User-generated content: 14 ways not to screw up

February 10, 2014       The NonProfit Times      

Nonprofits have found that allowing user-generated content can be very helpful as a way to spread the word and to fundraise. Such a step, as with any involving the Internet, can also carry risks.

A.J. Zottola and Robert Parr of the Washington, D.C. office of Venable LLP suggest that there are 14 steps to take to minimize the possibility of legal liability arising from user-generated content.

  • Know the role. Know when a communication or posting is published or edited on behalf of the nonprofit.
  • Monitoring. Although controls should be established, it is still necessary to monitor social media pages.
  • Terms of use. Establish clear policies regarding appropriate content, disclaiming responsibility for user-generated content.
  • Take-down action. Prohibit and remove inappropriate posts.
  • Advertising. Be mindful of advertising because of federal and state regulations.
  • Immunity for copyright infringement. The federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) lays out certain safe harbors.
  • Trademark infringement. The safest approach is to prohibit posts containing third-party trademarks without consent.
  • Content attributions. Be able to verify and distinguish the organization’s posted material from user-generated material.
  • Rights of privacy and publicity. Privacy laws still apply to posts.
  • Defamation. Be well-versed in safe harbor requirements.
  • Antitrust risks. Social networking can cause people to let their guard down here.
  • Employer-employee issues. Content generated by employees can expose a nonprofit employer to liability.
  • Records. Retain records related to such use.
  • Remember how public posts are exactly that – public.
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