Sued in Six Seconds: Avoiding the Entanglements of Twitter’s Vine


By Kerry Gorgone, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Six seconds (or six and a half, for the purists among us) hardly seems long enough to convey anything of substance, and yet  Vine — Twitter’s new video sharing service — is catching on fast. Maybe it’s not surprising. Six seconds of Super Bowl advertising time would cost $800,000, so clearly time is valuable!

For those who haven’t tried it yet, Vine enables users to capture six seconds of live video (uploading from the camera roll is not allowed): no editing, no adding titles or a soundtrack, just sharing.

At first, I didn’t see the point of the service, but Ann Handley convinced me it was worth trying, and as soon as I did, it captured my attention. I had been focused on seconds, rather than moments, and each moment offers endless possibilities.

Vine offers marketers a chance to engage their prospects in a fun new way, but there’s also the risk of legal liability anytime you upload content to a social network. Here are some tips on how to Vine responsibly.

  1. Create your own content. Vine’s requirements make this rule relatively easy to obey, but some people “vine” clips of movies they’re watching or pieces of art they’re viewing at a museum. Showing other people’s copyrighted works (even for six seconds or less) could result in a lawsuit, although a takedown notice is more likely. Not worth it: you can come up with six seconds of video content.
  2. Pay attention to sound as well as video.  It’s easy to focus on the visual element, but listen while you record. Are you picking up snippets of highly personal conversations, or copyrighted music?  The best course of action is to create Vine videos in a controlled environment, so you can avoid unintentionally capturing sensitive information or copyrighted audio works.
  3. Vine strangers (especially children) with caution. For companies especially, this is important: model releases are required when using someone’s likeness for marketing, whether you’re using still images, full-length videos, or six-second Vines. Consumer users should try and frame their Vine videos so that only consenting adults are recognizable.Parents can show their own children, if they choose, but be sensitive to child protection laws: an innocent bath-time video could be construed as child pornography under federal law.
  4. Avoid showing private information about others. This tip goes more to good manners than legal obligation, but it is possible to create a video that would constitute invasion of privacy under many states’ laws.Be considerate: don’t shoot through people’s windows (obviously), but also take care not to capture people’s identifying information, or conversations in which people discuss medical treatment or other sensitive matters.
  5. Keep it positive.  Don’t depict others in a misleading or negative light, or you might find yourself sued for defamation. Truth is a defense, and I fully support freedom of speech, but you only get to assert a defense once you’ve been sued. Being sued is costly and inconvenient: in most instances, the satisfaction of posting something nasty evaporates when the summons arrives.
  6. Think before showing trademarks. Generally speaking, it’s fine to show a trademark in a non-commercial video so long as the viewer won’t be confused into thinking that the trademark owner endorses your content (or that you are the trademark owner).Companies and brands using Vine need to be more scrupulous about showing others’ trademarks. If a company were to take issue with how their brand or product was depicted, you could find yourself involved in some legal wrangling involving demand letters or worse.Sometimes, a brand or label is the entire point of your video, but the safest course of action is to keep things generic.
  7. Don’t Drive and Vine! 

Like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, Vine gives marketers access to a powerful visual medium that people love using, but any new medium poses some risk. Following these simple rules will help to keep you out of the legal jungle.

Are you on Vine?

Kerry O'Shea GorgoneKerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, teaches New Media Marketing in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University in Winter Park Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @KerryGorgone

Illustration: Climbing vines by webtreats, Flickr Creative Commons

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