Regulated Industries – Social Media Legal & Regulatory Compliance

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For the past year and a half, I have been traveling to various conferences around the country to speak on Legal and Regulatory compliance in social media. In the beginning, case law and regulatory guidance was scarce and little information was available to provide businesses engaged in social media with a roadmap for Social Media Legal and Regulatory compliance. However, a lot has changed over the last year and a clear trend is emerging. Industry regulators are aware of the use – and abuse – of social media by their members. This article examines recent guidance provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).

Social Media in Marketing, Advertising & Commerce.

The FTC has a prime directive to protect consumers. In the social media sphere, the FTC has pursued this mandate by enforcing companies’ Terms of Use and privacy policies. In addition, the FTC has recently issued updated guidance for companies and individuals that review, promote, advertise or otherwise write about various products and services. In 2009, the FTC tackled its first social media case, an investigation involving Twitter. The focus of the FTC action was Twitter’s privacy policy that asserted A concern about safeguarding confidentiality of personally identifiable information and privacy settings designed to designate tweets as private.

The settlement, first announced in June 2010, resolved charges that Twitter deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information. Lapses in the Twitter’s data security allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of Twitter, including both access to non-public user information and tweets that consumers had designated as private, and the ability to send out phony tweets from any account. Under the terms of the settlement, Twitter has hit ended and ongoing obligations concerning consumers and the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information, including the measures it takes to prevent unauthorized access to nonpublic information and honor the privacy choices made by consumers.

In a similar action, the FTC settled and investigation into Facebook,the leading social media platform/service. The social networking service agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public. The settlement requires Facebook to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining consumers’ express consent before their information is shared beyond the privacy settings they have established.

Read the FTC update here.

As recently as January 10, 2012, the FTC reached a settlement with UPromise, Inc., stemming from charges that the company – a membership reward service – allegedly used a web-browser toolbar to collect consumers’ personal information, without adequately disclosing the extent of personal information collected. The FTC found that the toolbar was collecting the names of all websites visited by its users as well as information entered into web pages by those users, including user names, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers and other financial and/or sensitive data. Furthermore, this data was transmitted in unencrypted, clear text that could be intercepted or viewed by third parties in a WiFi environment. The result? UPromise had to destroy all data it collected under the “Personalized Offers” feature of its “TurboSaver” toolbar in addition to other obligations related to data collection practices and consent to collection of personal information.

Other Industry Guidance.

In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission released it’s updated “FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” The updated Guides contain two notable areas of concern for marketers. First, the Guides removed the safe harbor for advertisements featuring a consumer’s experience with a product or service, the so-called “results not typical” disclosure. Second, the FTC Guides underscored the longstanding principle of disclosing “material connections” between advertisers and the consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities providing reviews and endorsements of products and services.

For concise guidance on when, how and what to disclose, see my article here.

Social Media in the Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Industries.

Like other consumer-oriented industries, Pharmaceutical and Biotech firms are rapidly expanding their presence online. This growth over the past several years has not gone unnoticed as evidenced by FDA Warning Letters targeting marketing campaigns “broadcast” via websites and social media platforms. The FDA also provides more general guidance for the industry. Policy and guidance development for promotion of FDA-regulated medical products using the Internet and social media tools are available in the FDA’s Consumer-Directed Broadcast Advertisements Questions and Answers. While this document provides clear direction for traditional media broadcasting , it only skims the surface regarding web content.

Social Media in the Workplace.

Probably no other federal agency has been as active as the NLRB in recent months. The NLRB has a mandate to protect employees rights to organize and discuss working conditions without fear of reprisals from employers. On August 8, 2011, the Associate General Counsel for the NLRB released a memo entitled “Report of the Acting General Counsel Concerning Social Media Cases.The report began by analyzing a case of first impression: whether an Employer unlawfully discharged five employees who had posted comments on Facebook relating to allegations of poor job performance previously expressed by one of their coworkers.

On January 25, 2012, the NLRB released a second report describing social media cases handled by the NLRB. The “Operations Management Memo” available here, covers 14 cases, half of which involve questions about employer social media policies. Five of those policies were found to be unlawfully broad, one was lawful, and one was found to be lawful after it was revised.

