When is your website or app covered by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) and the FTC’s COPPA Rule?  Although there are gray areas under COPPA, one clear way to fall under this law is to know that you’re collecting information from children under the age of 13 online.  That’s part of what landed Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, in trouble with the FTC – including a record-setting COPPA fine of $5.7 million.  COPPA isn’t limited to the kinds of video social network apps that Musical.ly provides; broadcasters’ websites and apps may end up falling under COPPA.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Musical.ly knew that it was collecting information from children under 13 (COPPA doesn’t apply to anyone else) for several reasons.  For instance, press articles described the popularity of Musical.ly among under-13 users, the company received hundreds of complaints from parents trying to close their kids’ accounts, and the company itself provided guidance to parents regarding their children’s usage of the app. 
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In recent weeks, I’ve written about my presentation at the Podcast Movement Convention on legal issues for broadcasters who are thinking about podcasting, and followed up with an article warning any company with employees or contractors creating podcasts or other digital media projects to be sure to clarify who owns the content that is created. Recently, there has been litigation about another issue – the individuals featured in podcasts suing the producer for unauthorized uses of the interviews recorded for use in the podcast, under theories including the invasion of privacy or violation of the rights of publicity of the interviewees.

One lawsuit receiving significant publicity (see for instance the detailed articles here and here) is from the family of the individual who became the main focus of the popular podcast S-Town. The podcast focused much of its attention on the life of an individual who was not an elected official or any other sort of public figure. As the individual died before the podcast’s release, the family sued on his behalf, arguing that the podcast violated his rights of publicity. Various states grant individuals rights of publicity to exploit their names, likeness, or stories – essentially barring others from exploiting that person without his or her permission. Other state laws grant individuals a right of privacy to keep private facts private. While the details and exceptions to these rights differ from state to state, they generally do not restrict bona fide news stories about public figures or reporting on other matters that are in the public interest. Most broadcasters, covering news events, don’t routinely run up against the restrictions set out in these laws. But podcasts and various other reality programming may be more lifestyle-oriented, and may detail private facts about individuals who are not in the news, leading to issues like these. Getting a release from the subject of an interview waiving any such rights, and otherwise giving the producer the rights to exploit the recordings that are made, can help to reduce the risk that these laws may otherwise pose. Plus, there are other reasons that a release may be helpful.
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By now, you have probably heard that the European Union (EU) has a new data protection law on the books, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – but what are the new rules, and how might they apply to broadcasters? Below we address these and other commonly asked questions about the GDPR.

What is the GDPR? The GDPR is a new European privacy law that, as of May 25, 2018, generally governs how organizations – including those EU-based and many that are not – collect, use, disclose, or otherwise “process” personal information. While some limited exceptions exist (e.g., businesses with fewer than 250 employees are exempt from some requirements), the GDPR imposes an array of obligations on companies subject to it.

Who does the GDPR apply to? The GDPR clearly applies to companies established in the EU that collect personal information about individuals in the EU, but it also claims a broad extraterritorial reach. Indeed, it can apply to organizations, including broadcasters, without an EU presence. For instance, it can apply to broadcasters who collect or use data to provide services like streaming TV or radio to individuals in the EU. It also can apply to broadcasters who use website cookies and other online tracking mechanisms to “monitor” individuals in the EU (e.g., profiling for behavioral advertising). That said, it remains to be seen whether regulators will enforce the GDPR against companies that for the most part are not serving EU citizens and do not have EU operations, but may occasionally and unknowingly acquire data of an individual in the EU or an EU citizen in the United States.
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Last week, Aaron Burstein of our law firm and I conducted a webinar for several state broadcast associations on legal issues in digital and social media advertising. As broadcasters become more active in the digital world, whether it be through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or by posting their content online through

Almost every week, we write about some legal issue that arises in digital and social media – many times talking about the traditional media company that did something that they shouldn’t have done in the online world, and ended up with some legal issues as a result. Two weeks ago, I conducted a webinar, hosted by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and co-sponsored by over 20 other state broadcast associations, where I tried to highlight some of the many legal issues that can be traps for the unwary. Issues we discussed included copyright and trademark issues, a reminder about the FTC sponsorship identification rules for online media, FCC captioning obligations, privacy implications, as well as discussions about the patent issues that have arisen with the use of software and hardware that makes the digital transmission of content possible. Slides from that presentation are available here and, for the full webinar, a YouTube video of the entire presentation is available below which can be reviewed when you have some spare time over this upcoming holiday or at any other time that you want to catch up on your legal obligations.

