Meetings, Technology and Data: Oh My!

By Barbara F. Dunn O’Neal, Esq. Partner Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Organizations are continuing to expand the scope of their use of new technology and social media in connection with their meetings and events.  What once was recognized as a passing fad has now proven to be very effective.  Yet with the new technology comes new potential areas of liability which must be considered including trademark and copyright infringement, defamation, and compliance with laws.

Liability Exposure

Given that social media postings involve a variety of mediums such as photos, videos and music, organizations should look before they post. Of primary concern is copyright infringement.  A copyright protects original works of authorship. The creator of the work, such as a photographer or videographer, owns the copyright to the work unless the creator is an employee of the organization and created the work as part of their employment (in that case, the organization owns the copyright to the work). Any information included in a social media posting should either be owned by the organization which is posting the information or the organization should have permission from the copyright owner to include their copyrighted material in their posting.

Social Media Policies

As the use of social media by organizations and their meeting participants increases, the concerns regarding liability and appropriate use of social media remain.  Organizations should ensure that they have social media policies in place with both their employees as well as their meeting attendees to ensure appropriate behavior and, if not, give them a remedy for violation of the policy.

For employees, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), recently issued regulations which make clear that employers cannot restrict their employees from discussing “protected activities” – namely wages, hours and working conditions – in social media settings. As such, employers cannot prohibit their employees from discussing any work related items on their social media pages.  Note that the policies can prohibit unprofessional comments and “griping”. It is important that employers have evaluated their policies under these NRLB regulations to ensure compliance.

For meeting attendees, the organization should ensure that it has a social media policy which is written to restrict attendees from engaging in activity which is inappropriate and unprofessional. The policy should be written such that attendees who engage in inappropriate behavior may be terminated from participation in the organization’s social media site.

Data Protection

With more states such as Massachusetts enacting robust data protection laws, organizations need to ensure that the data they collected from their meeting attendees for conference registration contains consent from those persons so the organization can use the data or distribute it to the organization’s vendors.  More and more contracts include indemnification provisions which make the organization responsible for any liability associated with its failure to secure proper consent from attendees before their data is shared.

Meeting Apps

With the advent of new technology and applications comes the risk that organizations may be held responsible for any damages relating to an attendee’s download or use of an app.  It is important to ensure that anyone downloading the app will have access to a notice and disclaimer which provides that the organization is not responsible for any costs of liability arising out of their download or use of the app.

Notices and Disclaimers

Notices and disclaimers are very effective techniques to manage risks especially in connection with the organization’s group pages on third-party websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  The notice should provide that the comments posted in the group are those of the individuals and not of the organization. Furthermore, a disclaimer should be included which provides that the organization will not be held liable for content posted in the group.  In order to enhance its enforceability, the notice and disclaimer should be posted in a visible section of the page.

While there are a variety of issues which continue to be of concern as organizations venture into new technology and data territory, there are many techniques organizations can implement to reduce their liability exposure. With proper planning, the opportunities for efficiency and success are limitless!

Barbara Dunn O’Neal is a Partner with the Association and Foundations Practice Group at Barnes & Thornburg where she concentrates her practice in association law and meetings, travel and hospitality law.  Barbara can be reached at (312) 214-4837 or [email protected].

This article should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

©Copyright 2014. Barbara F. Dunn O’Neal, Esq., Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Atlanta, Chicago, Delaware, Indiana, Los Angeles, Michigan, Minneapolis, Ohio and Washington DC.  All rights reserved under both Pan-American and international copyright conventions.  No reproduction of any part may be made without the prior written consent of thecopyright holder.

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