Social Media Litigation – Part III

Social media law comprises of several different components including free speech, privacy, online advertisement, and intellectual property rights. These issues come up regularly during the course of online transactions between parties. The courts have been inundated with social media litigation and have issued their rulings when faced with complicated problems.

The cases that arise on social media platforms involve state and federal laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Communications Decency Act. In essence, these federal statutes were promulgated to protect copyrights and free speech rights.

According to the United States Copyright Office, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), which amended federal copyright laws, was passed to address important parts of the relationship between copyright and the internet. The three main updates were: (1) establishing protections for online service providers in certain situations if their users engage in copyright infringement, including by creating the notice-and-takedown system, which allows copyright owners to inform online service providers about infringing material so it can be taken down; (2) encouraging copyright owners to give greater access to their works in digital formats by providing them with legal protections against unauthorized access to their works (for example, hacking passwords or circumventing encryption); and (3) making it unlawful to provide false copyright management information (e.g., names of authors and copyright owners, titles of works) or to remove or alter that type of information in certain circumstances.

The Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) prohibits individuals from knowingly sending “obscene or indecent” messages to a minor. It was passed to prevent minors from having access to online pornography. The violation of this federal statute includes penalties such as fines, imprisonment, or both. The courts grappled with this federal law when it was enacted as law. So, after a long-standing litigation, the United States Supreme Court, in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997) 521 U.S. 844, held that it was unconstitutionally overbroad since it suppressed a substantial amount of protected adult speech to protect minors from potentially harmful speech. The court was concerned about healthcare material, explicit conversations regarding the techniques to prevent transmission of AIDS, or other types of protected speech could be impacted by the statute.

In California, legislation was passed in reference to social media and employment-employer rights. For example, AB 1844, protects California residents from unwarranted intrusion of their social media accounts. Stated otherwise, employers cannot ask the social media usernames or passwords of employees and job applicants. They also cannot penalize them for refusing to share that information. However, there is an exception wherein the employer can obtain the social media account information in reference to a workplace investigation or legal violation. The exception also applies to information that is used on employer-issued electronic devices such as usernames and passwords. Also, other states such as Maryland and Illinois, have passed social media privacy laws to protect the interested parties – i.e., users, employers, employees.

Our law firm has been litigating legal actions in state and federal courts for several years. We are ready to assist our clients in matters related to social media litigation. Please contact our law firm to speak with a social media litigation attorney at your earliest convenience.