Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The International Olympic Committee's Social Media Guidelines for the 2012 London Olympic Games Need Clarification

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently published its Social Media Policy for the 2012 London Olympic Games. According to the just released policy, "the IOC encourages all social media and blogging activity at the Olympic Games as long as it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes."

At first glance, the policy appears to be straight forward. It clearly states that its main goal is to protect the intellectual property rights of its commercial and/or advertising partners. I have no problem with the IOC trying to protect its intellectual property interests and the interests of its business partners since billions of dollars are paid for broadcast rights and millions are paid by worldwide partners to be associated with each Olympics.

Some of the sections I thought may be worth more discussion include:

Section 2 of the policy needs to be clarified because it states, "any such postings, blogs or tweets should be in a first-person, diary type format and should not be in the role of a journalist - i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons..." If a participant makes comments about the competition or the activities of other participants to an accredited member of the media is this within the guidelines? Will the IOC allow this type of information only to be provided to the accredited media but not on a personal social media account? How closely will the IOC enforce this policy?

Section 4 of the Policy appears to try to protect the exclusivity and value of the Olympic broadcasting rights. It states, "Participants and other accredited persons cannot post any video and/or audio of the events, competitions or any other activities which occur at Olympic Venues. Such video and/or audio must only be for personal use and must not be uploaded and/or shared to a posting, blog or tweet on any social media platforms, or to a website." I understand the need to try to protect Olympic broadcasting rights. However, I think it will be difficult for the IOC to permanently ban personal video/audio taken by participants and accredited persons from ever being uploaded onto a social media platform.

Sections 7, 9, and 13 focuses on protecting the IOC's intellectual property. As I stated above, since Olympic partners have paid millions or billions to be associated with the Games they should be provided some type of protection for their investments.

Section 8 discusses social media advertising and sponsorships. Participants and accredited persons may need to have their legal counsel review all of their social media accounts to ensure compliance. Before the Olympics start a thorough review of all active and inactive social media profiles should be completed.

Section 11 discusses liability for social media posts. It states, "they [participants] can be held personally liable for any commentary and/or material deemed to be defamatory, obscene or proprietary." Who is to decide the definition of obscene? As I previously posted, the United States Supreme Court just reaffirmed that in the United States "disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression." What is the definition of obscene? At the 2010 Winter Olympics, snowboarder Scotty Lago was kicked out of the Games due to photos of him that others had uploaded. Therefore, I believe it should be left up to each National Olympic Committee to determine the definition of obscene since each country may have slightly different standards.

In general, the IOC's Social Media Policy appears to be a good starting point for discussion. However, the points I mention above need to be addressed before the Games begin to lessen the likeliehood that social media compliance misunderstandings may occur.

To learn more about the IOC's Social Media Policy you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

The NCAA, Social Media Monitoring, Censorship, the First Amendment, the Supreme Court, and Video Games

Last week, the NCAA may have created a major legal liability quagmire for its member institutions when it alleged that the University of North Carolina failed to monitor the social media activity of its football players.

Social Media/Social Networking Monitoring may lead to Social Media Censorship. Social Media Censorship by NCAA institutions may be gaining acceptance in some schools. According to the Washington Post, the University of Maryland (UMD) may be actively monitoring and regulating the speech of the members of its football team. It appears that UMD is monitoring defensive lineman A.J. Francis' Twitter account. Does Maryland require all of its athletes to turn over their social media account names to their compliance staff? Or, is it only the men's football team?

Could there be a Title IX or a 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause violation if Maryland is only monitoring the men's football team and not treating other teams and/or genders equally? Are only a few athletes of the men's football team being singled out? How did Maryland obtain A.J. Francis' Twitter account information? Did Maryland's compliance department require A.J. Francis to provide it his social media account user names in order to continue to be on the football team and/or receive academic aid?

According to the Clarion Ledger, University of Mississippi signee C.J. Johnson deleted his personal Twitter account after speaking with the Ole Miss athletic department staff. Ole Miss has publicly stated that it did not force C.J. Johnson to close his Twitter account. C.J. Johnson's Twitter activity may be objectionable to some people and it may be best for him to stop tweeting for the time being; however, what if a school gives a student an ultimatum: stop your social media activity or lose your scholarship and/or be kicked out of school?

What if the University of Maryland told Larry David (Seinfeld Co-Creator), Jim Henson (Creator of the Muppets), David Simon (Co-Writer of The Wire), Sergey Brin (Co-Founder Google), Steny Hoyer (Former House Majority Leader), Carl Bernstein (Former Washington Post Watergate Journalist), etc... or the University of Mississippi told William Faulkner (Author), John Grisham (Author), Sheppard Smith (Host of the Fox Report), Gerald McRaney (Actor), and Bill Parsons (Director of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center) that they should stop publicly expressing their personal and/or political views while they attended their respective schools? If a public college and/or university starts regulating what its student-athletes express on social media what will stop it from trying to regulate what other members of the student body state online?

The NCAA 2010-2011 Division I Manual does not appear to discuss Social Media/Social Networking Monitoring and/or censorship so I am not sure how public schools thinks that it is acceptable to monitor and then censor its student-athletes.

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 majority recently ruled that "disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression." Justice Scalia wrote, "[l]ike the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world)....That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.” Since video games are now constitutionally protected forms of expressive behavior will the First Amendment protect most types of social media activity no matter how offensive unless they defame and/or violate other areas of the law?

Any school that deploys a social media monitoring service to monitor its student-athletes may want to reevaluate their policy. Colleges and universities that utilize social media monitoring and receive government funding may also be creating further unanticipated legal issues. As I have stated over and over, academic institutions should be educating their students about social media and not monitoring and censoring them.

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at http://shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.