Some of the specific issues that we talked about are familiar to readers of this blog. We discussed the many issues with taking photographs and other content found on the Internet and repurposing them to your own website without getting permission from the content’s creator (see our articles here and here). Similar issues have arisen when TV stations have taken YouTube videos and played them on their TV stations without getting permission from the creator. Music issues arise all the time, especially in producing online videos and creating digital content like podcasts, as your usual music licenses from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR and SoundExchange don’t cover the reproduction and distribution rights involved when content is copied or downloaded rather than live-streamed (see our article here). The presentation also cautioned companies to be careful about trying to rely on “fair use” as there are no hard and fast rules on when a use of copyrighted materials without permission is in fact fair (see our articles here and here on that subject).

Similarly, there are many other potential pitfalls for digital media companies. We’ve written about some of the FTC rules on requiring sponsorship identification on sponsored digital content – even tweets and Facebook posts (see our articles here and here). Plus, there are always issues about privacy and security of personal information that sites collect – and particularly strict rules for content directed to children. And, as many stations found out when a company asserted patent infringement claims about digital music storage systems used by most radio stations (see our articles here and here), patent issues can also arise in connection with any companies use of digital media.
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In the last few days, the trade press has been full of stories about a settlement of a lawsuit brought against a large broadcaster for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Given that the settlement was for $8.5 million, it has commanded lots of attention. While much of this attention seems to suggest that this is a new obligation, we wrote about this issue last year, warning broadcasters of the potential for big liability if they did not pay attention to the requirements of the rules. The rules prohibit “telemarketing” calls or texts using an “autodialer” unless the recipient has explicitly consented to receive such messages.  In the recent decision, the broadcaster allegedly responded to texts sent to enter a contest with reply texts containing advertising messages unrelated to the contest. 

While TCPA rules are written by the FCC, this is one of those few rules where a violation can not only bring penalties from the FCC, but also there is a “private right of action” by people who receive unwanted calls or texts – i.e. they can sue a broadcaster who contacts them in a manner that violates the act.   And there are law firms that specialize in this litigation, even putting together groups of plaintiffs to bring actions against alleged violators – seeking damages including statutory damages (meaning that no real injury needs to be proven).  So just what does the TCPA cover? Here is what Josh Bercu, an attorney in my firm, wrote last August:

The TCPA is a law that restricts businesses and organizations from making calls and texts to consumers’ residential and wireless phones without having first received very specific permission from the recipient. Sending texts to broadcast station viewers or listeners who are contained in a station’s loyal listener or loyal viewer clubs can lead to liability if the proper releases are not obtained, and collecting text addresses from contest participants and adding them to station databases can similarly be problematic.   Because violations of the TCPA can result in civil liability of $500 to $1500 per call or text plus FCC fines, and as there have been a number of law firms around the country that have been active in filing class action suits against businesses to collect those potentially very high per-call damages, broadcasters need to ensure that their practices comply with the TCPA and the FCC’s rules which implement the Act.  While the recent Order provided some specific relief in limited circumstances to businesses, it leaves many well-intentioned companies, including broadcasters, at risk as they try to contact their viewers and listeners. Below we address some commonly asked questions about how the TCPA may apply to broadcasters.
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With the Federal Aviation Administration convening a task force to require the registration of most drones, I thought that it was worth taking another look at the current rules regulating the use of by media companies of what are more officially called unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”) and unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly called “drones”). We offered some discussion of the FAA process to license drone for commercial use a few months ago, here. Rachel Wolkowitz (see her bio here), one of the attorneys following these issues for our law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP in Washington, DC, offers these broad observations on how drones can be used for newsgathering under current FAA rules, and offers some cautions for both current and future use.

