Last week I posted a blog about my experience sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to Google. A few questions have come up since I put up the post, and I wanted to address them.
When I first noticed that another blogger had taken a photo from my blog and posted it on her site, one of my friends asked me why I sent a DMCA takedown notice instead of just sending her an email. That’s a valid question, and an option I considered. I chose to send a DMCA takedown notice because I’d never sent one before I wanted to experience the process. I had no malicious intent. The blog where the copyright infringement was occurring was taken down in about 24 hours, and the blogger who stole my work changed the image and had the post back up in less than a day after that.
It seems like a lot of people use images they find online without thinking about the potential legal implications. This situation could have been a lot worse. My blog is not currently registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, but that’s on my to-do list. If I registered my blog and sued for infringement in this situation, I would only be eligible for my actual damages, which is probably nothing.
If you steal an image from a blog that was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office within 3 months of publication or 1 month of learning of the infringement (whichever happens first), you could be sued for copyright infringement and ordered to pay the copyright owner’s statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. In the worst case scenario, you could be ordered to pay up to $150,000 in damages plus attorneys’ fees.
So what’s the take home lesson? Be thoughtful about the images you use on your blog. Only use images that are available under Creative Commons. If there’s an image that you want to use that doesn’t come with a Creative Commons license, get permission from the copyright owner to use the image.
I think I do a decent job monitoring my blogs with my sites’ widgets and Google Analytics. I like to see where my readers live and how they ended up on my sites. When I see that someone got to my blog from a site that’s unfamiliar to me, I try to find the post that linked to my site to see what it said.
This week, someone got to The Undeniable Ruth via a blog on BlogSpot. I checked out that blog and found that the blogger didn’t write a post that referred to me or a topic I’ve written about. She copied an image from my post about studying in the pool. She mentioned the name of the post she got the image from, but she didn’t ask my permission to use the image or even give me an attribution. Unfortunately for her, she copied one of the few images that I personally took with my camera phone and own the copyright to it. I decided to send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice to Google, which owns BlogSpot.
The DMCA is a law that provides a safe harbor to companies that don’t control the content on their sites. They have to remove or disable access to the infringing material when they receive a DMCA takedown notice or else they can be liable for copyright infringement. To qualify for protection under the DMCA, you have to register a designated agent with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is the person you send the takedown notice to.
Google has a DMCA agent, so I sent them a takedown notice to get my picture taken off BlogSpot. A takedown notice is a simple letter that must include the following:
Your physical or electronic signature,
The identity of your work that is allegedly being infringed,
The specific URL for the website where the infringement is occurring,
Your contact information (i.e., your address, telephone number, and/or email address),
A statement that you have a good faith belief that the material violates the law or the copyright owner’s rights, and
A statement, under penalty of perjury, that the notice is accurate.
I emailed my takedown notice to Google yesterday and I got a response today that informed me that the post was taken down. I tried to visit the BlogSpot post where my photo was published, and verified that the blog post was taken down. I thought they were only going to remove the photo. She can put the post back up if she wants, just not with my picture.
If you create content, it important to keep an eye on your analytics so you can detect when someone steals your work. I was pleased to see that the DMCA takedown process was fast and easy and that Google was responsive to my notice.
If you detect someone’s stolen your content, consult an attorney to determine your options for recourse.
My friend in California recently contacted me and said that he received an email from a professional association he belong to and that he wanted to share it in a blog post along with his response. As an Arizona attorney, I can’t provide legal advice to California clients, but it made me think about what potential legal repercussions I could face if I wanted to publish an email in a blog.
Defamation usually involves making a false statement about a person or entity to a third party that damages their reputation. Publishing a blog post is definitely a communication to a third party, but there’s no false statement if you publish the email as it was written and if your response contains your true reaction to the message.
Public Disclosure of Private Facts
Public disclosure of private facts is an invasion of privacy claim where you tell the truth about a person but you release information that a reasonable person would expect you to keep confidential and they would be highly offended if you shared it. This is the type of claim you could face if you break up with your significant other and release the sex tape you made during your relationship.
In terms of publishing an email I received, I’d review the message and the association’s rules to see if communications need to be regarded as confidential. If not, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to republish it in a blog because there’s probably nothing in it that would be high offensive to share with others.
False light is a claim where you’re accused to telling the truth about someone but you manipulate it in a way that suggests something that is false. If I were going to republish an email, I’d probably publish the entire message to avoid being accused to manipulating the message to make the person look worse than they are.
These legal claims are all state law claims. If I publish an email written to me by a person or on behalf of an organization and they get pissed at me, they’re going to sue me where they live. I’d have to check the exact verbiage of these laws in that state, not just my home state. I prefer to not set myself up to be sued across the country and have to go there to defend myself.
EDIT: My lawyer friend reminded me of one more claim you have to think about if you’re going to publish an email in a blog post: Copyright Infringement.
The person who wrote the email likely has copyright rights in their verbiage, include the right to decide where it’s reproduced and displayed. Most people don’t register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office, so if you wait three months to publish your blog post, they can only come after you for their actual damages, which will probably be lower than statutory damages. In some cases, they could still get a decent settlement.
And as always, if you’re going to push the envelope with your blog posts, it’s easier and cheaper to consult a lawyer (like me!) in advance than to have to hire one after you’ve been sued and you have to defend yourself.