The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook. Several discharges were found to be unlawful because they flowed from unlawful policies. But in one case, the discharge was upheld despite an unlawful policy because the employee’s posting was not work-related. The report underscores two main points made in an earlier compilation of cases: 1) policies should not sweep so broadly that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees; and 2) an employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

Social Media and the Financial Services Industry.

From the Madoff scandal, to the Occupy Wall Street Movement, to Mitt Romney’s tax returns, the financial services sector is accustomed to the scrutiny and ire of the public and government regulators. Therefore it is no surprise that on January 4, 2012, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, in coordination with other SEC staff, including in the Division of Enforcement’s Asset Management Unit and the Division of Investment Management, issued its “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” paper. The paper begins by observing that although “many firms have policies and procedures within their compliance programs” governing use of social media” there is wide “variation in the form and substance of the policies and procedures.” The staff noted that many firms have multiple overlapping procedures that apply to advertisements, client communications or electronic communications generally, which may or may not specifically include social media use. Such lack of specificity may cause confusion as to what procedures or standards apply to social media use.

The SEC paper suggests that the following factors are relevant to determining the effectiveness of a Social Media compliance program:

  • Usage Guidelines
  • Content Standards
  • Monitoring
  • Frequency of Monitoring
  • Approval of Content
  • Firm Resources
  • Criteria for Approving Participation
  • Training
  • Certification
  • Functionality of web sites and updates thereto
  • Personal/Professional sites
  • Information security
  • Enterprise-wide web site content cross collateralization

Similarly, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has issued guidance for secutires brokerage firms. According to its web site, FINRA “is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States.” FINRA protects American investors by ensuring fairness and honesty in the securities industry. In January 2010, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 10-06, providing guidance on the application of FINRA rules governing communications with the public to social media sites and reminding firms of the recordkeeping, suitability, supervision and content requirements for such communications. Since its publication, firms have raised additional questions regarding the application of the rules. Key take aways from FINRA’s guidance include the flowing:

  • Brokerages have supervisory and record keeping obligations based on the content of the communications – whether it is business related – and not the media
  • Broker-dealers must track and supervise messages that deal with business
  • Firms must have systems in place to supervise and retain interactions with customers, if they are made through personal mobile devices
  • A broker must get approval from the firm if she mentions her employer on a social media site
  • Pre-approval for instant messages, also known as “unscripted interactions’ in legalese, is not necessary as long as supervisors are informed after the fact

Conclusion.

Many professionals in regulated industries are eager to leverage social media to market and communicate with existing and prospective clients and to increase their visibility. However, participants must ensure compliance with all of the regulatory requirements and awareness of the risks associated with using various forms of social media. Hopefully, the guidance outlined above can serve as a good starting point for discussions about how best to use of social media as well as suggestions regarding factors that firms may wish to consider is helpful to firms in strengthening their compliance and risk management programs. We invite you to contact us with comments and requests about how we can help you educate your employees, prevent fraud, monitor risk, and promote compliance. We can be reached at lsglegal.com866-734-256, @adlerlaw and dadler@lsglegal.com.

How Can Lawyers Use the Social Media Site Pinterest?

For those of us who try to immerse ourselves in technology and more recently, Social Media, the new “kid on the block” seems to be Pinterest. According to their site, “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”

Not surprisingly, Pinterest is receiving a lot of coverage on B2B and B2C blogs that provide guidance on the how and why Pinterest can be used by business. The next logical question for me is should Lawyers use Pinterest? if so, how?

Should Lawyers Use Pinterest?

The answer to the first question is simple: Yes, if it is useful to you. Pinterest is a social bulletin board allowing users to “pin”, or save, useful information. It leverages social networks and enables users to track, organize and share products or other content discovered online.  The site allows users to subdivide content by category such as travel, books or food. Finally, axiomatic of all social media is the interaction, allowing friends to follow and view your boards and comment on the items that you’ve posted, or re-pin them on their own boards.

