To say the Internet changed the way people do business is like saying the telephone changed the way people communicate: it’s an understatement of the first order. In fact, since its inception, the Internet has exploded in scope and availability—worldwide, more than 1.9 billion people are online—and now affects virtually every aspect of the way business is conducted. It is difficult, if impossible, for most of us to recall what our workdays were like before the constant stream of emails and up-to-the-minute news and information that is now available. With the Internet, we are always connected.
Social media providers are key players in this revolution. Speaking generally, the term “social media” refers to web-based technologies or websites that allow instant publication of user generated content to multiple other users. The popularity of these websites is staggering. According to their most recent figures, Facebook, a self-described “social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers,” has more than 500 million users. LinkedIn, an online networking tool that “exists to help you make better use your professional network,” has more than 75 million users and Twitter, “a real-time information network powered by people around the world,” has 75 million.
Despite this popularity, and, in part, because of the speed of social media’s proliferation, the law is struggling to keep pace with the legal issues this technology presents. In particular, while the Internet and social media give rise to issues involving copyright, trademark, defamation and employment law (just to name a few), courts are still working to apply existing laws—many of which were enacted long before the Internet—to these unfamiliar contexts, and to interpret newly enacted laws without any precedent to guide them. As a result, the legal landscape of social media is far from settled, and businesses must exercise significant caution to avoid liability.
This handbook presents a concise guide to many of the key legal issues businesses confront as a result of social media. At the end of this handbook we offer an FAQ with short answers and page references for further discussion of some of the most pressing issues faced by in-house and outside counsel. At the end of each substantive section of the handbook we have included Recommendations to Reduce Risk; these are preventative measures that companies can consider adopting to deal with the complex issues that social media present.
Because any analysis necessarily will depend upon the particular facts and applicable law, this handbook is not intended to provide any specific advice or to set forth any particular solution. Rather, the purpose of this handbook is to raise awareness of the legal problems that social media and the Internet can create, and to be a reference for businesspeople and in-house counsel alike.
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Edited by John Nadolenco
Contributors: Therese Craparo, Anthony J. Diana, Justin M. Dillon, Robert P. Davis, Rebecca S. Eisner, Eric B. Evans, Gregory A. Frantz, Michele L. Gibbons, Marcia E. Goodman, Jerome M. Jauffret, Maritoni D. Kane, Michael E. Lackey, Jr., A. John P. Mancini, Mark McLaughlin, Steven E. Rich, Andrew S. Rosenman, Barrett L. Schreiner, Jason Wrubleski
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