The following guest post was written by attorney and blogger Anna Berend, a panelist at the Social Media Breakfast hosted by Thomson Reuters last week. Read below for her insight into the important legal issues at play in the social media space:

It seems like almost everyone is connected to at least one, if not several, social media platforms, whether it’s merely a Facebook account or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog. All it takes is a computer and an Internet connection to join the social media revolution.  There are over 400 million blogs in existence; more than 400 million active Facebook users; and over 500 million tweets sent daily. That’s a lot of information being shared on the World Wide Web.

When becoming acquainted with a new person the question has evolved from: “What’s your phone number?” to “What’s your email address?” to “Are you on Facebook?” to “What’s your Twitter handle?” and “Do you have a blog?” We are truly in a communication revolution.

We can instantly share good news and bad, photos, mundane tidbits like what’s for dinner or how we’re feeling today, give a play-by-play commentary of a sporting event or award show, offer a bit of wit, wisdom, a joke, a political statement or information and tips on absolutely any topic imaginable whether it’s our own content or that written by someone else. With this new found form of freedom of expression and speech comes responsibility.

Defamatory Statements
With the simple click of a button, we can tell the world how we feel about a person, a place, a business, a job, an experience, our kids or spouse, etc. If we aren’t careful, we can hurt feelings, convey incorrect information or even defame a person. While I think it’s important to always use good manners on online networking sites just as you would in person, defamation is against the law.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines defamation as an “act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person.” The written form of defamation is referred to as libel and the spoken form is slander. Libel can be expressed through pictures, electronic broadcast and signs, as well. While defamation is difficult to prove and such issues are often resolved outside of a courtroom, there have been several cases involvingdefamatory statements and social media in the news recently.

This is something I try to think about daily when writing posts for my blog, Motherly Law, and communicating on Twitter and Facebook. It’s really a matter of being your own “big brother” and reviewing what you are about to send out into the big, black void of the Internet fully knowing that your words could be picked up and repeated over and over and viewed by hundreds or thousands of people. You must ask yourself, “Is this statement true and does this statement harm anyone?”

Copyright Infringement
Given the ease of access to vast amounts of written materials, copyright infringement is another common pitfall among social media participants. Sometimes it’s accidental, but often it’s purposeful. Black’s Law Dictionary delineates the copyright owner’s exclusive rights as the right (1) to reproduce the work, (2) to prepare derivative works based on the work, (3) to distribute copies of the work, (4) to perform the work publicly, (5) to display the work publicly and (6) to import into the United States copies acquired elsewhere. Infringement occurs when a person violates any of these copyright owner’s exclusive rights.

There are limitations to these rights. And not everything is protected by copyright law:  1) works unfixed in a tangible form of expression; 2) ideas, processes, methods, concepts and the like; 3) titles, slogans, names, short phrases, listing of ingredients or contents, etc.; and 4) works consisting entirely of information that is common property with no original authorship, such as calendars, charts, lists or tables from public documents are not subject to copyright laws.

While it’s not necessary to give copyright notice on a protected work, registering with the Copyright Office does afford additional protection. For additional copyright and trademark information, check the USPTO site.

New Platform, Same Laws
It’s easy to become an active participant in the social media revolution, but it takes a bit of care to follow the traditional laws regarding written material which still apply to online platforms.

Anna Berend is an attorney and the author of Motherly Law Blog. On Motherly Law, Anna writes about legal issues that affect families and offers tips and resources that pertain to those legal topics. On occasion, inspiration strikes and Anna writes about something totally unrelated to the law. Originally a Texan, Anna now resides in the Twin Cities with her husband, two young sons and a menagerie of pets. You can find Anna at, on Facebook at Motherly Law and on Twitter @MotherlyLaw.

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