Special Report: Know your digital rights
November 12, 2013 (WPVI) -- The virtual world has proven to be a pretty tricky territory when it comes to your legal rights. In fact, the speed of technology over the past two decades and the cultural influence of social networks have created a legal tug of war between the protection of privacy and the protection of free speech.
Before you post that next photograph or video online, you're going to want to be sure you know your rights... and where you don't really have any.
A case in point from our area is Will Gregg, who appeared as a toddler in a home video taken during the Phillies' 2008 World Series victory parade. The video of Will responding repeatedly and adorably to the question, "How big is Will?" became an internet sensation.
Will's mother, Heather, had no idea just how big Will would become.
"I put it on YouTube so I could share the link and I emailed it to a couple of friends who emailed it to a couple of friends and then it took off," Heather Gregg told Action News. "It was completely a surprise because that wasn't our goal."
Because the Greggs were seemingly unprepared for Will's meteoric rise in the viral video world, Heather admits their naiveté put them at a disadvantage when calls from networks and talk shows started coming.
"We were clueless. We didn't know what our rights were and we didn't know the legal language in the contracts," Heather said.
Although you automatically own the copyrights to any picture or video you take, uploading those to a host site does require you to accept their terms and conditions.
"So YouTube or another platform might claim the right to monetize the content that you upload to their site," Lastowka said.
But what happens when a picture or video you own is uploaded by another person without your permission? Most major sites like Facebook and YouTube comply with something called the Notice of Take Down Procedures which falls under the Copyright Act.
For example, on Facebook you can click on an icon on the top right of your screen and click on "Report a Problem". There will be an online form you can fill out to request the video or pictures to be taken down. However, don't expect it to find it on every site.
"There are other sites that don't have these types of policies," Lastowka adds.
Enter the legal and personal nuisance of revenge porn. A term coined when a personal relationship goes sour and all those personal photos go public. It happened to 24-year-old Anisha Vora.
"It's kind of like a girl's worst nightmare come true," Vora told Action News.
Because Vora took the pictures herself, she owned the copyright. Vora followed the sites' take-down procedures and within 24 hours the pictures were taken down. But it was too late. Today, her photos are on more than 100 pornographic and dating websites.
"As far as the porn sites, I've had sites refuse to take them down," she said.
Legally, the host site cannot be penalized for having the photographs or videos on the site. Only the person who originally posted the pictures can face legal repercussions which is why Vora's ex-boyfriend is now facing jail time for posting the photos. But reposting and sharing is how photographs and videos go viral and that is almost impossible to control.
"You can punish the person who shared it but punishing that person doesn't remove the damage or take it off the internet," Lastowka said.
Here's where it gets even more complicated: If you are the subject of a photograph or video but someone else was the photographer. Those cases are harder to pursue legally because you have to pursue a privacy violation which isn't as clear cut as a copyright.
Right now, New Jersey and California have laws specific to criminalizing revenge porn. Wisconsin and New York are trying to get legislation passed. But the lesson here is that you should know your rights and think very carefully before you send anything into cyberspace because it is not easily retrievable.
special report, lifestyle, facebook, youtube, special reports, erin o'hearn
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