How Can Lawyers Use Pinterest?

The answer to the second question is less simple:

Pinterest
Image by stevegarfield via Flickr

Simply put, Pinterest is an image content curation site where one can create “boards” to which they can add images and comments around a common theme. What’s really interesting is that once one begins using Pinterest, this pen up a whole new way to dialogue with people. Users will “re-pin” your items and it creates an opportunity to contact the user and ask what it about your content that prompted them to re-pin it.

While I am still new to Pinterest, I see it as another valuable social media tool to engage and interact with people. My Pinterest page can be found here.

Social Media Legal Risks: Seven Ways to Maintain Social Media Marketing Legal Compliance

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In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission released it’s updated “FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” The purpose of the update was to address the increasing use of endorsements by consumers, experts, organizations and celebrities in online marketing. The update is particularly relevant to the explosive growth of social media as a marketing tool.

The updated FTC Guides contain two notable areas of concern for marketers. First, the Guides removed the safe harbor for advertisements featuring a consumer’s experience with a product or service, the so-called “results not typical” disclosure. Second, the FTC Guides underscored the longstanding principle of disclosing “material connections” between advertisers and the consumers, experts, organizations, and celebrities providing reviews and endorsements of products and services.

Even with the illustrations provided within the FTC Guides themselves, it is still confusing for advertisers, marketers, bloggers and social media users to know how to comply with the guidelines. The purpose of this article is to provided simple, concrete standards to determine (1) when to make certain disclosures and (2) the type of disclosures required by the situation. I have grouped the disclosures into seven categories: Personal Opinion, Free Samples & Free Gifts, Promotional Relationship, Employment Relationship, Affiliate Relationship, Healthcare Disclosures, and Financial Guidelines & Disclosures. The key requirement to keep in mind is the obligation to disclose any relationship that may have influenced you.

1. Personal Opinion

If you write a review or blog post and your post contains only your own opinions, you haven’t received any compensation for the review or post, and you otherwise have no material connection to the topic of your post, you have nothing to disclose.

2. Free Sample/Free Gift

If you have been given a free copy, sample, or gift of a product or service and you write a review or blog post, you must disclose the facts and circumstances of how you received the item or service, even if you have not been paid to review or post on that topic. You do not run afoul of the disclosure rules if you receive payment unrelated your content. This disclosure is useful to keep in mind when your content relates to product previews, reviews of samples, services, gifts, books, software, music, movies, etc.

3. Promotional Relationships

If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an advertising relationship, and you have received compensation (cash, free services, product samples for personal use or a gift) for the review or post, you must disclose the nature of the relationship, whether you received anything of value, and information about relationships with advertisers or endorsers that would have a material impact about how a prospective consumer would view the message. This disclosure is useful to keep in mind when your content relates to paid posts, sponsored messages, tweets, fan page postings, etc.

4. Employment Relationships

If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an employment relationship, e.g. you are an employee or shareholder of a related company, you have a “material business relationship” to disclose, even if you are not being directly compensated for the message. You may post on behalf of a business or brand. In fact, it may even be part of your job description. Again, be mindful of the requirement to disclose any “connections” that may have influenced you, including both direct and indirect relationships.

5. Affiliate Relationships

If you write a review or blog post and your post is based upon an affiliate relationship, e.g., you have included affiliate links on your page, you must disclose the fact that the relationship exists and that you will be paid for referrals from your page.

6. Healthcare Disclosures

If you write a review or blog post and your content is based upon a connection to a pharmaceutical or healthcare product or program, you need to include relevant healthcare-related disclosures or information safety warnings, side effects, or official links with information.

7. Financial Guidelines & Disclosures

If you write a review or blog post and you work for a financial services company, you may be making investor-relations communications and your communications are subject to regulation by the NASD, SEC, FINRA and potentially state and federal regulatory agencies. The FINRA Guidance on Blogs & Social Networking Sites” can be found here. Record Retention: ensure that you can retain records of those communications. Suitability: a particular communication a “recommendation” for purposes of NASD Rule 2310 and is it suitable for potential recipients. Public Appearances: determine whether  your post part of an “interactive online forum” and whether supervision is required. Third-Party Posts: If your firm created or “sponsors” and online forum, be aware that, under certain circumstances, a customer’s or other third party’s content on a social media site may become attributable to the firm. Whether third-party content is attributable to a firm depends on whether the firm has (1) involved itself in the preparation of the content or (2) explicitly or implicitly endorsed or approved the content.

