Social Media

The Communications Decency Act Suddenly Is Center Stage Again

Today’s internet users who might not be familiar with the Wild West that was the early internet might wonder how social media and other online service providers (and their users) “get away with” saying or publishing all manner of content on the web, including incendiary, defamatory, or just plain false information. The administration’s recent suggestion that it might assert executive power over social platforms has brought this issue back to the fire in an interesting way. This post is not meant to be a deep dive into the evolution of the law around expression on the web – but is intended to provide some guideposts for those who are watching this space.

Constitutional Freedom of Expression

Under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, everyone gets to say whatever they want, right? That’s more or less correct, but over the years courts have also limited your rights of expression with what are called “time,” “place,” and “manner” restrictions.  So you can’t go into a movie theatre and yell “fire,” because doing so might endanger the lives of others.  Analogously, when you express yourself in a public forum, including on the web, your freedom of speech doesn’t mean you are … Keep reading

shutterstock_244812262 (2)Trademark owners are in the midst of another ‘think’ about the best way to protect and preserve their reputations online.  Specifically, beginning on March 30, 2015 the Sunrise Period opened for brand owners to fork over $2499 for domain names that end in .sucks. This $2499 payment is necessary annually to keep yourbrand.sucks from the clutches of an unhappy customer who might use it to make a career out of publishing any material they wish (fair, unfair or otherwise) about your company, or if you are celebrity – about your performance or personal  life.  To add insult to this expensive injury, after the end of the Sunrise Period, pretty much anyone (other than the brand owner) can pick up the same domains for $9.99 making the barrier to entry for complainants rather low.

As reported by The World Trademark Review and others, the CEO of .sucks registrar Vox Populi, John Berard, claims that intent of the apparently inapt pricing scheme is to encourage brand owners to engage with consumers.  By making the price high, there will be less warehousing of domains and some brand domains will find their way into the hands of people who will … Keep reading

You Can Trademark That?  They Can Own What? Who Knew?

There are many reasons we have IP laws – but primary among them is to encourage creative types like artists and inventors to profit from their efforts by way of royalties or exclusive rights.  To encourage those efforts, the intellectual property laws give authors and creators a relative monopoly over something they’ve created – a trademark, an invention, a script, a computer program, etc.  It’s like society is saying “you made it, so you can own it – at least for a while…”

But a natural tension immediately presents itself when we grant these exclusive rights.  Our culture wants to embrace, use and assimilate all that is cutting edge and new without having to ask for permission.  We take – no, we borrow Pharrell Williams’  “Happy” riffs and make them background music to our YouTube® videos of our cats and our dogs.  We expropriate “just a” screen capture from the Godzilla movie and create e-cards or embed them on our Facebook® pages.  Our post-90s, crowd sourced, media-centered sensibility has created this “if it’s out there it must be free” (or “it wants to be free”) ethos … Keep reading