Website Policies and Terms: What You Lose if You Don’t Read Them

When was the last time you actually read the privacy policy or terms of use of your go-to social media website or you favorite app? If you’re a diligent internet user (like me), it might take you an average of 10 minutes to skim a privacy policy before clicking “ok” or “I agree.” But after you click “ok,” have you properly consented to all the ways in which your information may be used? As consumers become more aware of how companies profit from the use of their personal information, the way a company discloses its data collection methods and obtains consent from its users becomes more important, both to the company and to users.  Some critics even advocate voluntarily paying social media sites like Facebook in exchange for more control over how their personal information is used. In other examples, courts have scrutinized whether websites can protect themselves against claims that they misused users' information, simply because they presented a privacy policy or terms of...

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Employers Should Not Assume IP Assignments are Valid, and Employees Should Take Care to Protect Previously Created IP

An interesting IP assignment and employment case comes out of Wyoming.  Yes, you heard that right, Wyoming.  A nice summary of the issue was given by William Lenz and Jessica Rissman Cohen: It is a common misconception that an employer automatically owns all rights to the patents invented by its employees. The general rule is that, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, an invention and any patents covering that invention belong to the employee/inventor. (emphasis added) And that’s why employers often require new employees to sign “Inventions Agreements”, or similar agreements under various names such as “Assignment of Intellectual Property” or “Proprietary Rights Ownership Agreement”, the purpose of all of which is the same: To remove any ambiguity as to ownership of intellectual property created during the employment relationship. To be clear, this an intellectual property problem unique to patents.  Copyrights, for example, are deemed automatically “work made for...

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Liability for Data Loss in the Cloud: Why No One Accepts Liability? Why Carve it Out?

Why is liability for data loss typically carved out or tightly limited in cloud service and IT outsourcing contracts?  A common disclaimer in contracts for cloud services (and sometimes plain old IT outsourcing) runs like this: You agree to take full responsibility for files and data transferred, and to maintain all appropriate backup of files and data stored on our servers. We will not be responsible for any data loss from your account.  (From http://techtips.salon.com/liability-loss-data-under-hosting-agreement-2065.html (emphasis added)) What is the Liability from Data Loss? First, what exactly is the liability – from data loss – that is being disclaimed?  What is the risk?  For that, we turn to Dan Eash writing in Salon’s “Tech Tips”: Your site might be corrupted by hackers and spammers because your host didn’t properly secure the servers. Your host might do weekly backups, but something goes wrong and you lose days of work. You might have customers in a hosting...

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E-SIGN and Copyright: Uploading Photos to Website Equals Consent (and Copyright Assignment)

Does use of a website constitute implicit consent to the site’s Terms of Use (TOU)?  And if the TOU provides for copyright assignment, does that use thus constitute a valid assignment of copyright under the federal Copyright Act?  Those were the questions last August before the US District Court for the District of Maryland, which granted the real estate multiple-listing service known as “Metropolitan Regional Information Systems” (MRIS) a preliminary injunction against defendant American Home Reality Network (AHRN).  The court’s opinion can be found here.  The case was discussed in some detail by RIS Media, a real estate technology blog, particularly the role of electronic signatures under the federal E-SIGN Act for valid assignments under the Copyright Act. The court enjoined AHRN from copying and uploading MRIS’ photographs to AHRN’s website Neighborcity.com.  Pamela Chestek, in her blog “Property, intangible”, points out that although the preliminary injunction was granted...

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Copyright of “Public Facts”: Craigslist v. PadMapper (updated)

Craigslist was meant for the common good, or as founder Craig Newmark puts it, “doing well by doing good”.  At least, that has been its announced mission since it began as an email distribution among friends. Craigslist kept its mantra through its rise to Silicon Valley stardom, snubbing multi-million dollar buyout offers and fighting attempts to monetize the site along the way.… Read more

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Pinterest: Fair Use of Images, Building Communities, Fan Pages, Copyright

When using Pinterest (and Flickr and YouTube and Facebook and on and on), what copyright, fair use, trademark and other issues weigh on building communities and fan pages and social media generally?  A hypothetical “Company” has plans for its Pinterest “community”, and in particular, wonders about these situations: Using Images of Identifiable People Fair Use and Images Trademarks: When is a “Fair Use” Argument Strongest? Why Attribution and Linking to Original Sources is Important 3 introductory questions: Question #1: Someone used to be a paid Company sponsor or spokesperson.  They are no longer.  Can the Company continue to post a photo of the old sponsor to Pinterest?  Short Answer: If the contract with the sponsor expressly permits it, yes.  Ordinarily, the contract would specify engagement for limited time, and that would prohibit rights to use images beyond the contract period.  But it really depends on what the contract says. Question #2: Can the Company...

