We recently wrote about a musician who got into some trouble with a court by using social media to flaunt images of hundred dollar bills after he had filed for bankruptcy. Now, an Atlanta-based rapper known as Rolls Royce Rizzy has been found to offend trademark laws through his use of social media. In January 2015, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA LLC (collectively, “Rolls-Royce”) filed a suit against Robert Davis (aka “Rolls Royce Rizzy”) for various claims, including trademark dilution, trademark infringement and unfair competition/false designation of origin under the Lanham Act.
Notwithstanding that the people involved are often surprised at their public exposure, it has become somewhat commonplace for individuals to be either caught on video by a smartphone or to have a social media website posting that demonstrates poor judgment go viral. All employers should consider having a social media response plan for just these sorts of incidents, in some cases to protect other employees and in many cases to protect the employer’s brand and reputation. Even then, employers must strike a fine balance in navigating their rights and responsibilities towards all affected by the sudden exposure.
Do you consider yourself famous? If the answer is no, then you have likely never been concerned with the invasion of your right of publicity. The right of publicity is the right of a person in his or her identity—name or likeness or any other indicia of identity. This right protects persons from the taking of an identity for commercial gain without proper remuneration. For example, a cereal manufacturer could not place a picture of a celebrity on the cereal box without consent by that celebrity (and a license to use the picture, if protected by copyright law). Using such a picture would necessarily create a false association between the product—the cereal—and the celebrity. Because the celebrity has value in his or her likeness, the right of publicity allows the celebrity to protect that identity (and not have it be devalued or taken advantage of by others for commercial gain).
Your social media content is not only susceptible to hacking; it’s also susceptible to disclosure requests from civil litigants (see our Sept. 14 blog post for more details) and even prosecutors without your consent if they have a warrant. According to a California appeals court, however, federal Internet privacy laws can stop social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from disclosing your social media content—at least to criminal defendants during pretrial discovery.
A party’s right to privacy has always been an important and sometimes limiting factor in the resolution of discovery disputes. Social media platforms, which allow users to select the extent with whom they share their network, posts and photos, inevitably create a conflict between what users perceive as “private” content (based on settings used to control who they share information with) and the fact that all content that is relevant to a particular lawsuit may be discoverable. Litigants are finding that in resolving discovery disputes involving social media, the technological platforms may be new but traditional discovery rules still apply. Below are four cases that have helped establish a familiar patch of terrain in a legal landscape that has been remade in so many other ways by social media.
The evolution of social media in business from “occasional accessory” to “integral component” has in turn forced the law itself to evolve in an attempt to address social media’s increasing relevance. Recent developments in two different areas of law show a newly evidenced recognition of social media’s importance in business.