As we get ready to turn over the new year, we get a chance to both evaluate what 2010 meant for us and what we want 2011 to look like.
But while we each are making our personal evaluations and decisions, we also have other shifts and changes around us. For example, the Internet is a constantly-changing environment, with trends, sites and companies rising and falling in a strage chorus, all of it affecting our profession.
Another area is the law and legal issues. Though it has something of a reputation for being fixed and static, nothing could be farther from the truth. As the Internet has changed, the law has struggled to keep up and court decisions, legislation and lobbying have all worked to make the legal climate an ever-changing one.
With that in mind, what are some of the legal issues that you can expect to see in 2011? It’s almost impossible to say but, looking back at 2010, we can make a few educated guesses of where things might be heading.
On that note, here are five legal areas to watch in the new year.
1. Social Media Law
Social media has rocketed to the mainstream as a way for people to express themselves, connect with others and share information. Nowhere is that more clear than in the traffic stats, which showed Facebook as the most-visited site in 2010, passing Google.
However, the law really hasn’t had too much to say on social media specifically. Though it’s clearly no legal safe haven, there are countless situations that are unique to social media that have not been addressed directly.
Though legislation isn’t likely at this time, I expect we’ll see a slew of court rulings over privacy, defamation, copyright and even trademark on social media over the next year, even more than in 2010. Simply put, as more and more people get involved in this legal gray area, more and more cases will arise from it.
2. Orphan Works
Orphan works are copyrighted works where the creator or copyright holder can not be easily located. There is a great deal of concern about these works as, since there is no one to ask permission for use, that the works are deteriorating or being removed from circulation, possibly causing them to be lost forever.
Orphan works legislation has been introduced twice in the U.S. and once in the UK already and, in all cases, would have allowed limited use of orphaned works without author permission. Though all of those bills were defeated one way or another, it’s almost certainly going to come up again and 2011 does seem to be a prime year to try again.
Clearly, this is an issue all rightsholders need to pay attention to and, most likely, it will come up again though the question is where. The U.S. is one choice but it could be any number of nations that have been weighing the issue since it was first brought to attention many years ago.
3. Stock Photo Litigation
In recent years the stock photo industry has been launching a massive litigation campaign against those who republish their images without permission, possibly making them the most active in terms of threatening suspected infringers, ahead of both the movie and music industry.
However, unlike other litigation attempts, such as those by the U.S. Copyright Group, which ave suffered serious legal setbacks, the better targeted, better handled campaigns by the stock photo houses haven’t suffered nearly as badly in the courts and are still very much emboldened.
So, as far as the threat of being receiving an infringement notice goes, stock photos may again lead the way in 2011.
4. Newspapers Step Up Too
However, the stock photo agencies won’t likely have the floor to themselves. 2010 also marked the beginning of the Righthaven lawsuits, which saw Righthaven, a company acting on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, sue nearly 200 bloggers and other webmasters for republishing content from the paper.
While that may not be terribly shocking by itself, especially considering the thousands that have been sued by other groups, many of the cases were dubious with strong fair use arguments an and possible safe harbor claims where a visitor, not the webmaster, posted the work.
Possibly more worrisome is that the market is slated to grow in 2011. Not only has Righthaven signed up new clients, but other newspapers seem poised to follow its lead.
Though they’ve had some setbacks, they’ve overall had great success, allegedly earning nearly $300,000 for a relatively small number of settlements.
5. Privacy on the Web
As big of an issue as copyright will be in 2011, privacy may actually be a larger one. Already there is talk of a voluntary “Do Not Track” list on the Web and it seems likely that may well be only the beginning.
This can affect freelance writers both in the information that they have shared about themselves and the content that they are able to write about. From a privacy standpoint, it seems that the Web is being viewed more and more as an extension of our living rooms, making it a rapidly-changing area for privacy law.
Simply put, it’s not long as straightforward as to say whatever you post or do online is now considered public, making it imperative that we follow shifts in this area of law both for our personal protection and to ensure we don’t run afoul of it.
All in all, from a legal perspective, 2011 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. With many new cases on the horizon and a lot of showdowns gearing up, it’s going to be a year to watch the courts and the legislatures of the world alike.
In the meantime though, I hope everyone has a happy New Year’s Eve and is looking forward to a great 2011!
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private (However, please mention that it is a suggestion for Freelance Writing Jobs). This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.