Establishing yourself as a blogger takes effort and time. As you grow, there is a naturally tendency to add on to your blog to create a better experience for your followers. Adding a forum is one option a number of bloggers consider pursuing. Before adding a forum, it is important to understand there are two legal issues you need to take into account or risk destroying your blog.
User generated content is any type of content uploaded to a site by users. Online empires have been built on user generated content. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. All are comprised, for the most part, of uploaded content from members.
Unfortunately, user generated content can create numerous legal risks for websites. The biggest risk is a copyright infringement claim. If you add a forum to your blog, you must understand members will inevitably upload copyrighted material to it without the permission of the copyright holders. This could draw you into a copyright infringement lawsuit unless you comply with one law – the DMCA.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 is a controversial law. Copyright owners believe the law doesn’t go far enough to protect their works. If you have ever had someone steal your blog content, you probably feel this way. Others feel the law is abused by copyright holders to snuff out free speech and competition.
It is an interesting debate, but it really doesn’t matter because the law is an absolute benefit to any site allowing users to post content. Why? The DMCA provides such sites with immunity from monetary liability for copyright complaints arising from content posted by members. In plain English, this means Facebook is not liable when one of its members posts a video containing music from Radiohead. The member posting the video may be liable, but not the site.
Without the DMCA safe harbor immunity, sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube would not exist. The flood of copyright infringement lawsuits arising from content posted by their members would have pushed them into bankruptcy long ago. For those of you who remember Napster, that site was doomed by such attacks.
Adding a forum to your blog is conceptually a positive strategy. It allows your followers to interact with you and each other, which is obviously beneficial. Unfortunately, complying with the DMCA can throw a wrench in this relationship.
Compliance with the DMCA involves both a bit of red tape and a need to understand how to respond to complaints. The initial compliance steps include:
The problem for most bloggers is figuring out what to do once an actual complaint comes in. Let’s assume one of your forum members posts a YouTube video with a Rolling Stones song playing over various images. The publishing company owning the rights to the song submits a copyright complaint to your DMCA agent.
The answer is to either hire an attorney to deal with it or learn the DMCA requirements so you can handle the complaint on your own. Either approach is fine, but the DMCA is very deadline oriented. To maintain your immunity, you must meet every deadline. This burden alone often turns bloggers off to the idea of adding a forum to their sites, but there is an additional issue you need to take into account.
For most blogs, the goal is to create a positive relationship with the visitor. After all, people don’t follow blogs they hate! Developing credibility and trust with your readers takes significant effort and time. Unfortunately, complying with the DMCA can breach this trust or at least damage it.
The problem arises from the first step you must take when a copyright complaint comes in – the removal of the allegedly offending content. The law does not allow you to make a determination as to whether the complaint is valid or not. The content simply must be removed immediately and then the person who posted it is served with notice of the complaint and given time to argue against the removal.
As you can probably imagine, the immediate removal requirement of the DMCA leads to hard feelings with the person who posted the content. Members do not understand why their content is being taken down and why you, the blogger, are accusing them of copyright infringement and aren’t fighting on their behalf.
Herein is the fundamental problem of the DMCA. In protecting yourself from being sued, you aggravate your followers. The top thread in the forum for your blog can quickly become why you have turned against your members, which is a no-win debate for you. This probably isn’t what you had in mind when you decided to add the forum to your blog.
Does adding a forum to your blog make sense? There is no absolutely correct answer. The important thing to understand is there are both positives and drawbacks to forums. You can weigh each for your blog and then make a decision for yourself.
Richard Chapo, Esq., is a San Diego internet lawyer providing legal services to bloggers through his blog at SoCalInternetLawyer.com. With 20 plus years of experience, he is both readily familiar with the issues bloggers face online as well as being as old as dirt.