Social Networking for Musicians: Best Practices

I’ll be speaking on social-networking ethics this Wednesday, September 8, at the Americana Music Festival in downtown Nashville, if you want to join the conversation in person.  In case you can’t make it, I thought I’d give you a sneak-peek with the following legal tips on social-networking for musicians and artists:

Posting private information about you.  It can be hard to remember your audience, especially on sites like Facebook where you’ve set certain privacy limitations and believe you’re among friends.  Be careful what information you post, and keep in mind that, regardless of privacy settings, anything you post on the Internet could become public knowledge.  Those Terms of Use aren’t just legalese dreamed up by lawyers to make a buck (well, maybe that, too), but important for you to know, as they tell you in the fine print what information they’re disclosing about you.  The information you disclose on the Internet also could become a legal admission.  The jury is still out on the implications of the photo of that new purse Paris Hilton supposedly proudly displayed on her Twitter account recently (before her drug arrest when she claimed to be carrying a friend’s purse looking suspiciously similar, according to accounts).  Bottom line:  If you don’t want the public to know, don’t put it on the Internet.  Especially if your goal is to have a career in the public eye.

Posting private information about others.  If you need to be careful about posting your own personal information, you need to be extra careful about posting personal information about others.  While doing so without their permission is not only unethical, it’s also potentially unlawful.  Invasion of privacy is the legal claim they might raise against you in their lawsuit.  Photos of people at private events, or showing them in a false light, or in any other scenario in which they have an expectation of privacy, should not be posted.  When in doubt, get permission.

Posting third-party content.  Even if that’s you performing in that video or smiling out of that photo, you need to be careful that you have permission to post it.  In the case of the video, you will likely need permission from your record company under your recording agreement if you have one, from the producer of the video if your record company did not obtain it or if you don’t have a record deal, and from the songwriters/song publishers if you didn’t write the song.  As for the photo, make sure you have permission from the person who took the photo.  Make sure you have permission for all content, artwork, photos, audio, and videos created by others before posting, and be mindful of contractual restrictions with your own record company and music publisher as well.

Advertising using others’ images.  Be careful about using photos and videos of others for purposes of promoting your career.  Each person has the right to his own “publicity,” meaning the right to use his image for commercial purposes.  Again, when in doubt, get permission.

False and harassing information.  It goes without saying that you should not post false information about others or harass others online.  Again, doing so is not just bad manners but unlawful.

Ownership of your information.  You could spend months developing a fan base on the social network of the day, only for it to become yesterday’s news and disappear from cyberworld forever.  Lo and behold, you find that your carefully cultivated online fan base is suddenly yesterday’s news, too.  Again, read the terms of use to see who owns the information on your social network of choice.  And, as much as possible, direct fans on all of your social networks back to your own website and ask them to sign up for your email list so you keep them no matter what.  Also, to the extent you use ghostwriters to post your information, make  sure you have a written agreement with them that you own the copyright to the content so they can’t cut and run and take your content with them.  As for your own website, make sure you have an agreement with your web developer that you own the copyright to the content for the same reason.

And now back to building your online fan-base, wisely and lawfully!