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2016 has been a tough year for a lot of reasons, most of which are outside the scope of this blog (though if you’d like to hear our thoughts about Bowie, Prince or Leonard Cohen, feel free to drop us a line). But one possible victim of this annus horribilis is well within the ambit of Socially Aware: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Often hailed as the law that gave us the modern Internet, CDA Section 230 provides immunity against liability for website operators for certain claims arising from third-party or user-generated content. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Section 230 “the most important law protecting Internet speech,” and companies including Google, Yelp and Facebook have benefited from the protections offered by the law, which was enacted 20 years ago.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Internet publishers and Section 230, particularly over the past 18 months. Plaintiffs are constantly looking for chinks in Section 230’s armor and, in an unusually large number of recent cases, courts have held that Section 230 did not apply, raising the question of whether the historical trend towards broadening the scope of Section 230 immunity may now be reversing. This article provides an overview of recent cases that seem to narrow the scope of Section 230. Continue Reading The Decline and Fall of Section 230?

03_21_Signs_Today’s companies compete not only for dollars but also for likes, followers, views, tweets, comments and shares. “Social currency,” as some researchers call it, is becoming increasingly important and companies are investing heavily in building their social media fan bases. In some cases, this commitment of time, money and resources has resulted in staggering success. Coca-Cola, for example, has amassed over 96 million likes on its Facebook page and LEGO’s YouTube videos have been played over 2 billion times.

With such impressive statistics, there is no question that a company’s social media presence and the associated pages and profiles can be highly valuable business assets, providing an important means for disseminating content and connecting with customers. But how much control does a company really have over these social media assets? What recourse would be available if a social media platform decided to delete a company’s page or migrate its fans to another page?

The answer may be not very much. Over the past few years, courts have repeatedly found in favor of social media platforms in a number of cases challenging the platforms’ ability to delete or suspend accounts and to remove or relocate user content.

Legal Show-Downs on Social Media Take-Downs

In a recent California case, Lewis v. YouTube, LLC, the plaintiff Jan Lewis’s account was removed by YouTube due to allegations that she artificially inflated view counts in violation of YouTube’s Terms of Service. YouTube eventually restored Lewis’s account and videos but not the view counts or comments that her videos had generated prior to the account’s suspension.

Lewis sued YouTube for breach of contract, alleging that YouTube had deprived her of her reasonable expectations under the Terms of Service that her channel would be maintained and would continue to reflect the same number of views and comments. She sought damages as well as specific performance to compel YouTube to restore her account to its original condition.

The court first held that Lewis could not show damages due to the fact that the YouTube Terms of Service contained a limitation of liability provision that disclaimed liability for any omissions relating to content. The court also held that Lewis was not entitled to specific performance because there was nothing in the Terms of Service that required YouTube to maintain particular content or to display view counts or comments. Accordingly, the court affirmed dismissal of Lewis’s complaint.

In a similar case, Darnaa LLC v. Google, Inc., Darnaa, a singer, posted a music video on YouTube. Again, due to allegations of view count inflation, YouTube removed and relocated the video to a different URL, disclosing on the original page that the video had been removed for violating its Terms of Service. Darnaa sued for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation. In an email submitted with the complaint, Darnaa’s agent explained that she had launched several large campaigns (each costing $250,000 to $300,000) to promote the video and that the original link was already embedded in thousands of websites and blogs. Darnaa sought damages as well as an injunction to prevent YouTube from removing the video or changing its URL.

The court dismissed all of Darnaa’s claims because YouTube’s Terms of Service require lawsuits to be filed within one year and Darnaa had filed her case too late. In its discussion, however, the court made several interesting points. In considering whether YouTube’s Terms of Service were unconscionable, the court held that, although the terms are by nature a “contract of adhesion,” the level of procedural unconscionability was slight, since the plaintiff could have publicized her videos on a different website. Further, in ruling that the terms were not substantively unconscionable, the court pointed out that “[b]ecause YouTube offers its hosting services free of charge, it is reasonable for YouTube to retain broad discretion over [its] services.”

Although the court ultimately dismissed Darnaa’s claims based on the failure to timely file the suit, the decision was not a complete victory for YouTube. The court granted leave to amend to give Darnaa the opportunity to plead facts showing that she was entitled to equitable tolling of the contractual limitations period. Therefore, the court went on to consider whether Darnaa’s allegations were sufficient to state a claim. Among other things, the court held that YouTube’s Terms of Service were ambiguous regarding the platform’s rights to remove and relocate user videos in its sole discretion. Thus, the court further held that if Darnaa were able to amend the complaint to avoid the consequences of the failure to timely file, then the complaint would be sufficient to state a claim for breach of the contractual covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Continue Reading How to Protect Your Company’s Social Media Currency

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In an age of explosive growth for social media and declining TV viewership numbers, companies are partnering with so-called “influencers” to help the companies grow their brands. Popular users of Instagram, Vine, YouTube and other social media sites have gained celebrity status, generating millions of views, impressions and “likes” with every upload.

Capitalizing on the shift from traditional media to online platforms, advertisers have begun to engage influencers in marketing campaigns. In a May 2015 study, 84% of marketers said they expect to launch at least one influencer marketing campaign in the next 12 months. Of those who had already done so, 81% said influencer engagement was effective. In a separate study, 22% of marketers rated influencer marketing as the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method.

So what is an influencer, anyway? By its broadest definition, an influencer is any person who has influence over the ideas and behaviors of others. When it comes to social media, an influencer could be someone with millions of followers or a user with just a few loyal subscribers. One thing that all influencers seem to have in common is that their audiences trust them. As such, influencers can be powerful advocates, lending credibility, increasing engagement and ultimately driving consumer actions.

Influencer marketing can be an effective tool, but it’s important to do right. As recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigations demonstrate, online advertising is an area of relatively active enforcement, and influencer marketing presents a number of potential legal issues. The following tips can help companies lead successful influencer marketing campaigns while lessening the risk of liability.

Disclosure Is Key

In September, the FTC settled a case with Machinima, a company that paid popular video bloggers to promote Microsoft’s Xbox One system through YouTube. Despite the hefty sums paid out to the gamers (one of whom pocketed $30,000), Machinima did not require them to make any disclosures. The FTC alleged that the failure to disclose the relationship between Machinima and the gamers was deceptive, in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. In its Endorsement Guides, the FTC has taken the position that a failure to disclose unexpected material connections between companies and the individuals who endorse them is deceptive.

This case raises two important questions: (1) when is a disclosure required and (2) what constitutes adequate disclosure? Continue Reading Influencer Marketing: Tips for a Successful (and Legal) Advertising Campaign