User-Generated Content

GettyImages-183313080With over one billion websites on the Internet, and 211 million items of online content created every minute, it should come as no surprise that content curation is one of the hottest trends in the Internet industry. We are overwhelmed with online content, and we increasingly rely on others to separate good content from bad content so we can make more efficient use of our time spent surfing the web.

Consistent with this trend, many websites that host user-generated content are now focused on filtering out content that is awful, duplicative, off-topic or otherwise of little interest to site visitors. And these sites are often finding that humans—typically passionate volunteers from these sites’ user communities—do a better job than algorithms in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Of course, any website that deals with user-generated content needs to worry about potential copyright liability arising from such content. We’ve discussed in past Socially Aware blog posts the critical importance of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to the success of YouTube, Facebook and other online sites that host user-generated content. By providing online service providers with immunity from monetary damages in connection with the hosting of content at the direction of users, Section 512(c) has fueled the growth of the U.S. Internet industry.
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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.
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3D rendering of Copyright Symbol made of transparent glass with Shades and Shadow isolated on white background.

If your company operates a website or blog that hosts user-generated content, you’ll want to read this post carefully.

We’re ringing the alarm bell on an important new U.S. copyright law development that, if ignored, could significantly increase your company’s potential liability exposure in connection with user-generated content.

If your company hosts user-generated content, such hosted content may include materials that were posted without the permission of the owners of the copyrights in such materials—potentially subjecting your company to copyright infringement liability.

For nearly two decades, however, Section 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Act, enacted in 1998 as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), has provided a safe harbor insulating online service providers from monetary damages for hosting copyright-infringing materials posted by their users. To receive protection under the Section 512(c) safe harbor, service providers must, among other things, designate an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringement with the Copyright Office.
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