Clearly, legal and regulatory compliance for social media remains a minefield. Although this article is intended to give you a working knowledge of the types of risks created by, and disclosures required for, the use of Social Media, it is NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Each situation is unique and you should consult with qualified legal counsel regarding your specific circumstances.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and partner at the boutique intellectual property, entertainment & media law firm LEAVENS, STRAND, GLOVER & ADLER, LLC based in Chicago, Illinois. My responsibilities include providing advice to business units and executives on copyright, trademark, ecommerce, software/IT, media & entertainment and issues associated with creating and commercializing innovations and creative content, drafting and negotiating contracts and licenses, advising on securities laws and corporate governance and managing outside counsel. Learn more about me here: www.ecommerceattorney.com and here: Leavens Strand Glover & Adler, LLC.

Neoformix Tweet Topic Explorer is a Powerful New Tool For Social Media Marketing

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WordCluster Analytics Provide Rapid Visualization of Hot Topics

Kudos to Barry Ritholz and his Blog The Big Picture for turning us all on to a phenomenal new social media metrics tool: Tweet Topic Explorer.  This Tool retrieves the most commonly used words in recent (no word on time period covered by “recent”) “tweets” for a specific user and displays these visually using bubble clusters. The area of the circle for a word is proportional to that word’s frequency. Words most often used together are grouped by color.

For example, using my Twitter handle, @adlerlaw, produces a cloud that shows the words “film,” “media,” “legal,” “social” and “Chicago” are among my most frequently used words.  Looking at groupings, “Film” is used most commonly with words like “tax” and “indie.” The words “Law” and “Legal” appear most frequently with “social,” “media” “brand,” and “trademark.”

The potential for brand managers and social media marketing professionals is obvious. First, a brand manager can quickly and easily analyze what key words are being used and how they are being used for any given twitter handle. Note that if your handle is identical to a brand name, this is critical visual evidence of the words being used in connection with your brand! Second, if you area  marketing professional, you can analyze individual handles to get feedback on words being used by social media influencers and other specific followers.

The value should be obvious by now. This tool creates an amazing feedback mechanism. The brand owner/marketing professional can easily see if the message they are trying to communicate is really coming through as well as they intend. For example, check out the word cloud for “Coca-Cola.” I was amazed to see that the most frequent word is “^GD.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not communicating anything about the brand. Whereas positive attribute words like “sharing” and “delicious” are much less prominent.

Also, the potential to uncover negative words will be displayed prominently. This gives brand managers insight into the areas, issues and users that they need to target.

I’m not saying its going to be easy. In order to get the most out of this tool, one is going to have to spend time analyzing users one by one. However, this is one of the best tools I’ve seen that breaks tweets down into a clear, visual, actionable matrix.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and founder of a boutique intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. With over fourteen years of legal experience, Mr. Adler created the firm with a specific mission in mind: to provide businesses with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business. Learn more about me HERE.

David M. Adler, Esq.  Safeguarding Ideas, Relationships & Talent®

Social Media Legal Risks: Copyright

Social Media Landscape

Understanding Social Media Legal Compliance

The use of social media for marketing and advertising purposes is one of the fastest growing areas for publishers. The advent of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn provides the opportunity for authentic interaction and engagement with customers. Therefore, it is no surprise that these services and others are being used as marketing tools by companies large and small to help them achieve their strategic goals.  But with every technological development and opportunity, new legal and business risks present themselves. Understanding and minimizing these risks will help you maximize the opportunities.

How does copyright law impact social media?