The use of drones presents great opportunity, and potential risk, for newscasters. Drones can be cheaper to fly than helicopters, and potentially can get closer to the action. On the other hand, drone technology is still nascent and safer operating technologies – e.g. sense-and-avoid systems that use internal systems to find and avoid hazards – are still being developed. Federal, state, and local governments are struggling with the potential safety and privacy implications that follow from putting thousands of drones in the sky for a variety of uses.  They are creating a patchwork of laws, rules, and policies that have the potential to trigger liability for broadcasters.  Below, we provide a high-level discussion of some key legal considerations for operating drones for news gathering.
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The FCC recently issued a Declaratory Ruling and Order on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) – and that order highlights many issues with broadcasters who use texts or outbound automated calls to the mobile devices of viewers and listeners. In fact, today the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing to fine a travel marketing company $2,960,000 for robocalls to households on the Do-Not-Call list, without having any consent from the recipients of the calls. Certain practices of broadcasters could arguably come under TCPA prohibitions. Thus, Josh Bercu, an attorney in my firm, has prepared the following warning for broadcasters about their potential liability under the TCPA.

Last month, the FCC released a Declaratory Ruling and Order addressing 21 separate requests for clarification and other action regarding the TCPA, a law that restricts businesses and organizations from making calls and texts to consumers’ residential and wireless phones without having first received very specific permission from the recipient. Sending texts to broadcast station viewers or listeners who are contained in a station’s loyal listener or loyal viewer clubs can lead to liability if the proper releases are not obtained, and collecting text addresses from contest participants and adding them to station databases can similarly be problematic.   Because violations of the TCPA can result in civil liability of $500 to $1500 per call or text plus FCC fines, and as there have been a number of law firms around the country that have been active in filing class action suits against businesses to collect those potentially very high per-call damages, broadcasters need to ensure that their practices comply with the TCPA and the FCC’s rules which implement the Act.   While the recent Order provided some specific relief in limited circumstances to businesses, it leaves many well-intentioned companies, including broadcasters, at risk as they try to contact their viewers and listeners. Below we address some commonly asked questions about how the TCPA may apply to broadcasters.
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In a Consent Decree released the day after Thanksgiving, the FCC agreed to accept a payment of a $35,000 penalty from a former television licensee for recording two telephone conversations for inclusion in a newscast, where the station called an outside party and recorded those conversations for inclusion in the newscast – before getting permission to do the recording.  The licensee also apparently did not fully respond to FCC inquiries about the facts of the case, leading to the $35,000 fine.  The FCC noted that the licensee had already sold the station, and was holding this money in a post-closing escrow account to be used to satisfy any fines that might arise from this conduct.

The decision is significant for several reasons.  First, it is couched in terms of privacy regulation, with a discussion of the importance of privacy regulation to the FCC in the opening paragraph (see the Public Notice that accompanied the release of the Consent Decree).  Recently, the FCC issued huge fines to independent telephone companies for not properly securing customer information – indicating a new emphasis on privacy regulation by the FCC.  Couching Friday’s consent decree in those terms indicates that privacy issues are now a high priority for the FCC.  As we have written before, privacy is a subject of interest to many other government agencies, and the recent interest of the FCC in this issue promises one more place where businesses can look for trouble should they respect the privacy of those with whom they interact, or should they not secure private information about their customers.
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We recently wrote about FCC issues that will be facing broadcasters in this new year.  While broadcasters will no doubt be busy keeping track of what the FCC is up to, they also need to have their eyes on other government agencies, as there are numerous issues that may come from Congress and the other regulatory agencies in DC that could affect their bottom lines.  So, with a watchful eye on the FCC for the issues we wrote about earlier in the month, what other issues should broadcasters be watching for from all of the other regulatory power centers in DC? 

While this is an election year, and that makes many big pieces of legislation unlikely, the discussions that occur in 2014 on these issues may pave the way for action late in the year, or in 2015 after the new Congress is in place and before the Presidential election in 2016 commands everyone’s attention.  Here are some of the issues of interest to broadcasters likely to be on the DC agenda in 2014:
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