Communications and Media Laws

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 Who Regulates the Communications and Media Industry?

The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) is the main federal agency that regulates the communication and media industries in the U.S. The Communications Act of 1934 set up the FCC and assigned the agency the job of regulating interstate and international communications via radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

The FCC has jurisdiction in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. possessions.

What Are the Goals of the FCC?

The following are the goals of the FCC with respect to the communications and media industries:

  • Promoting Competition: Support the nation’s economy by ensuring that there is a competitive legal framework for communication services. Also, the framework should promote innovation and offer consumers meaningful choices of services. This pro-competitive framework is supposed to be promoted domestically and overseas;
  • Broadband: Establish regulations that foster competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services and facilities. Regulations should also support monitoring the progress toward the deployment of broadband services in the U.S. and abroad;
  • Media: Revise media regulations so that the rules of ownership foster competition and diversity in the required transition to digital modes of delivery;
  • Homeland Security: Provide leadership in improving the nation’s communications infrastructure, including the quick restoration of that infrastructure in the event of disruption. Leadership should also work to ensure that essential public health and safety personnel have access to effective communication services in emergency situations.

What Is the Freedom of Information Act?

Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 to give the American public greater access to the records of the federal government. Congress has amended the FOIA several times since 1966.

Thirty years after the passage of the FOIA, Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (E-FOIA). The E-FOIA expanded the FOIA so that it includes electronic records and requires the creation of “electronic reading rooms” to make electronic records more accessible to the public.

What Type of Information Is Accessible Through FOIA Requests?

Under the FOIA and the rules adopted by the FCC to implement it, a person is allowed to obtain copies of FCC records unless the records contain information that is exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.

The following categories of information are exempt from the FOIA:

  • Records classified as national defense or foreign policy materials;
  • Trade secrets;
  • Commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential by law;
  • Inter- or intra-agency memoranda or letters that cannot be made available to a party involved in a lawsuit against the agency;
  • Personnel, medical and similar files, disclosure of which would clearly be an unjustified invasion of the privacy of the person whose records they are;
  • Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.

What Are the Laws of the Use of Social Media?

There are several federal laws that address privacy on social media. The federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are two of them. There have been additional efforts to make federal laws that would provide more protections for the users of social media, but they have not been successful to date.

Generally, federal law protects internet service providers by shielding them from liability for what users post.

Some states have passed laws to provide improved protection for the users of social media. These state laws usually address the following:

  • Laws that require the implementation of security measures;
  • Laws that impose civil and criminal liability and criminal punishment for hacking;
  • Laws that require notification of customers and clients for data breaches.

For example, California law requires people or businesses who do business in California to give consumers notice of a data breach as quickly as possible after the breach.

There have been many efforts to enact federal legislation to better address social media protections, but no national comprehensive social media privacy laws are in place at this time. The U.S. does not have the equivalent of the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the protections it provides.

Much of the appeal of social media is the ability it gives users to interact with other users. Users can exchange information in a highly-accessible real-time forum. However, it is this sharing of information that makes social media subject to exploitation of privacy rights.

There are state laws that make the online posting of “revenge porn” criminal. “Revenge porn” is posting sexually explicit videos or photos online without the consent of the subject and with the intent to embarrass or humiliate the subject.

The largest social media companies have shown concern about users who invade the privacy of others on their platforms. They have adopted rules and implemented policies that address unauthorized content. However, the implementation of these rules and policies is entirely voluntary on the part of the companies, and they could dispense with them at any time and leave their users without protections.

The company that was previously known as “Twitter” prohibited the posting or sharing of intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without that person’s consent. Of course, the company that was known as “Twitter” has new ownership, and its rules and policies are subject to change.

Facebook uses “photo-matching” technology to identify photos that they have already been told were shared non-consensually. The company also makes use of a controversial program that works by having users send intimate photos to Facebook’s safety department to prevent the uploading of the pictures to the site.

What Other Laws Should I Consider?

The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law regarding the disclosure of online data for children under the age of 13. Websites that target children can only collect personal information about a child after it has given written notice of the site’s disclosure practices and has then gotten parental consent.

Parents, of course, are usually the supervisors of their own children’s privacy rights on social networks. However, parents themselves sometimes inadvertently infringe on their own children’s privacy when they post their children’s photos online or identify them in a blog. However, children have no social media rights in these situations.

Privacy is a major concern in the employment context. Of course, social media are important to business operations, but employees are worried about violations of their privacy. Employers may conduct social media research to investigate job applicants. Many states have enacted laws that protect the privacy of people when they apply for a job. Generally, state laws prohibit employers from doing the following:

  • Requiring or asking an applicant or employee to supply their employer with user names, passwords, or logins for their personal social media accounts;
  • Requiring an employee to add another employee, manager, or administrator to their “friends” or the contact list of their social media accounts;
  • Asking employees to change the privacy settings on their personal social media accounts.

What Are Some Legal Issues Involved With Communications and Media?

As we can see from the information above, privacy is one of the main concerns in the world of social media, and U.S. law offers little in the way of protection against the invasion of personal privacy of users of the Internet and social media.

Other legal issues involved in communications and media are copyright and trademark issues, as well as trade secret issues. A copyright is the right afforded by federal copyright law to the creator of content to prevent others from using their original work without permission. Trademark law is like copyright law, but it covers graphic logos and brand names.

Trade secrets are secret information about how a product is made or a special service provided. For example, the recipe for the Colonel’s Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trade secret.

Media and communications are full of content that is protected by copyright and trademark protections, and media outlets, e.g., online newspapers, must work diligently to protect their copyrighted content and trademarks.

Companies that operate media outlets such as television news channels and newspapers must also be concerned with defamation. Communications and media lawyers must ensure that media outlets do not publish libelous or slanderous material.

Do I Need a Communication and Media Attorney?

Any number of legal issues can arise in the domain of media and communications. can connect you with an experienced entertainment lawyer who can address your concerns. Your lawyer can draft agreements, negotiate resolutions of problems and represent you in court if that should become necessary.

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