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SaaS: Software License or Service Agreement? Start with Copyright

SaaS, short for “Software as a Service”, is a software delivery model that grants users access to a program while the software itself and its accompanying data are stored off-site, on a vendor's (or another third party’s) servers.  A user accesses the program via the internet, and the access is provided as a service.  Hence … “Software as a Service”. In terms of user interface functionality, a SaaS service – typically accessed via a subscription model – is identical to a traditional software model in which a user purchases (or more typically, licenses) a physical copy of the software for installation on and access via the user’s own computer.  And in enterprise structures, the software is installed on an organization’s servers and accessed via dedicated “client” end machines, under one of many client-server setups.  In that sense, SaaS is much like the traditional client-server enterprise model where servers in both cases will likely be offsite, the difference being that SaaS...

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MegaUpload – Where is my Data?

A not-insignificant consequence of the federal government’s move in January to shut down the popular file-sharing site MegaUpload is that customers are blocked from being able to access their files. First, some background. In January, the government charged that MegaUpload and its founder Kim Dotcom operated an organization dedicated to copyright infringement, or in other words operated for the purpose of a criminal enterprise.  The site provided a number of online services related to file storage and viewing, which (among other things) allowed users to download copyrighted material.  The government also claimed in its indictment that the site was also used for other criminal purposes including money laundering. Not surprisingly, the file-sharing activities caught the unpleased eye of prominent content ownership groups

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Privacy For Businesses: Any Actual Legal Obligations?

For businesses, is there an obligation in the United States to do anything more than simply have a privacy policy?  The answer is not much of an obligation at all. Put another way, is it simply a question of disclosure – so long as a business tells users what it intends to do with their personal information, can the business pretty much do anything it wants with personal information? … Read more

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Fair Use or Just Plain Stealing? “Transformative” Art in a Digital World

A recent New York Times article discussed the case of an artist was sued for copyright infringement after he created paintings and collages based on photographs without crediting or obtaining permission from the photographer. The artist, Richard Prince, based his works on photographs from a book about Rastafarians “to create the collages and a series of paintings based on [those photographs],” reported Randy Kennedy in the Times. Then ensued a discussion of the degree to which material must be transformed to fall under copyright law’s “fair use” protection, which would allow use of copyrighted material if, as the article explains, “the new thing ‘adds value to the original’ so that society as a whole is culturally enriched by it.”  (The reference is to a 1990 Harvard Law Review article by Federal Judge Pierre Leval.  I previously discussed fair use’s 4-prong analysis in the context of photographs and artwork, here and in mashups...

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HTML5 Unintended Consequence? Getting Around Apple In-App Sales Restrictions.

One unintended consequence of the accelerating popularity of HTML5 for mobile app development is an ability to skate past Apple’s App Store restrictions on in-app sales.  So I put this question to Piotr Steininger of Tapangi Consulting: There’s talk out there about being able to use HTML5 to get around Apple’s App Store ban on charging for in-app purchases.  In other words (I think), somehow HTML5 allows content producers to get around this problem by making apps (and other things) downloadable directly through web browsers.  So … how is it that HTML5 allows getting around this issue? Some background: Apple announced a policy change earlier this year, specifically in Section 11.14 of its App Store guidelines,

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Update: Privacy for Mobile Apps – The Limits of Transparency

In June of this year, Senator Al Franken (D. Minn.) introduced the “Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011” (S. 1223).  According to the bill summary available on Franken’s website, a 2010 investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that 47 of the top 101 mobile applications for Apple iPhones and Google Android phones disclose user location without consent of the user. According to Franken’s bill summary, current law prevents disclosure of user location during telephone calls without user consent. Currently, no similar legislation protects user location when a user accesses information through a mobile web browser or mobile application. Franken claims that his bill will close loopholes in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allow for this distinction. If S. 1223 passes, companies will be required to obtain permission not only to collect mobile user location information but also to share that information with third parties. Additionally, the bill seeks to put...

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