Andrew Mirsky's blog

Copyright of “Public Facts”: Craigslist v. PadMapper

Craigslist was meant for the common good, or as founder Craig Newmark puts it, “doing well by doing good.”  At least, that has been its announced mission since it began as an email distribution among friends. Craigslist kept its mantra through its rise to Silicon Valley stardom, snubbing multi-million dollar buyout offers and fighting attempts to monetize the site along the way.

The physical layout of Craigslist hasn’t changed much over the years. Point your browser in its direction and, like an old friend, you’ll be greeted with the same underlined blue links you’ve known for years. Fans are legion, but so too are critics: Critics see stagnation in this comfort, some of whom have taken matters into their own hands through attempts at innovation. However, as some have already discovered, developing tools to work around (critics would say “enhance”) Craigslist’s simple functionality can invite legal response. Is an early darling of Silicon Valley showing a decidedly uglier side, or is Craigslist still simply looking out for the common good?   read more »

Pinterest: Fair Use of Images, Building Communities, Fan Pages, Copyright

When using Pinterest (and Flickr and YouTube and Facebook and on and on), what copyright, fair use, trademark and other issues weigh on building communities and corporate use of fan pages and social media generally?  A hypothetical “Company” has plans for its Pinterest “community”, and in particular, wonders about these situations:

  • Using Images of Identifiable People
  • Fair Use and Images
  • Trademarks: When is a “Fair Use” Argument Strongest?
  • Why Attribution and Linking to Original Sources is Important

3 introductory questions:

Question #1: Someone used to be a paid Company sponsor or spokesperson.  They are no longer.  Can the Company continue to post a photo of the old sponsor to Pinterest? Short Answer: If the contract with the sponsor expressly permits it, yes.  Ordinarily, the contract would specify engagement for limited time, and that would prohibit rights to use images beyond the contract period.  But it really depends on what the contract says.

Question #2: Can the Company post a photo of a fan of the Company? Short Answer: Express consent is required, either through a release or the fan’s agreement (whenever the photo is submitted) to terms of service.  Exceptions are discussed below.

Question #3: Can the Company post a photo of a Coca-Cola bottle on its Pinterest page? Short Answer: If the use of the image does not suggest (implicitly or explicitly) endorsement or association, then yes.   read more »

Are Retweets Endorsements?: Disclaimers and Social Media

“RTs do not = endorsements.”

We’ve all seen it on Twitter bios, usually bios belonging to members of the media.

These kinds of disclaimers, disassociating the tweets from the people who retweet them, are common. The Twitter bio belonging to Brian Stelter of the New York Times (@brianstelter) notes, “RT & links aren’t endorsements.”

A Social Media Policy Addressing RTs and Linking

But for some, those disclaimers are not enough.  Last fall, the Associated Press introduced an updated social media policy for its reporters and editors.  As recently reported in Yahoo! News, the AP memo advised reporters and editors that “Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying.” The guidelines note, “[W]e can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it.”

Members of the media might want to be careful, however, that statements like “No comment” or “without comment” before tweets do not take on meanings of their own. Often, retweeting something “without comment” can indicate an unwillingness to comment due to an either enthusiastic support for or disapproval of the content of the original tweet.   read more »

How Citizen Journalism Can Vet Quality Through Lessons from Gaming

Unlike traditional newsroom journalists, “citizen journalists” have no formal way to ensure that everyone maintains similar quality standards.  Which does not mean that quality standards are necessarily (or consistently) maintained at traditional newsrooms, but rather that a traditional hierarchical editorial structure imposes at least theoretical guidelines.

By definition, citizen journalism’s inherent difference from the traditional editorial process is the dispersion of responsibility for editorial choice.  Nonetheless, “trustiness” in journalism is a concept still heavily dependent on a reporter’s or editor’s reputation.  Is The New York Times trusted because it’s trustworthy?  Or is it trustworthy because it’s trusted?

The “Generated By Users” journalism blog recently reported the results of its reader poll, “Do you TRUST user generated content in news?”

[O]verall we like [user-generated content] but remain skeptical and need to know that it is trustworthy and adding value and perspective to reports. In an ever more connected world we can rely on UGC for immediate breaking news, but we want experienced journalists to sum up the day; if that requires using some UGC then we are fine with that, but it must be combined with original professional content.   read more »

Trademarks: Why Registering Your Design or Logo May Not Protect You

What are the differences between “special form” (stylized, design, logo) trademarks and “standard character” (word) trademarks?

The 2 basic trademark types are these: (1) “special form” trademarks and (2) “standard character” trademarks. A “special form” trademark that consists of stylized words, letters, numbers and/or a design element such as a logo. A “standard character” trademark consists only of words, letters, or numbers, with no stylization, color or design element.

The issue comes up this way: A company or an individual wants to trademark a brand or company name. So far so good. The first question is does this individual or company have a particular design or logo for its name? If not, then the only type of trademark registration available is a “character” or word mark. If a design or logo is in the mix, then the question is whether or not that design or logo has any value to the company. Obviously examples are the Nike “swoosh” and the Coca-Cola script logo. These are good examples of designs or logos that – separate from the names of the companies themselves – have distinct trademark value for their owners.

Here are 3 situations where a logo may have no particular immediate value to the company, and therefore no particular trademark value:(1) There is nothing unique about the design or logo. Technically, a “stylized” trademark includes anything beyond just the name itself. But a rendering of the name in italics or a particular color or in a common geographic box – or any of these things without more – would not typically be the subject of trademark because there’s nothing unique about the design.  read more »

Social Media Policies: Fed Labor Law Problem?

A Connecticut company suspended and then fired an employee for making disparaging comments on Facebook about the company and about her supervisor.

Not in dispute is that the employee’s actions violated the company’s social media and other personnel policies, which (among other things) prohibited depicting the company ‘in any way’ on Facebook or other social media sites or from “disparaging” or “discriminatory” “comments when discussing the company or the employee’s superiors” and “co-workers.”

In dispute is whether that social media policy – and the company’s actions in enforcing the policy – violated public policy, in particular Federal labor law.  This came into fast relief when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) subsequently filed a complaint against the company, charging the company with violations of the employee’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The company is American Medical Response (AMR), an ambulance service provider.  The incident followed a customer complaint about the employee’s work, when the employee’s supervisor asked the employee to prepare a report about the incident.  At that point, the employee sought but was denied representation from her union.

Later that day, the employee posted negative remarks about her supervisor and AMR on her personal Facebook page, through her home computer.  It appears that at no time did she use AMR’s technology or services to conduct her actions.  read more »

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