With the rise of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the demand for online content has increased exponentially. Given this new reality, online content creators must take steps to ensure that their online creations don’t land them in legal hot water. One of the most prevalent cross-industry issues is music licensing. Music is everywhere in online content and often plays an integral part in the overall experience. From video game players streaming music as they show off their skills on the largest video platforms to fitness instructors using popular music to pump up their workout classes, individuals and companies must ensure that they don’t run afoul of the copyright laws when they incorporate music into their online content.

Copyright owners are granted an exclusive bundle of rights in relation to their copyrighted works, including the exclusive rights to reproduce, perform publicly, and distribute their copyrighted works.1 The copyright in music is broken down into two separate rights—one for the music’s composition (i.e., music and lyrics) and one for the actual sound recording (i.e., a fixed performance). Because of these dual rights, using copyrighted music may require two different licenses.

Whenever you release a video with a song that someone else wrote and composed, you need a synchronization (sync) license. For example, if you release a video of your band playing an Incubus song, you need a sync license to use the music and lyrics of that song, even if it’s a small portion of the song. You do not, however, need a sync license for songs that you wrote and composed yourself or songs in the public domain, so you’re free to use the song “Danny Boy” in your next YouTube video. But if you use a copyrighted sound recording in your video, you will need a sync license for the composition and a master use license for the original recording. Again, this applies even if you’re using a small portion of the original sound recording. Master use licenses are negotiated with a song’s owner—typically, a record label or the recording artist. Sync licenses and master use licenses are separate and distinct from public performance and personal entertainment licenses, which are not covered in this article. For a broader look at music licensing, please read this companion article. The following examples and best practices illustrate and address the challenges associated with using music in online content.


Continue Reading Legal Implications of Syncing Copyrighted Music with Other Content

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid where it will resolve a circuit split and decide the issue of whether an “automated telephone dialing system” (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) encompasses any device that can “store” and “automatically dial” telephone numbers, even if the device does

An increasing number of celebrities and social media personalities are endorsing the use of cannabidiol (CBD) products through social media. Many of these “influencers,” however, fail to take into account and comply with the complex regulatory environment surrounding CBD advertisements, which can have consequences for CBD companies themselves. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both limit the use of certain language in CBD endorsements. As these advertisements attempt to reach the broadest possible audience, possible violations are especially noticeable to regulators, who have stepped up their enforcement efforts in this area.

What is CBD?

With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, hemp-based CBD products were removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of scheduled substances, thereby decriminalizing the possession of such CBD products. The Farm Bill defines hemp as a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species that does not contain more than 0.3% of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Instead, hemp has significantly higher concentrations of CBD. The legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana in certain states refers to the cannabis plant containing high levels of THC, which may also contain some CBD. Certain states, such as California, have stringent requirements regarding advertising cannabis products, but these rules do not apply to hemp-based CBD products.


Continue Reading CBD Advertisements: What CBD Companies and Celebrity Influencers Need to Know

The perfect addition to any project is music. Whether you are making a video advertisement for your product; including music in your posts on your company website, TikTok, or YouTube; posting an at-home workout video for your clients; using music at corporate events; or playing music at your bar or restaurant – music is a vital part of society. Music is also the most common reason your content may be muted or taken down from social media, in addition to being exposed to potential liability for copyright infringement and related monetary damages. When you use someone’s music without their permission, absent a few extremely limited exceptions, you are infringing on their copyright.1

For the vast majority of music uses, you will first need to obtain permission. In this article, we lay out some fundamentals to assist in determining the type of license an average company would need and some potential alternatives. Bottom line: when you are planning and budgeting for music in a project, make sure you get the proper rights and permissions in place before pressing “Play.”


Continue Reading Conducting Your Way Through Music Licensing: The Most Common Issues

Influencers, if you ever wished you had a handy brochure on how to make proper disclosures in your sponsored posts, you are in luck. On Tuesday, the FTC issued a new guide titled “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers,” along with three videos, that lays out the agency’s guidelines for when and

Have you renewed your DMCA Designated Agent designation with the Copyright Office yet? (If you are unfamiliar with a DMCA Designated Agent, read below for an explanation.) Any company that may have previously qualified for the safe harbor from liability for copyright infringement under Section 512 of the DMCA will lose any ability to claim this safe harbor if the company does not renew its designation of agent within three years of the last online filing (or amendment), assuming you did this correctly between December 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017.

