Media Law Problems Faced by Creatives and Entrepreneurs

 Dear Creative & Entrepreneur,
You are likely facing these Media Law Problems

Top legal issues that today’s journalists, creators, and entrepreneurs have in common.

1. Defamation, Privacy, and Accuracy of Information – The best independent journalism projects, bloggers, filmmakers, early stage nonprofits, and artists share work that shines a light onto the practices of the most powerful individuals, businesses and governments in our world. But shining this light requires being accurate with the information that is published online, and compliance with a web of state and federal privacy laws. Without the services of an in-house legal department to do a pre-publication review, and often without an entity as a shield, many assume enormous personal legal liability when they share controversial work. Dealing with defamation and privacy issues before a work is published, and having somewhere to turn when disputes arise can help make sure a project doesn’t die on the vine.

2. Access to public records – It's clear that journalists need access to public records, but you may not realize that documentary filmmakers, researchers, historians, archivists, and a variety of entrepreneurs and nonprofits trying to take raw data and turn it into actionable information need it, too. Accessing this information requires untangling a complex web of state and federal law. Navigating this web be a bit easier with the help of attorneys. And in the case where a lawful request is denied; an attorney can bring formal litigation to ensure that the records are released.

3. Recording laws – When can you audio or video record someone secretly? When do you need a release? Then, once you make your recording, how are you able to reuse that recording and the image of any individuals?  Photos, video, and audio are the preeminent multimedia of our day, so knowing the rules around their creation and dissemination has become critical to everyone who shares multimedia online.   This is typically state law which means multiple lawyers may need to be consulted about laws in different states. Without an effective network creators can plug into for advice, all too often they “wing it”, only to end up running into expensive legal problems later.

4. Responding to illegitimate takedowns – We rely on a private intermediary services to share content with each other such as websites, apps, and webhosts.  Unfortunately, bogus content takedowns often falsely rely on copyright, trademark, and a variety of abusive terms of use violation claims.  Many intermediary services will quickly remove content to avoid liability. Navigating each service’s appeals process, and making the legal arguments to get your otherwise legal content restored is not always easy.  Negotiating with service providers and claimants to restore legitimate content often takes an experienced attorney explaining the user’s legal position.  Without that assistance, in addition to content removal and the risk of related lawsuits, a key consequence of takedowns is that a user can have their account permanently terminated, silencing their voice.

4. Intellectual Property and Licensing – Today’s independent artists, filmmakers, and journalists are plugging in to existing distribution channels, accessing audiences and sustaining their work through licensing deals.  Understanding how intellectual property law works, particularly copyright and trademark law, is one way that today’s journalists, creators, and entrepreneurs sustain and grow their work.  The Knight Foundation, in its report Gaining Ground: How nonprofit news ventures seek sustainability, recently noted that early stage nonprofit journalism projects appear to focus primarily on content production until they reach a budget of $500,000, where the larger portion of budgets start to go marketing, development, and technology expenses.  We can confirm this experience on the ground.  Many of our most successful nonprofit journalism clients, as well as creative clients like filmmakers, understand that one of their most important assets is their intellectual property, but they aren’t always experts in contracts or licensing.  Attorneys can help make sure that the deal presented in a contract actually reflects the client understanding and is appropriate given their business model.

This includes insurance contracts, foundation and government contracting agreements, fiscal sponsorships (when projects are incubated within larger nonprofits), software and API licenses (open source and proprietary), open source content licenses such as Creative Commons. Without easy access to knowledgeable counsel, many creators will sign unfair or even abusive contracts that could tie up their project for years.

1. Fair Use – Andy Warhol said “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”  It may not be as catchy of a quote, but many great journalists, creators, and startups understand their rights to reuse content without permission.  Understanding and exercising fair use allows us to engage in social, cultural, and political dialogue.  It’s a critical safety valve to the broad protection and extremely long duration of copyright law. But as far as laws go, it’s on the complicated side.  When journalists, artists, filmmakers, and startups want to share new perspectives and world-changing ideas, a quality fair use analysis can make that happen.  Moreover, many filmmakers and journalists need a fair use opinion from an attorney to obtain insurance and be picked up by distributors. But the reality is that only a small number of attorneys in the country are experts in fair use law, and when you narrow that list to folks willing to work on a reduced fee basis that number shrinks considerably and clients  never find the legal services they need.

Rather than treating journalists, artists, creators, and startups as silos, let’s recognize the common legal issues faced across all of these groups, and find ways to address the growing demand for legal services by building key legal infrastructure.


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