By Maureen Tseng
The Hoffman Agency Singapore
As communications professionals, it’s often our place to cajole too-cautious clients into investing more of their marketing dollars in the digital realm. We all know the power and reach of branding in cyberspace – just look at Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches or P&G’s 2012 Olympic campaign. Yet, any consultant worth his or her salt would be wise to advise clients about the potential risks of building a brand online. As we learned in Social Media 101: be ready to expect the good times and the bad.
How many of us are truly aware of the legal implications of misconduct in cyberspace, and how many of us would be able to counsel our clients accordingly? Are we aware of the wide range of legal risks that carry with them personal liability and criminal sanctions?
The legal implications of social media misconduct are comprehensive, far-reaching and vary from country to country; but here is an abridged list of laws for Singapore compiled and explained by Dr David Tan, associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law.
These cyberspace commandments are distilled from the common law, as well as the legislative provisions that are specific to Singapore. And yes, there were originally 10 cyberspace commandments, but I’ve condensed them to five for your reading pleasure.
1. Thou shalt not speak ill of another.
Watch what you write about others online. You may be found by the court to have defamed someone if you publish something that exposes an individual to hatred, contempt or ridicule. Even if you repeat what someone else has written, your actions can still constitute defamation. In cyberspace, postings on any website, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook, may be considered “publications” and may be potentially defamatory. Even tweets on Twitter, SMSes and emails, may be subject to a defamation suit.
2. Thou shalt think twice before uploading photographs of other people.
If you publish or upload photographs taken of another person in a private setting without their authorisation, you may expose yourself to a lawsuit for invasion of privacy or breach of confidence. This is especially true for those in possession of information/photographs that are intended to be kept confidential. For example, in England, those who were present at the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were subject to an obligation of confidence because of the steps the couple had taken to ensure their privacy. Courts ruled that any unauthorised photographs of the wedding could not be published.
3. Thou shalt be respectful of copyright.
The law presumes that any person who takes a photograph is the author of that creative work, and therefore has the exclusive legal right to publish or reproduce the photograph. The same rule applies to composers of a musical work or producers of a movie. Any unauthorised posting of a photograph, article, music video, film clip or street map on a website or social networking site is likely to be a copyright infringement. A copyright owner can actually seek an injunction and monetary compensation in a copyright infringement claim in the Singapore courts.
4. Thou shalt not distribute obscene materials.
Under section 292 of the Penal Code, whoever transmits, by electronic means, or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure, or any other obscene object whatsoever, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both. ’Nuff said.
5. Thou shalt not hack.
Under Singapore’s Computer Misuse Act, anyone who knowingly causes a computer to perform a function for the purpose of securing access without authority shall be guilty and liable to a fine or imprisonment.
This legislation criminalises the act of hacking into someone else’s computer, regardless of whether the other party has suffered any harm. In other words, counsel your clients in case their staff is thinking about logging into another colleague’s FB page to put up a funny posting. Think again.
In essence, consultants should at least have a rudimentary understanding of the common laws governing cyberspace in their own markets in order to better counsel their clients. The last thing you need is an unwarranted social media crisis blowing up in your face, one that could have easily been prevented with the proper counsel. In other words, be safe for your clients, so that you do not have to pick up the pieces afterwards.