In late 2016, the Copyright Office issued a rule that everyone needed to file new online Digital Millennium Copyright Act “DMCA” agent designations between December 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017. Any DMCA agent designations that were filed at the Copyright Office prior to December 31, 2016 expired on December 31, 2017 if not renewed online. If you did not file any new DMCA agent designation online between December 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017, then your designation has expired and your company would not qualify for the safe harbor under the DMCA. If applicable to you, your company should file one immediately and hope that you had no copyright liability exposure during the intervening time.

If you did file a new online designation of your DMCA agent between December 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017, then you are required to file a renewal within three years of the date you filed your original online designation (unless you already amended in the meantime, in which case your three-year clock runs again from the date you amended it). This means that many companies have these renewals due between December 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020, depending on when they filed the original online designation. Simply put, if you filed your online designation of agent December 15, 2016, then your renewal is due no later than December 15, 2019. If filed your designation of agent December 15, 2016, but then amended your online designation in the meantime on January 1, 2018, then your renewal is not due until January 1, 2021.


Continue Reading ‘Tis the Season: Make Certain That You Renew Your DMCA Designated Agent with The US Copyright Office or Say Goodbye to Your Potential Safe Harbor from Copyright Liability

Supermodel Jelena Noura “Gigi” Hadid was not the first celebrity to be photographed by paparazzi and then to post the resulting photo to social media, nor was she the first to be subsequently sued for copyright infringement for doing so. Other celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez and, most recently, Victoria Beckham, have made news for the same situation.

This trend falls into an interesting intersection of two significant tenets of law: a celebrity’s right of publicity in their own image and a photographer’s right to copyright their artistic work. The district court dismissed the case due to a lack of a copyright registration. In addition to that defense, though, her attorneys also raised the defenses of fair use and implied license. The second may have begun paving the way for future legal challenges to clarify these issues by raising a novel argument—implied license—alongside the more typical defense of fair use.


Continue Reading #StrikeAPose #CopyrightInfringement

These days, Big Tech is Big News. While federal lawmakers have recently turned their attention to tech giants and their market power—and launched a broad antitrust probe to boot—a recent decision out of the D.C. Circuit may offer these companies some respite (for now). In a case that pitted fourteen locksmith companies against three tech giants, the appeals court ruled that the safe harbor protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) applied to shield the tech giants from suit.

In addition to state law claims, the locksmith company plaintiffs (the “Locksmiths”) brought a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act and two antitrust claims under the Sherman Act against three tech giants (the “Search Engines”). The thrust of the Locksmiths’ complaint is that the Search Engines conspired to inundate search results with listings for fake or scam locksmith companies in an effort to force legitimate locksmith companies to pay additional fees for better search result placement. Specifically, the Locksmiths took issue with the fact that the Search Engines, through the use of algorithms, took data they received from the scam businesses (such as address information) and displayed it pictorially alongside similar data points from legitimate businesses. The Locksmiths also complained that the Search Engines knew these sites were for scam businesses.


Continue Reading Locksmiths Locked Out of Lawsuit Against Search Engines

Crowdfunding plays an important role in democratizing access to capital for small entrepreneurs, but as we’ve written before, entrepreneurs of every ilk need to remember that their representations to consumers need to be truthful, accurate and not misleading. Last month, the FTC filed a complaint against Douglas Monahan and his company iBackPack of Texas, LLC, alleging that Monahan and his company had violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by scamming consumers on crowdfunding sites Indiegogo and Kickstarter with four crowdfunding campaigns that together raised over $800,000, including a campaign to develop a bulletproof backpack that could recharge personal electronic devices and act as a mobile hot spot.

iBackPack ad


Continue Reading FTC Reminds Crowdfunders: Deliver on Your Promises or Refund

Positive online reviews have become essential for any business marketing goods or services over the internet, especially for trendy services like food delivery and custom health product sales. But the FTC’s newly-announced settlement with startup healthy snack service UrthBox reminds marketers that online praise must be freely given, not bought—even if the compensation offered isn’t monetary.

UrthBox, Inc., a San Francisco company offering direct-to-consumer snack deliveries on a subscription model, drew the FTC’s ire by maintaining an incentive program that offered free snack boxes to consumers who posted positive reviews on the BBB’s website. According to the FTC’s complaint, the plan was simple: when a consumer reached out to UrthBox, customer service representatives would offer to send free products to the consumer in exchange for a screenshot of a positive review. The program began with the customer service department at UrthBox, where representatives were paid bonuses based on the number of consumer complaints they were able to turn into positive online reviews. The impact was significant: where UrthBox’s BBB profile had only nine reviews (all negative) in 2016, by the end of the next year, the company boasted 695 reviews, 88% of them positive.


Continue Reading FTC’s Snack Service Settlement Reminds DTC Companies Not to Incentivize Reviews