User Generated Content – Who's Responsible?

There was a ruling in a major lawsuit between Google (owner of YouTube) and Viacom this week over copyright infringement. But the case is about more than simple copyright infringement in the video and online world – it brings up a much larger question. In today’s world where social media is bleeding into nearly all web entities, just who is ultimately responsible for what users post?

You can read more about the case itself here, but I think this is a really interesting question to consider. Google’s stance is basically that as long as they have a policy in place that specifically states that users may not post anything they don’t have the rights to post and if they take stuff down when notified by the copyright holder of an infringement, that is enough. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act states as much and was cited in the ruling.

But what about materials that are not copyright protected? What about user opinions or reviews that may cause damage to you or a third party? Where does the responsibility lie to monitor this type of posted material? As social media outlets continue to increase in usage and popularity, and as more and more sites add some type of commenting or user-based interactive elements to their web entities, this question will become increasingly important.

Having a clear Acceptable Use & Terms of Service policy is critical. Just as having a Privacy Policy is critical in protecting yourself if you collect any data from users, having a well thought out Acceptable Use & Terms of Service policy is a step you should not skip if you’re inviting users to comment and/or generate and post content. By having a clearly stated policy about what is permissible and what is not, you strengthen your ability to not only monitor, but also remove offensive, defamatory or otherwise problematic materials from your site(s).


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