Social Networking.

Social media. Social Networking.

Social networking is the hottest discovery since email. It’s fun, fast paced, interesting, and allows you to connect with friends, colleagues, and clients in a way that you never could before. And for entrepreneurs and small business owners, it levels the playing field by allowing you to develop a network and marketing plan at a fraction of the cost. BUT don’t be lulled into thinking you can act with impunity. With all the good social networking can accomplish and the ease in which you can use it, there are landmines to be aware of.

One of the legal issues you should be aware of when playing in the social media sandbox, is the most basic and the easiest for you to comply with–having a social media use policy.

Have a social media use policy.
Do you have a social media policy in your work place? Do you think you need one? The average small business person does NOT have a policy on what’s acceptable behavior in their office, with regards to  social media use. Yet without a policy, which let’s people know what your expectations are, you can’t hold them accountable.  Whether you are a large or  small business, or sole proprietor, you should have a written policy letting people know, what you expect, in terms of their behavior in your workspace.

Communicate your policy.
Having a policy is essential to the effective running of your business.  But a policy alone is useless, unless everyone with a need to know, knows about it. So who needs to know about your social media use policy? At a minimum, the following people need to know about your social media use policy:

  1.  Full time staff
  2. Temporary staff
  3. Part-time workers
  4. Independent contractors
  5. Consultants
  6. Clients who visit and access your computers

Enforce your policy.
Having a policy and communicating that policy are all well and good.  But if you have a policy and don’t enforce it, or you enforce it against only certain people, then it is as if you have no policy at all.

Social Media and the Workplace

Share

Navigating Social Media in the Workplace!

Social Media Workplace

Social Media. Workplace Policy.

Social media has infiltrated our everyday lives, and the workplace is no exception. Because of the rise of social media venues, such as Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, and LinkedIn, employers are exposed, as never before, to vast bits of information about employees and potential candidates.  In the not so distant past, much of this information would not be available, but employers now face the challenge of being exposed to this extraneous information and the legality of using it. Employers must consider whether the benefits are worth the risks of viewing an applicant’s social media site and using it in the hiring process, and if they choose to use it—to what extent?

There are several considerations an employer should take into account when entering this technological minefield.  Here are a few:

  1. Develop a social media use policy, communicate to everyone with a need to know about it, and make sure you enforce fairly.
  2. Create a list of the social media that will be used for each and every applicant and what information they will use from the search, forming a consistent process.
  3. Delegate the social media search to a neutral party who can filter out protected class information.
  4. Strictly adhere to a policy of not “friending” the applicants to learn about nonpublic information from a social media profile.
  5. State a valid, business-related reason for the hiring decision and maintain the information to back up that decision.
  6. Consult with counsel before deciding to use social media information in the hiring process.

Outside of hiring, social media can be detrimental to a company’s productivity and employee relations, and can affect all aspects of the employment life cycle, making it important to address the issue in company policies. Companies, at the very least, should add broad statements and prohibitions regarding social media in the workplace to existing code of conduct, harassment, and confidentiality policies, and apply them with consistency.

Until next time, think ASSET PROTECTION!

Consumer Reviews. Yelp.

Share

Reviews.

Online consumer reviews have become a staple of the digital age. Consumers have numerous platforms to tell others about their experience with service and goods providers. Many online retailers, such as Amazon, now give options for customer reviews. Then there are sites like Yelp that are exclusively for consumer reviews, and then there are Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

reviewsOver the past several years, more and more companies have attempted to curtail customer reviews, bad reviews, that is. They do this via contracts or terms of use agreements, referred to as gag or disparagement clauses, where the user/consumer agrees not to post any negative reviews about the company.

The question has been are these contracts/agreements legally binding?

Well, we may finally have an answer.

Last week Congress passed the Consumer Review Freedom Act. In a nutshell, this bill says that people have a right to post truthful negative reviews online, and that companies cannot take that right away, even if the consumer signed a contract or agreed to terms of service stating they will not.

As is often the case, many consumers often fail to read the detailed fine print before signing off on an agreement.

Recently a Dallas pet-sitting company called Prestigious Pets sued a couple for $1 million for posting a one-star review on Yelp. The company pointed out that the defendants violated the contract they signed, which contained a disparagement clause.

In another recent case, Lan Cai, a Texas student, was sued by a law firm that represented her in an injury lawsuit resulting from a car accident. The student was not satisfied with the services received from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm and posted a negative review on Yelp, as well as posting her dissatisfaction on her personal Facebook page. The judge ruled with the defendant and ordered the law firm to pay her $27,000 for legal fees.

Due to the increasing frequency of these types of lawsuits, Yelp and other online companies have been urging Congress to take action on this issue. Yelp stated that although all companies don’t use gag clauses, they create a “chilling effect” on reviewers.

The Consumer Review Freedom Act now awaits the signature of President Obama.

Groupon. Instagram. Social Media.

Share

Social Media Lawsuits.

Social media. Social Networking.

Social media. Social Networking.

Our society is awash in social media. Millions of people use some social media platform daily. Many use more than one platform. Furthermore, social media has become a near necessity for businesses, especially small business owners. These platforms allow people to market and build their brands without paying marketing experts thousands of dollars, as in years past.

However, as with any good tool, people need to be very careful that you are using it correctly and legally, or you may find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Recently, Groupon, the global eCommerce giant, which connects customers with locals, was hit with a class action lawsuit. Filed by more than 1000 users of Instagram, the lawsuit claims that the company violated their right of publicity by taking photos from their Instagram account and posting them on the company’s website – without permission.

Lawsuits involving use of content from social media are becoming more and more common. Way back in the early stages of social media, the music-sharing website, Napster, was sued for allowing users to download copyrighted music, free of charge. Lawsuits eventually caused the site, in its original form, to close down. In a more recent case, Agence France-Presse (AFP), an international newsfeed company was sued for copyright infringement for using photos of the 2010 devastating earthquake in Haiti without permission. The photos were taken from the Twitter feed of photographer Daniel Morel. AFP was ordered to pay Morel 1.2 million in statutory damages.

Groupon’s line of defense against the suit is yet unknown, but often defendants in these types of suits use the argument of “transformative work” under the Fair Use doctrine. Transformative Work refers to copyrighted material that is transformed by the user, then published in its new form.

The fact is that many people still don’t understand that using other people’s social media content, even when giving credit to the owner of the content, can be a violation of federal copyright laws. As they say, ignorance of the law is not a defense, even if the infringement is not intentional. The sad reality is that big companies with lots of resources will often risk lawsuits gambling on the chance that the average person will not know of the infringement or challenge them on legal grounds. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don’t.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles.