Social Media started as a technology niche but has now become a part of everyone’s lives. Understanding its impact on business development, customer relationships, and product placement—among other issues—is critical for any business that wants to grow and succeed.
As hundreds of millions of customers use social media, the legal issues that arise from that use (or misuse) are also increasing in prominence. Most lawyers, however, are unsure how to approach legal issues in the context of social media. For example, an employment lawyer knows how to deal with termination of an employee for defaming the company in a newspaper article. But what about an employee whose activities on social media threaten the value of the employer? An intellectual property lawyer knows about copyright infringement, but what will a judge consider “fair use” on a photo sharing website?
At Wells IP Law, we deal with social media legal issues regularly for our clients. Anyone who doesn’t focus their legal practice on social media would be well-served to pick up a copy of Kathryn L. Ossian’s Social Media and the Law, recently published by Practising Law Institute.
PLI recently sent me a review copy of this book. I found it to be a great resource, even though I work in this field regularly.
Ossian took on a huge task in preparing this volume with her co-authors. The legal impacts of social media are far-reaching and a treatise that attempted to cover every possible answer would be doomed to failure. But the approach Ossian has taken is the right one.
Different sections of the book discuss the impact of social media in different areas of the law. First, each section provides an overview of legal principles in that area; then the authors examine how those principles are applied in the context of social media. Specific issues are called out, with caselaw discussed whenever appropriate.
The topics include privacy; copyright and trademark; defamation; employment issues; advertising law; criminal law; compliance issues for regulated industries; and civil discovery.
It appears that Ossian’s goal is two-fold: (1) guide the expert in a particular legal field in understanding how the latest caselaw applies to social media issues within that field; and (2) give the non-expert an overview of topics and a list of legal issues to watch for. Those non-experts will then have a good idea of when to bring in more expert advisors when difficult issues arise. But they won’t be left in the dark about what the issues are.
General counsel in almost any industry would do well to have this book on hand and become familiar with it for the day when the inevitable social media legal issue arises. Even for the social media novice, Ossian provides a good overview of terminology and a discussion of the legal impact of social media on both businesses and individuals.
In reading this book, I sometimes felt like I wanted more information, or at least more concrete answers. Alas, there are few decided cases in this field and many issues that we can identify but that haven’t yet been resolved by any court, so that all Ossian (or anyone) can do is offer best practices based on an analysis of analogous situations outside of social media. Ossian also provides helpful (and lengthy) appendices of relevant state statutes.
I did not find much discussion of working with social media companies to resolve legal matters. Certainly, the legal terms and privacy policies of leading social media companies change regularly (Facebook is infamous for this), but some best practices and principles remain applicable, and hearing the experience of those who have interacted with these firms to resolve infringements, disputes, and so forth, would be a helpful addition to the book.
The use of several co-authors also means that the structure and approach differs somewhat between sections of the book. This is not a huge issue, since it will often be used as a reference and not read cover-to-cover, but a more consistent treatment of topics would be helpful in future editions.
Still, my overall assessment is that this is a timely and useful volume that I plan to refer to frequently.