“Widget Law”, Privacy and Did You Really Mark that Photo “Friends Only”?

July 13th, 2007

Internet law presented an interesting set of new challenges for lawyers around privacy, permissions, click-wrap contracts, etc. Recently I have seen a new set of issues arise around widgets and the interactive web generally. It’s very interesting, though my clients wish there were clearer answers.

Client confidentiality stops me from talking much about issues I am working on, but here are a couple of public matters within the same sphere.

Virgin Mobile is apparently in a spat with a Flickr user over a photo Virgin grabbed for an outdoor advertising campaign. As reported, Virgin complied with attribution requirements of the Creative Commons license under which the photo was posted, but the photo contained an image of a minor, whose parents say they did not consent to use of the likeness.

Somewhat related, here is a series of posts from employment lawyer George Lenard on the legality of using social network sites for background checking on employee candidates. The conclusion is that it is legal, but don’t take everything you see as verified truth, and be aware that many profiles contain age, ethnic background and other personal data that employers are allowed to know, but need to handle carefully.

The common thread here is that information posted in one context can be used ever more easily for others. More to the point, permission to one use does not mean permission to others, but the technical tools can’t always recognize these distinctions. A friend can give me special permission to see his/her semi-private Flickr photos. Do I violate my friend’s copyright or privacy rights if I stream those photos to my own blog- with unrestricted access?

Probably yes, is the answer. Given how easy it is to do that, what are the consequences and how can we address it? Good questions- no sure answers.