If you’re letting visitors submit content on your website, what rights are they giving you (if any) to the submitted content? Do your website legal documents say anything about this issue?
If visitors upload photos or videos, post comments, or write reviews, can you legally use, modify, sell, license, or give the content away to others? Can you strip out the audio from a submitted video to make an mp3 file or have it transcribed to use as text?
Does the submitter retain ownership of the content but license it to you? If so, what’s the scope of the license? What can you do and not do with it?
What do your site’s legal docs say about content ownership? If they are silent, how do you know what your rights are?
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This isn’t an academic issue but one that could mean the difference between you being able to do what you want or getting sued. Yes, website legal protection is important.
Over at FastCompany.com, David Lumb raises the issue in “Read The Fine Print Before You Use Microsoft’s Viral Age-Guessing Tool” with regard to ownership and use of people’s photos.
If visitor-supplied content is part of your site, and you can’t figure out what rights you’ve got to those submissions, it’s probably time to talk with your Internet lawyer about getting the right website legal documents in place to give you the intellectual property rights you want.
It’s important to remember that the submitter can’t exceed the scope of his own legal rights when granting you rights to content.
For example, what if a website visitor uploads a meme pic made with a stock photo to your site? If the visitor lacks permission from the copyright owner or licensor to do so, he cannot grant you the right to use the photo because the visitor doesn’t have the authority to do so.
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If someone makes a claim of copyright infringement because of submitted content, how will you handle it? Do you have a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Notice on your site? If so, are you following DMCA procedures to limit your liability exposure?
Don’t misrepresent repurposed content to place the submitter in a bad or false light. For example, even if you have a license to use a submitted photo, it’s not a good idea to take that person’s photo and use it with a caption or story that falsely implies the person is a criminal, has an STD, mistreats pets, etc.
Although sometimes referred to as the “fine print,” on a website using tiny fonts for your site’s legal documents isn’t a good idea if you want them to be enforceable. Ideally you’ll want to use a font size at least as large as the text in your website’s articles, sales pages, etc.
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Your website legal documents should also be easy to read from a color standpoint too if you want to rely upon them as binding agreements. For example, black text on a white background is good. Putting gray text on a gray background would likely make the best legalese prepared by your Internet lawyer unenforceable because your website visitors can’t easily read it.