I talk about blogging a lot, both about general blogging information and the legal side of blogging. One of the things I always talk about is the images. Every blog post needs at least one picture. It makes the post more interesting and it can help you portray your subject matter or the emotional impact of your message.
I am not a photographer, so I have to rely on other sources for my photos. If you don’t have a photo that you yourself have taken to use with your post, you can find quality images on Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a license that photographers put on their images that allow you to use them. The particular license tells you how you’re allowed to use it and what credit you have to give to the image owner.
Attribution only – You only have to give credit to the image owner. You can modify the image and use it for commercial purposes
Attribution-ShareAlike – You may modify the original work and use it for commercial purposes, but you must allow others to use your work in the same way. You must give an attribution to the original image owner.
Attribution-NoDerivs – You may use the image for commercial purposes but you can’t alter the image in any way. You must give credit to the image owner.
Attribution-NonCommercial – You may modify the original image but you may not use it for commercial purposes. You must give an attribution to the image owner.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike – You can modify the image but you must allow anyone to use what you create. You can’t use it for commercial purposes and you must give credit to the image owner.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs – You may only use the image, as is, for non-commercial purposes. You may not modify the image, and you must give an attribution to the image owner.
When I look for photos for my blogs, I always pick photos that come with an Attribution only or Attribution-ShareAlike license, and I encourage everyone to do the same. When I add a photo to my blog, I put the name of the image and the attribution to the image owner in the caption, and make the caption visible on the post. In the image description, I include a link back to the original image, which is usually on Flickr.
I use these license because they are the most user-friendly. If you need to crop a photo, these licenses will allow you to do that. I also recommend always using photos that you’re allowed to use for commercial purposes. Even if you don’t make money on your blog from ads or by having you blog connected to a business now, you might in the future. If you start making money via your blog and you have images on your blog that you’re not allowed to use for commercial purposes, you have to go back and remove those images from your site. It’s easier in the long run if you have permission to commercialize all of your images from the start.
If there’s an image you really you want to use on your blog, but it doesn’t come with a Creative Commons license, you can always ask the image owner if you can use it. I have standing agreements with Devon Christopher Adams and Sheila Dee because I ask to use their photos so often.
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.
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.
May is going to be an exciting month for me because I have four speaking engagements in Phoenix! I’m really excited to get out and talk about intellectual property and social media law. I like to keep my talks casual, interactive, and provide useful information to the audience. I hope you’ll come out and have fun with me. Here’s where you can find me . . .
Wednesday, May 9, 2012 – 6pm Midweek Mind Tweak – Co+Hoots
This is an interactive discussion about what a trademark is, the strength of attendees’ trademarks, and the benefit of registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Why You Need a Social Media Policy
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 – 5pm Midweek Mind Tweak – Co+Hoots
Every company needs a social media policy for their employees, but if you create one that is too broad, you might have to pay over $10,000 for violating the National Labor Relations Act. It’s a problem that is easy to fix, if you know what the law is.
The Legalities of Blogging
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 – 12pm GP Brownbag – Gangplank Chandler
A spoke a few weeks ago at Gangplank Academy about the legal side of blogging, and they asked me back to present a condensed version as a brownbag discussion. I’ll be presenting the 8 questions you should ask yourself before you publish a blog post.
Adapting Licensed Properties to Comics
Thursday, May 24, 2012 – 7pm Phoenix Comicon – Phoenix Convention Center
I’m so excited to speak at Phoenix Comicon. The thought fills my little geek heart with joy. I’m going to be talking with sci-fi and comic book fans about copyright issues related to creating fan fiction, fan art, and slash fiction. It’s going to be so much fun!
I hope I get to see you at one or all of my talks!
I taught a class this week at Gangplank, an awesome collaborative co-working space in Chandler, on some of the legalities of blogging. It was part of Gangplank Academy. As I was going through my notes in preparation of this class, it occurred to me that there are some critical questions every blogger should ask themselves before publishing a new blog post.
1. Is all the information in your blog verifiable?
2. Is every statement that isn’t verifiable indisputable?
Statements like “My knee hurts like it’s going to rain tomorrow” and “My favorite color is blue” may not be verifiable, but there’s no one who can say those statements aren’t true.
3. Do you accuse anyone of committing a crime?
It’s one thing to say, “My neighbor gives me the creeps,” but you might get sued if you say, “In my opinion, my neighbor’s a pedophile.”
4. Are you sharing any information that you learned in confidence?
When you break up with your partner, don’t write a blog post sharing all the personal information you learned during the relationship like their weird fetishes and habits.
5. Are any of your statements misrepresentations or half-truths?
6. Do any of your statements insinuate anything that isn’t true?
If you write a blog about how you don’t like seeing drug users in the park and you include a photo of a person lying in the grass with their eyes closed, they may be unhappy and sue you if they’re not a drug user but were only taking a nap.
7. Is all your information public? Are you writing about a topic where your subject might have an expectation of privacy?
Your neighbor has no expectation of privacy in how he looks naked if you saw him at a public nude beach. He does if you had to creep up to his house and peer through the cracks in his closed blinds to see him.
8. Is all your information from reputable sources?
If you copy or repeat someone’s defamatory statement, even if you didn’t know it was false, you might get sued for defamation.
I love bloggers who push the envelope and sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re crossing the line. When in doubt, consult a lawyer who is a media expert and always follow my rule: “Never put anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.”