Social Media Litigation – Part I

Social media litigation has become increasingly prevalent for obvious reasons. This is simply because multiple issues come up on social media websites and platforms. The objective of this article is to discuss them.

Business entrepreneurs, owners, and operators, who have an online presence on various social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram must know the rules and regulations.

The first step any business owner should take to launch the operations is to ensure there are properly drafted contracts with all parties. The contracts should yield the proper provisions to help protect the parties in a fair and reasonable manner.

They should also know and understand search engine optimization mechanisms and protocols. Search engine optimization involves procedures to help grow online presence. For example, the website must be updated with new and unique content on a regular basis. The website must be properly branded by using a sensible marketing plan which can be implemented by a qualified consultant. The search engine optimization should be designed to market the company’s products in a non-deceptive manner. Or else, if the company engages in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, then the Federal Trade Commission may instigate an investigation.

Social media litigation involves privacy rights such as when the social media platforms fails to obtain its users’ permission before sharing their information with third parties. The social media website has certain and cognizable rights and responsibilities. For example, the social media website should inform its users or members regarding any updates or modifications to its terms of use or privacy policy. It should strictly adhere to its own privacy policies or terms of use since they do constitute contracts.

What are the applicable laws to social media litigation?

The Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) addresses voluntary and compelled disclosure of “stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records” held by third-party internet service providers such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It is codified under 18 U.S.C. sections 2701-2712. In fact, Section 2712 outlines the procedure to file a civil action against the government by stating as follows: “Any person who is aggrieved by any willful violation of this chapter or of chapter 119 of this title or of sections 106(a), 305(a), or 405(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) may commence an action in [federal court] against [the government] to recover money damages. In any such action, if a person who is aggrieved successfully establishes such a violation…., then the court may assess: (1) actual damages, but not less than $10,000, whichever amount is greater; and (2) litigation costs, reasonably incurred.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) implements two previous treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization. It prohibits the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent procedures that control access to copyrighted works.

The Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) has a direct effect on online defamatory comments posted on social media platforms. This federal law was designed to close the floodgates of lawsuits against social media websites. However, it doesn’t solve the problem of identifying the culprit who posted the defamatory comments to violate the victim’s rights. This statute provides a so-called “qualified immunity” to internet and communication service providers. It’s important to realize that the internet or communication service providers cannot be sued for publishing someone else’s online comments. Stated otherwise, the victim must seek relief against the publisher and not the website, blog, or forum unless an exception is applicable.

The Copyright Act protects copyrighted works from infringement. It is designed to protect unique works while still allowing for creativity. So, defendants who are charged with copyright infringement can avoid liability entirely under a valid fair use defense. The fair use exception (codified under 17 U.S.C. § 107) provides that instances of work that fall within this exception do not constitute infringement.

Our social media litigation lawyers have been prosecuting and defending legal actions in state and federal courts for several years. Our law firm is ready to assist its clients in matters related to internet, technology, cybersecurity, and privacy matters. Please contact our law firm to speak with a social media litigation attorney at your earliest convenience.