  • Copyright protects “original works of creative authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression
  • What this means:
    • any content whether (a) created by you, (b) by some one else at your request, or (c) by an independent third party IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT [Note limited exceptions (e.g. government works, public domain) and work-for hire]
    • GET PERMISSON FIRST if the content is not created by you or under a written work-for-hire agreement
  • Practical Applications
    • Can placing a hyperlink to a photo on a publicly-accessible Web constitute misappropriation of the photo?
    • Can an advertiser’s use of a photo from a publicaly-accesible photo-sharing web site constitute misappropriation? YES
    • Are “Tweets” protected by Copyright?
    • Is Tweeting a Conference Lecture a Copyright violation?
    • Is Tweeting a Major League Sports event a Copyright violation?

About the Author

David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and founder of a boutique intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. With over fourteen years of legal experience, Mr. Adler created the firm with a specific mission in mind: to provide businesses with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business. Learn more about me HERE and HERE

David M. Adler, Esq. & Assoc.: Safeguarding Ideas, Relationships & Talent®

 

 

David M. Adler, Esq. To Speak at Socialize 2011 on Legal Issues For Social Marketers

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The use of social media for marketing and advertising purposes is one of the fastest growing uses of the Internet. The advent of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn provides the opportunity for authentic interaction and engagement with customers. That’s why it comes as little surprise that these services are being used as marketing tools.  But with every technological development and opportunity, new legal and business risks present themselves. Understanding and minimizing these risks will help you maximize the opportunities for your business.

At Socialize 2011, taking place March 31 – April 1, 2011 at The New Yorker Hotel in New York CityDavid M. Adler, Esq. will provide a presentation focused on taking a “best practices” approach to social media marketing. Attendees will learn how to identify the legal issues and develop policies and procedures to keep informed about the current technology, marketing strategies and regulatory compliance. The presentation intends to cover the following issues:

IssueIntellectual Property

  • Trademarks & Brands
  • Copyright & Content

IssuePrivacy & Publicity

  • Right of Publicity
  • Endorsements

IssueUser generated content

  • positive and negative comments
  • Copyright Infringement
  • Unmasking “anonymous” posts

Issue:  Regulatory Compliance

  • FTC – Dot Com Disclosures: Information about Online Advertising
  • “Freemiums”
  • FTC – Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims
  • CAN-SPAM compliance

Issue:  Faking it

Takeaways:

  • Issue Spotting
  • Creating & Maintaining Policies & Procedures
  • Compliance
  • Continuing Education

2d Cir. Rules That Downloading Digital File Containing A Musical Work Not “Public Performance”

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Yahoo! Inc. and RealNetworks, Inc. (collectively, the “Internet Companies”) sought separate blanket licenses to publicly perform the entirety of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (“ASCAP”) repertory for certain of their websites and services. A blanket license is a license  that gives the licensee the right to perform all of the works in 5 the repertory for a single stated fee that does not vary depending on how much music from the repertory the licensee  actually uses.

In this case, the Internet Companies offer their customers the ability to download musical works over the Internet. It is undisputed that  these downloads create copies of the musical works, for which the parties agree the copyright owners must be compensated. However,  the parties dispute whether these downloads are also public performances of the musical works. ASCAP contended that the downloads are public performances for which the copyright owners must separately and additionally be compensated. The district court held that these downloads are not public performances, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The Court held that the downloads were not musical performances that were simultaneously perceived by the listener. Rather, they were only transfers of electronic files containing digital copies from an online server to a local hard drive. Because the downloads at issue involved no recitation, rendering, or playing of the musical work encoded in the digital transmission, such a download was not a performance of that work.

About The Author

Safeguarding Ideas, Relationships & Talent®

Filmmakers face an often confusing and changing set of challenges trying to ensure that their business remains legally compliant. Yet few can afford the highly-qualified and versatile legal staff needed to deal with today’s complex and inconstant legal and regulatory environment. Adler & Franczyk is a boutique law firm created with a specific mission in mind: to provide businesses with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage theirintangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business.

We approach our relationship with each client as a true partnership and we view our firm as an extension of their capabilities. Our primary value is our specialization on relevant and complex issues that maintain the leading edge for our clients. We invite you to learn more about the services we offer and how we differ.

On the web: www.ecommerceattorney.com
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