Most firms believe the internet is something that helps them to thrive. Companies rely on digitization to get ahead of the competition and make their services more appealing to their customers.
But it turns out that there’s more to it than that. For many enterprises, the advent of digitization and the internet actually threw up a host of new legal issues, many of which are still challenging to deal with today.
Take defamation, for instance. Historically, if you wanted a defamation lawsuit to come your way, you needed to be deliberately vocal through an established channel. Getting on TV to disparage a competitor was challenging in the past.
With the advent of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social networks, broadcasting defamatory statements about rivals or other people is potentially far easier. It’s only one tweet away. Anyone in a business can now potentially invite defamation through the internet, enabling a single employee’s bad mood to become a big financial headache for the entire firm.
At the same time, digitization is making it easy for people to get involved in trademark disputes. According to one leading law firm, business clients regularly “sweep the internet,” looking for instances of other companies or individuals taking their proprietary IP and threatening them with an appearance in federal court.
Trademark issues are highly likely when the entirety of human knowledge and most communication becomes searchable. Firms can essentially eavesdrop on each other at will, looking for instances of inappropriate use of brand material.
Music Streaming Violations
Then there are music violation issues, something that is now coming to the fore with the advent of personal streaming services. Again, these carry potentially hefty fines, but most businesses are unaware of the rules.
For instance, many barbers’ shops currently play music from iTunes or Spotify to their customers to make their environment more friendly. To owners, streaming audio files from their personal players hooked up to business speakers seems harmless.
Strictly speaking, though, they should be paying a royalty to artists every time they do that. That’s because once they play it on their premises (other than through personal headphones), it ceases to be for “home use,” as stated in the terms and conditions.
SiriusXM, a popular platform for podcast-loving entrepreneurs, says that many firms are unknowingly breaking the law and could wind up with big fines if they don’t stop immediately. Any artist using a business playing music without permission or a license could potentially find itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
With that said, solutions are on the horizon. SiriusXM for business, for instance, is a legal way for companies to stream music without breaking any terms or conditions or infringing on intellectual property. The company says that it’s come to an agreement with labels that will allow firms to stream as much music as they want from up to 10,000 artists, all carefully tailored for specific operational needs.
Of course, firms will still need to pay royalties to listen to music legally. But the new service will make it substantially easier for companies to deliver the sound environments they want to their customers, without falling foul of any laws on the books.
Press Release Issues
Another major issue for firms conducting business on the Internet has to do with press releases. While they can be excellent for public relations, they also come with risks.
For instance, firms can get into trouble if their press releases are overly vague. Rival firms might believe they are stepping on their turf or saying things that are demonstrably untrue but could give them a competitive advantage.
Press releases can also be overly optimistic. Writers wanting to put a positive spin on things can unconsciously embellish writing with an unduly rosy tone, giving customers the wrong impression. Some might view these strategies as misleading or false.
At other times, press releases can simply be too speculative or make claims evidence doesn’t corroborate. Instances like these contribute to the risk of legal action, which is why highly regulated firms must be so careful. Insurers, banking companies, legal practices, and any enterprise in the medical sector must ensure they make qualified statements only and remain inside what the evidence allows.
Employees Email Risk
Employee emails are another significant risk for firms in the era of the internet. While they can be a helpful tool, they can also lead to legal action.
The problem stems from email’s dual usage. On the one hand, it is a replacement for informal conversation. Colleagues can use the tool to freely communicate with each other in a chit-chat fashion. On the other, all conversations have a digital record. In that sense, an email is similar to a memorandum.
For this reason, many firms are training staff to draft emails carefully. Internal emails should be sensitive to the protected characteristics of other users, while external emails need to reflect company data. Managers should also supervise the emails of new employees and ensure they avoid causing any disturbances that could lead to legal action.
Companies also need to police the internet in general. According to data, around 1 in 5 employees regularly consumes the contents of illicit sites while at work, potentially spreading this material around. Enabling access to this kind of material runs the risk of accusations of “hostile work environments,” which could lead to legal action and employee tribunals.
Finally, the internet is throwing up a host of privacy problems for businesses that rely on it. Sharing of sensitive information, such as names, addresses, sex, ethnicity, and so on, is now becoming significantly easier, running the risk of a breach.
For example, many firms now encourage customers to provide them with sensitive information via the internet. Protecting privacy requires end-to-end encryption, and a robust cybersecurity policy. Firms that fail to operate at high standards run the risk of lawsuits and brand damage.
Ultimately, the internet requires firms to adapt. Those who can do so effectively stand a higher chance of avoiding legal issues in the future.