Is Online Video A Legal Danger For Your Business?

Online video continues to boom, with an explosion of content, technologies, communities and campaign spending. But what hasn't been discussed is the increase in legal problems for businesses with online video -- and the fact that most marketers today still have no idea what the legal issues with online video are.

Lack of knowledge of these legal issues is presenting more serious consequences for businesses.  These can range from the removal of their videos from sharing sites and web hosts and cancellation of their accounts, to the more serious consequences of civil lawsuits with heavy fines, and even potential criminal charges. All of these can cause real damage to ROI, serious businesses losses, and a negative effect on one's brand and professional reputation.

How did we get to this point? First you might be inclined to think back to the last decade of the 20th century, when the Web was considered to be the Wild West of marketing -- a label connotating tolerance of some degree of lawlessness, Our legal issues then were largely around intellectual property and stealing other's content -- including copyright and trademark infringement. In the first decade of the 21st century, the birth and growth of social media and online video brought about new legal concerns such as privacy rights.



As we have progress into the second decade of the 21st century, improved interactive technologies and increased rewards for producing and marketing video content and campaigns - be it blanketing Google's search results with video listings, or achieving a viral video success - have driven us further into real-time marketing, with less time for thinking things through properly. It has turned more businesses and entrepreneurs into instinctive marketers than restrained, thoughtful ones. They grow accustomed to taking whatever content they can find without real concern of ownership, publishing it immediately without real concern for accuracy, and pushing social limits to get views on the cheap. Basically, they paying little or no attention to the fact that a virtual creation of a video may cause real problems to real people.

What is it about the medium of video that is triggering such a legal reaction - not just in civil courts, but also now with real criminal prosecutions? I've seen the causes to be manifold:

·       Responsiveness - Marketers know that people typically have a more visceral response to video than other single media, online or offline. The problem for businesses is that producing a video to elicit a strong reaction with an intended positive outcome for your business, also can risk producing an equally strong negative reaction. (Sometimes businesses even intend to generate a strong negative reaction, thinking that it will generate more publicity they can harness.) So when audiences and authorities online see a video that ends up generating a negative reaction, they could be more likely to experience feelings of outrage, and act on it through lawsuits and even criminal prosecutions.

·       Virility - Online video has its own extremely large communities on YouTube, Facebook and most any social network that are built around sharing content with others. Add to the fact that video naturally lends itself to sharing, and you can realize how a negative reaction by a few individuals over a video can compound into a negative reaction by many people very quickly.

·       Ignorance - Most people are still not aware of YouTube's, Facebook's, and other social media sites' terms of service, community guidelines, and copyright and trademark guidelines.

·       Disinterest - Many video users aren't inclined to act responsibly and give proper attention to any guidelines, seeing them as getting in the way of their marketing and fun.

·       Confusion - With online video and most other social media, much of the law is evolving in the courts, making it extremely difficult sometimes for even attorneys to feel secure about what's permissible to do and what isn't.

·       Ubiquity - Immersed in an online world where being the fastest and most outrageous is both rewarded and commonplace, businesspeople's perceptions of what's legally permissible can get skewed.

It's time for marketers and all professionals involved in the online video industry to get a basic legal video education. We need to start paying more attention to legal rights and responsibilities for this most powerful media, getting permission before publishing, and consulting with attorneys specializing in intellectual property, Internet law, and entertainment law who have a good grasp on the online video landscape. To not exercise this basic responsibility for how we choose to use online video in our business would bring us down -- from a positive YouTube culture to a negative "You Sued" culture.

2 comments about "Is Online Video A Legal Danger For Your Business?".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, March 31, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.

    The biggest legal threat to companies, in my humble opinion, is what it always has been in terms of marketing and PR and that's treating employees poorly and acting irresponsibly, illegally and/or unsustainably. I don't see anything particularly different about video, other than as pointed out it being more effective than print, that any professional marketer or marketing department doesn't already understand about the legal requirements as having a good "grasp" is the only way to get anything approved in a timely fashion to meet deadlines. We've been doing it for years. The online part is a bug-a-boo for all of us since it is new territory for print as well as audio and video as pointed out in terms of confusion and ubiquity.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 31, 2011 at 1:37 p.m.

    What was once private (includes paid) information/entertainment is now public. The danger lies in ... lies, errors, lost of economic productivity also known as commerce, personally as well as business. Unless there are some kinds of automatic, regulated, legal bans - whole sets of other mad problems, all of the solutions may be elusive. Suprisingly to many, not all people are honest.

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