News Editors’ website highlights post addressing permissible media use of “user-generated” photo/video content obtained from social media and other Internet sources.

I’m fortunate to represent a number of press-related trade associations. As part of my work for them, I provide a “Legal Hotline” service through which association members get to ask me questions without incurring massive legal fees. Of course, the responses I provide don’t constitute “legal advice” because I represent the association, not its individual members, so the member asking me the question is not my client and can’t rely on anything I say as “legal advice”. Still, I like to think that the member ends up with a clearer idea of what his or her legal rights and obligations are and how he or she probably ought to proceed – even if the answer happens to be “it’s really time to spend money on a lawyer”.

The Hotline is a two-way street. While it gives members the chance to clear up questions, it gives me useful insight into the types of “hot button” issues clients and others are currently interested in. Once a particular question gets asked enough, I recognize that I may be able to save everyone time and energy by addressing the question in a general answer that gets posted to the association’s website.

Which is just what happened recently with respect to questions related to the use of “user-generated” content. By that I’m referring to photos and videos created by members of the local community and then shared with media outlets, both directly and through the outlets’ social media sites. A number of questions came in to me from members of the American Society of News Editors, meaning they arose in the context of a daily news site (in this case, an actual newspaper) – but my response should be at least as interesting, if not more so, to FHH’s radio and TV clients who are increasingly posting and reposting, via social media and the web, photos and videos submitted by audience members. (Some TV stations are also using such content in their over-the-air broadcasts.)

So I thought it would be useful to CommLawBlog readers to point them in the direction of my response on the ASNE website.

As I explain there, the use of user-generated content brings instant exposure to legal risk. While each situation must viewed in the context of its own peculiar facts, there are certain easy steps to minimize your risk. My ASNE piece generally describes some of those steps. It also mentions a comprehensive memorandum (and an abbreviated, bullet-point “cheat sheet” version) I have prepared outlining key copyright and trademark infringement issues encountered when publishing on the web. That memorandum takes a look at frequently recurring situations like the use of music or photos on a website or in social media – including the use of crowd-sourced content.

We are happy to make these available (for a fee) to clients who share our belief that the materials can serve as a valuable reference for your employees. They can be used as part of an overall introductory materials for new employees or incorporated into an employee handbook or set of employee guidelines. They can also be trotted out periodically as a copyright law refresher. And I’ve also created a Powerpoint presentation based on the memos which I’d be happy to present in person or via a webinar to station personnel, adding the extra value of immediate interactivity. Please feel free to contact me for further information.