Facebook, YouTube and WhateverIsNext.com: Are Social Media Sites Really the Internet’s Wild West (Again)?

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The Internet and social media or Web 2.0 sites (including Web based communities, social networking sites, virtual worlds, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs and mashup sites) are playing an ever-expanding role in the marketing of products and services, in companies’ interactions with consumers and in the development of consumers’ perceptions of products and services.1 It has been reported that Facebook, perhaps the most well-known social media/Web 2.0 site, recently surpassed Google in U.S. Web traffic,2 and YouTube is now reportedly the second largest search engine in the world with more than 100 million videos on the site.3

With so many people online sharing opinions, photos, audio, video, other media and combinations of all of the foregoing, it is not surprising that 25% of Internet search engine results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.4 Because Web sites and all forms of electronic media are protected by copyright law and because brand and trade names are needed to attract and convert all those Internet users into paying customers, social media sites and individual social media accounts frequently raise trademark and copyright issues.

How is Web 2.0 different from the Wild West of Web 1.0?

The ease with which materials may be copied and brands may be tarnished online can present challenges for protecting a company’s image, brands and content on social media sites. The Web 2.0 era has even been portrayed as a continuation of the Wild West mentality that was prevalent during the Web 1.0 or Dot-com era. For business managers and in-house counsel who recall combating speculative domain name registrations, widespread online trade libel and rampant unauthorized copying of Web sites and media during the Web 1.0 era (all more so than occurring today), the notion that social media sites represent a return to this environment is not pleasant.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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