no easy answer, but one thing’s for sure: You are the first line of defense for
The Stop Online Piracy Act debate has left not only individuals to
ponder online content ownership, but companies and associations, as well. Who owns
online content? In determining the answer to that, we must also ask the
following: What kind of information is it? Who produced it? How is it being used?
That’s because the big question is not who owns online content, but rather, does ownership even matter when there are so many other factors at
At a recent Association Media & Publishing education session
at the Business of Association meeting in Chicago, the session, "Who Owns
Online Content?” speakers Mary Innis from the Innis Law Group; Lisa Stegink
with Chicago Law Partners; and Amir Azaran of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP
tackled the subject of online content. They provided an overview of "ownership”
law, organization websites and content, user-generated content, and information
collected by organizations. They further helped attendees discover the legal
principles of determining ownership and using electronic information. Here are
the highlights from the presentation.
Azaran first lead the session by explaining the following
Law gives an author exclusive rights to copy, modify, distribute,
perform, or display his/her work. "If you write a newspaper article stored on a
computer, it’s tangible, and you have rights to that,” Azaran says.
· Trademark is a
designation used to identify sellers of goods or services and to
distinguish the seller from other sources.
Secret Law is information that derives economic
value from not being readily ascertainable by others, and reasonable efforts
are used to maintain its secrecy. A common example? Top-secret recipes (think
Coca-Cola). In association settings? Member lists.
Property Law Principals establishes
exclusive possession of an interest that is capable of precise definition, such
as domain names.
While these laws may help to clarify
ownership, that doesn’t determine what we can and cannot do with online
content, according to Azaran, who cited examples like the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA). With the Internet comes an increase of external messaging,
user-generated content, and "with that comes a lot of caution,” added Innis in
her presentation, which followed Arazan’s.
"Social media allows you to not just
push out content but to really engage in dialogue,” she says. "You can tell the
public at large what your association is about, use it to promote events, and
it’s even used to discuss controversial subjects. All of a sudden, you have a
dialogue and can risk losing control over content.”
When you post content, people will
respond, and it’s up to association professionals to take aim at the target and
set forth standards of conduct. Innis referred to Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice video that garnered a lot of attention, including
that of celebrity Alyssa Milano. She responded to the video with a YouTube video
of her own, sparking a video dialogue with Old Spice. Milano took the
opportunity to request that the company donate $250,000 to charity, which Procter
& Gamble did.
So what happens when dialogue escalates
as a result of your association’s social media? Be prepared. Develop a social
media policy and seek input from legal, marketing, and membership, Innis
suggests. Set forth standards of conduct, including how to deal with negative
or controversial posts or varied viewpoints. She concluded her session with the
following best practices in social media: representation (identifying yourself
and role), responsibility, and respect.
Stegink took over the session to
an association is a private forum,” she says. "Terms and agreements are
appropriate for websites and social networking sites.”
But what resonated most with the conference’s
media audience was obtaining written agreements to protect against usage
claims. With regard to contributor agreements, Stegink suggested that the
audience incorporate purpose into the agreements, whether that’s the
association completely owning the content or seeking only to obtain permission
(license to use). The same goes for repurposed content, she says, along with
quotes or testimonials.
So does ownership matter? Stegink put
it into perspective: "What if you don’t get permission? You may have to destroy
all your copies, pay damages, and spend time, money, and energy defending the
association.” It was more than a message of better safe than sorry; it was a
cold, hard reminder that we as media professionals are the first lines of
defense in protecting our associations.
Dvorak is the editor of publications at the
Association of Legal Administrators. Association Media & Publishing
sincerely thanks her for volunteering to cover this event for members who were
unable to attend.