Legal guidelines for social media

Here are 6 legal points to help keep your social media activities on the straight and narrow.

Please note that these Guidelines should not be construed as legal advice specific to your branch’s needs, but instead they are meant to be general information to help identify potential issues. In addition, these Guidelines are subject to periodic revision, as the Internet and social media are in a state of continuous evolution. So, please be sure to check back from time to time for the latest updates.

While we have tried to address the most important issues relating to social media sharing, there may be some topics that still need attention. So, please let us know if you have any suggestions for topics to add or ways to make these Guidelines more user-friendly. By the way, these Guidelines do not address what you can do on your own branch church or Reading Room website. There is another set of Guidelines for church websites.

1. Providing links through sharing functions

Many people want to share content that they didn’t create themselves, such as images and articles, through social media, but do not want to worry about getting legal permission to do so. Generally, rather than cutting and pasting content, the easiest and safest thing to do is to provide a link to the original page where that content is hosted.

You can do this by sharing the web address or “URL” (Universal Resource Locator, usually beginning with “www”) of the page you wish to share. Even better, you can use the built in sharing functions that many websites offer, including CSMonitor.com, JSH-Online, ChristianScience.com, TimeForThinkers.com and marybakereddylibrary.org. These sharing functions are designed to let people know about the site’s content by providing a direct link to the content on the host site, as well as often including a brief excerpt, thumbnail photo, or other welcoming material to invite people to pay the site a visit.

These kinds of sharing functions provide buttons which may be labeled in a variety of ways, depending on the design of the website. Once you get started, it should become pretty easy to identify the right button to use for your social media platform of choice. You will need an account on the destination social media platform in order to post to it.

Buttons for sharing on Facebook may say “Recommend,” ”Like,” “Facebook,” or even just show a stylized letter “F.”

Buttons for sharing on Twitter may say “Tweet,” “Twitter,” or even just show a stylized bird.
Buttons for sharing on Google+ may say “G+ Share” or Google+.”

In addition, there are a number of other social media sites, too numerous to mention here. CSMonitor.com includes a range of social sharing options, which you can find at the bottom of stories under a large orange “plus-sign” button.

Sharing using these built-in functions is OK without needing additional permission, because the very fact that the website has chosen to implement these functions means that the site is inviting this kind of sharing. The same thing goes for linking to videos on YouTube and other popular video sites, but note that some videos are authorized to be embedded, whereas others can only be linked to, depending on the selection made by the person or organization that posted the video in the first place.

For these reasons, you may consider limiting your social sharing of content belonging to others to content which is made available via the built-in sharing functions described above.

2. Ask yourself: do I have permission to cut and paste?

If, after reading the section above, you still feel that you absolutely have to cut and paste a whole article or image, then the next question is whether you need permission from the owner of that content to use it. After all, using copyrighted content without permission is the very definition of copyright infringement.

Sometimes it seems that any kind of photo or other content you find on the web is fair game to use and share because practically speaking, all you need to do is “right click” and it’s “yours.” But even though the technology makes it really easy to copy and capture content, the content likely belongs to someone who may require permission before you post it.

In fact, most items on the Internet are owned by someone. So consider that you may need permission before grabbing and posting that text, photo, video, or music. And for images and video, this means not only getting permission from the owner of the image or video, but also from the people depicted in the image or video, who may be entitled to rights of publicity or privacy. Violation of these rights can be very costly, if a lawsuit results. Most websites have a Terms of Service and/or Copyright page that explains how content on the site can be used. In addition, most sites provide a “Contact Us” page with information about how to get in touch with the site’s management. These pages often include information for how to request permission to reuse the site’s content.

3. Some images are not as "free" as they look

Some sites seem too good to be true, and in many cases they are. In particular, be careful of grabbing and reposting images from Google images, Flickr, Wikipedia, and similar sites.

Images from these sources may seem great, but they are not necessarily free to use. And sometimes the rights information associated with a given image will say the image is available for free use, but it actually isn’t. These sites do not necessarily investigate the ownership rights of content that their site users post, so there is not a sure way to tell if the content on these sites is legitimately available to reuse or not.

4. Get permission to use Mother Church content

You may need to get permission from The Mother Church to post its content. You may wonder whether this content is just OK to use as church members “within the family.” While some of this content is available for sharing through built-in social media functions without additional permission, we still ask that you get permission before grabbing and reposting content outside of these functions. The primary reason for this is that we don’t necessarily own or have the legal ability to offer all Church content for others to reuse.

Properly attributed quotes from Mrs. Eddy’s previously published writings in English are OK to use, for instance anything from Science and Health or the collection known as Prose Works in English, but please note that permission is required to quote from Mrs. Eddy’s recently published writings, which are available in the Mary Baker Eddy Library and copyrighted by The Christian Science Board of Directors. Short quotes from periodical articles are also usually OK without permission, but please see Section 1 above, in which we recommend using the sharing functions built into our websites.

5. The Cross and Crown

The Cross and Crown seal is an important trademark owned by The Mother Church, so please don’t use it without permission, and never use it as your avatar or other identifier. As much as students of Christian Science identify with it as a symbol, it is possible to lose a legal trademark if people use it inappropriately or without permission. Here's some more information about licensing the Cross and Crown.

6. Privacy and defamation

Be alert before sharing private facts about others without permission, such as may be found in testimonies. This can result in legal problems. Also, be careful not to make false statements about individuals or companies that could harm their reputation - this is called defamation, slander, or libel. Even if another publication or website has published the same information, you could still be liable for publishing it if it is false and could harm reputation.

Questions? Feel free to email us at copyright@csps.com.