Content of website forums and reviews?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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bjjohnstone
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Content of website forums and reviews?

Post by bjjohnstone » Thu May 02, 2013 7:47 am

My colleague runs a non-profit making website which contains a discussion forum and also a facility for visitors to leave textual reviews of products - these get stored in a database.

The site itself contains copyright notices on all pages suggesting that she owns the copyright of all submitted textual content along with the right to edit, remove or publish as the site wishes. When members submit reviews, it also reminds them that the site owns the content of what they submit.

Is this notice enough to protect her from a situation whereby a disgruntled former member might request the removal of his / her reviews / content for copyright reasons?

Incidentally, she hosts her site in the US, if that makes any difference.


Many thanks...B

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Thu May 02, 2013 2:17 pm

Hi bj,
I think your friend would have a hard time justifying her claim to copyright in the comments submitted by others. US and UK law gives copyright to the author except in special circumstances where the writer is an employee and the work in question is created in the course of the employee's duties, when the employer becomes the owner of the copyright. Using a term or condition of the site to notify users that they are effectively assigning their copyright to the owner of the site would generally be insufficient to stand up in law. For example, under UK law such assignments need to be in writing and signed by the assignor (ie the author) to be valid. There is no question that under UK law your colleague owns the rights to her database, which is a separate matter from copyright. However US law does not recognise Database Right.
In any case she doesn't need the copyright, just a licence which can be executed via the terms and conditions, much as it is on most forums or Facebook for instance. By using suitable wording, a licence will allow her the right to retain and publish the postings, archive them and use them in other ways related to the site, but leaves the poster with their basic copyright should they wish to re-post their comments elsewhere.
The issue of whether a poster can demand that their posts are taken down or deleted at some later stage can be tricky, and it would be sensible to cover this situation in the terms and conditions, for instance that this would be solely at the discretion of the site owner. Incidentally owning copyright in a work does not give the copyright owner any right to demand the deletion or destruction etc of a work which has legally passed out of their control, for instance where a writer sends a letter to another person, or as in this case, a poster has posted on a website and then changes their mind.
As the site is hosted in the US, generally speaking this means that US law will govern its use, but if the site is primarily directed at UK users - for instance the reviews are of products available only, or mainly, in the UK - then UK law may also apply, especially in a case of defamation. This could be important because companies can sue for defamation or malicious falsehood if they feel their products are being treated in a grossly unfair or malicious way in a review (remember the McLibel case?). In instances such as this, your friend should be protected from liability as long as she is unaware of the post in question, has not exercised any editorial control over what is posted and acts to take down the review once the libel etc is brought to her attention.
Last edited by AndyJ on Mon Apr 28, 2014 8:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
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bjjohnstone
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Post by bjjohnstone » Thu May 02, 2013 8:06 pm

Hi Andy,

Massive thanks for the detailed reply - it's a big help and I will share with my friend tomorrow.

She did mention that most of the reports are submitted under pseudonyms - so if an issue did arise where somebody claimed ownership of a particular review, that individual might have a hard time linking it to the "real them" if that makes sense - also I suspect that they would need to prove that they wrote the content -before- the time when it got published on her website?

She does not reproduce the reviews anywhere else and so they remain on her website in the original submitted form - also she feels happy with the reviewers posting them elsewhere should they wish - I think that she just wants to ensure that people cannot force her to remove product reviews on demand as it would damage the content of her site.

All very complicated. :-o

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Post by AndyJ » Fri May 03, 2013 5:34 pm

Just a quick follow-up caused by the coincidental reporting of a case in the USA which covers this very topic. The case concerns Craigslist and their claim to own the copyright in postings made by their subscribers, a claim which was almost completely rejected by the trial judge.
More details here: Forbes magazine
and here: gigaom
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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