Online Media Law

If you’re involved in online media and/or journalism and haven’t looked at the Poynter Institute‘s News University (at, you are missing out.  This weekend I took the Online Media Law course (self-paced).  I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

I started the course by taking the assessment.  I scored an 85%.  Not bad for a non-journalist, non-lawyer.  🙂  We do spend a good bit of time working to understand media law so that it can influence product development.

The course was divided into three topics:

  • Defamation
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Copyright infringement

Some interesting bits:


  1. repeating (with accurate attribution) defamatory content can be defamatory!  For example, “Joe Smith said the guy was drunk and ran the red light,” can be defamatory on your part of it was untrue!
  2. the standards for defamation of a public figure are substantially different from those for a private figure/person.  In other words, suing for defamation as a public figure is much more difficult than suing as a private figure.

Invasion of Privacy

  1. the notion of False Light is an interesting variant of defamation and has a lower standard of proof.  The ramifications are that context matters.  By way of example, don’t use a file photo that misrepresents the subject.
  2. the legal term “intrusion on seclusion” is where the idea of a “reasonable expectation to privacy” comes from.
  3. there are “private facts” which even if accurate and truthfully reported can run afoul of privacy laws due to the fact that they are not newsworthy (e.g., a person’s Social Security Number.


  1. while actual damages (e.g., lost profits) can be small, statutory damages as high as $150,000 per violation can be awarded (e.g., if the infringement was willful).  This means that the stakes are high even for a misappropriated pet photo!
  2. Copyrighted material (created after March 1, 1989) is not required to be marked with the copyright symbol; treat everything on the Internet as though it were copyrighted.
  3. when collecting and managing User Generated Content (UGC) the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are important and relevant.  If you don’t know what this means and accept UGC on your site(s) you should consult with your lawyer soon!  🙂
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