Copyright and social media monitoring


Are you paying attention to The Associated Press v. Moreover Technologies, Inc. et al? I heard about it while interviewing the founder of a different company for the Guide to Social Media Analysis, my reference to the companies who monitor and measure social media. He was telling me that his company provides summaries and links back to original sources, in order to avoid the risk of copyright infringement issues. The interesting thing is, I had just heard from another company that they selected a data vendor specifically because of the full text clips in their feed.

So, what's the deal with aggregating media content for a commercial service? Does blog aggregation with full content feeds violate copyright? Is it a question of fair use (US—fair dealing elsewhere), or is there more to consider? I asked Eric Goldman, Assistant Professor and Academic Director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, who started by telling me, "the law in the area is complicated, multi-faceted and unclear."

Great. So much for wrapping things up with a tidy stroll through fair use considerations.

In addition to copyright, Goldman suggested these areas of potential concern (the usual disclaimers apply: this is not legal advice; check with your own lawyers):

  • Common law trespass to chattels
  • Computer Fraud & Abuse Act
  • State computer crime laws
  • Contracts
  • Trademark
Scraping web sites for content adds its own complications. Subscribing to RSS or XML feeds may improve things (legally), but then again, it may not. The existence of a feed doesn't necessarily mean that the content is freely available for commercial purposes.

Still with me?
So far, this is just the US perspective on an inherently international activity. My blog post was threatening to turn into a book, which I'm not even qualified to write (but I might want to read). So, let's go back to the current case that opened the topic, AP v. Moreover, or the Case of the Purloined Press. For extra credit, read the complaint (PDF).

This case isn't about social media monitoring; it's about redistributing traditional media content without a license. But it has similarities to other forms of media monitoring, in that a company is aggregating content for commercial purposes. How can a company avoid trouble while providing commercial content aggregation, and how does this translate to social media content with its millions of independent sources?

Potential solutions
One possible solution is to license the content. It's an established practice with traditional media that sets the terms of use, but it's not practical for decentralized, online media. Excerpting is another potential solution, which is being tested in the current case. The addition of metrics to raw content may help support a fair use/fair dealing argument. But with the unsettled state of the law, solutions are likely to be complicated and unclear, too.

When you get into the wilderness of social media sites, you encounter copyright, Creative Commons and terms of use that vary by site. This could be interesting. Oh, and complicated—and risky. We're not done with this topic, but for now, there's an ongoing case worth watching. I have my search feed running. Do you?

IMHO, IANAL, YMMV. I took an excellent course on communications law in grad school, and I enjoy a good conversation about policy, but I'm not a lawyer. You'd be an idiot to take anything I write or say as legal advice.


Interesting points! While not as inherently interesting as, let's say, an updated version of The Guide to Social Media Analysis, PR professionals are finding it necessary to pay careful attention to how they receive and share digital content. The Moreover case you mentioned along with the Knowledge Networks case are among the developments driving awareness. We’ve recently published a white paper, Copyright Compliance: What Every Media Relations Professional Needs to Know and your readers are very welcome to download it.

I'm working on it—just finished another briefing a few minutes ago...

Thanks for the link to the KN case; that one's new to me. If you look closely, though, you'll see that I cleverly linked to the release on your white paper in the original post. :-)

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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