Friday, 21 October 2011

Website content clearance issues

We've all had the client who delays giving us their content for their web pages, mobile pages etc, and faced the knock-on effects of this on development. We have warned against this and recommend that you make it clear upfront that the client has certain responsibilities in project development; such as providing the content when indicated and taking responsibility for ensuring they have the right clearance to use the content electronically worldwide. Actually those both relate to legal issues of ownership and rights in material - very contentious issues at the moment.

The BBC Technology news covers a story around these issues, Websites should carry libel risk for anonymous posts 20th October 2011. You see, although you might well try to advise your clients' on their use of content prior to development, any social websites where the content is generated on-the-fly by users is beyond such control. Usually, unless the web site owner (who is legally the publisher) monitors and removes contentious postings themselves - reactive monitoring - they will respond when someone else points the material out to then. This is known as 'notice and take-down'. There hasn't been any difference between posts by people who give their name and anonymous or pseudonymous ones ... not until now!

A joint parliamentary committee has come out against anonymous postings that breach defamatory rights of individuals. This ruling extends the responsibilities of the website to posting complaints next to an identified offender with take-down rights upon application of a court order. If the offender is not identifiable - has used a pseudonym - the website can take these down immediately unless the author agrees to be identified. There are more details in the article, but, this means more editorial onus on website maintainers.

If any user of social websites posts illegal material - and illegal can mean a range of issues other than rights infringement, who is responsible? For copyright infringement and libel it is generally the 'publisher' (as well as the person who posts the material). It's worth noting that a web hosting company or the postal and telephone services are not seen to be the publishers of content that flows through their channels.

The guys who have been sentenced for inciting public disorder during the UK August riots when they posted Facebook pages urging people to riot, have had their lengthy sentences upheld by the court of appeal recently. See 18th October news article by Owen Bowcott. In this case it was the poster who was responsible, not the 'publishers' like Twitter and Facebook, however, the use of social media and Blackberry messaging came under scrutiny as a result of the unrest. So watch this space.

More responsibilities equal more time and more cost – so just remember that for your next project where you'll be involved in monitoring any content provided on-the-fly!

Our iMedia responsibilities get more and more each day as the law catches up with technological advances.