We all know that social media can be a powerful tool. It’s no accident that successful companies and nonprofits alike all have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and Instagram what-ever-you-call-thems. However, there are pitfalls to social media as well. How many times have you read about a celebrity or a company that posted something or tweeted something and then removed it later? Companies have been sued over posts that were tweeted (Duane Reed, a pharmacy in NY had a lawsuit filed against it, asking for $6 million in damages, for posting a picture of an actress without her permission). Demands to do things, or not do things, are rampant and all over the web – and they are related to things people tweeted or posted. Bad publicity seems much easier to get than good publicity when you have social media accounts. Why is this? Because social media is a virtual minefield. Regardless of the American “free speech” arguments, people’s opinions seem to flow freer on the web, the audience is unlimited on the web, and people take the impersonal comments very personally. So, what to do?
There are a few important things to remember about using social media. And, as a studio owner affiliated with the WTSDA, there are certain legal requirements that you should keep in mind before flinging a sheep at someone on facebook or tweeting about your favorite Far Side cartoon depicting a clever martial arts theme.
1. Copyright and trademark infringement. Social Media, specifically the act of “sharing” has made the idea of copyright or trademark infringement almost inconceivable to most people. But yes, when you post that cartoon you love showing a clever play on breaking, that video with the excellent sword demonstration, that photo someone else took of a celebrity executing an excellent side kick or you taped your class doing a hyung with Rocky music blaring in the background, you may have just violated someone’s intellectual property rights. Merely noting the source doesn’t get you out of hot water either. There is something called the “fair use doctrine” but one factor is whether the use is of a commercial nature and if you own a for-profit school, you probably can’t claim that the use wasn’t for commercial reasons. (For more on the Fair Use Doctrine, click here.) Please, please take this one seriously. The WTSDA has, in the past, received “cease-and desist” notices for content that was on WTSDA schools’ websites. The WTSDA didn’t approve of the post, or make the post, but because the WTSDA logo is on the page, the WTSDA got the notice. If you don’t have the right to use the item(s), don’t post them!!! If you are unsure whether you have the right, you probably don’t.
2. Fundraising. If you are soliciting money for various causes, even non-profit ones, you may trigger the need for the charity you are fundraising on behalf of to register in your state or report on your activities.
3. Foreign jurisdiction (state) qualification to do business. If you are considered “doing business in” a particular jurisdiction, you may need to register in that jurisdiction as a foreign corporation. Each state has it’s own definition of doing business. You should check with the secretary of state (or equivalent) in any jurisdiction you hold events or target clients.
4. Volunteers, independent contractors, employees, etc. – statements they make (including stupid posts or pictures) can, and are often, attributed to you if they are done on our pages/accounts. You can be responsible and liable for those statements. Only those with the requisite authority and sound business judgment should be posting for your school. Likewise, please, please, please do not claim to be posting something on behalf of the WTSDA or WTSDF. All WTSDA and WTSDF items are to be handled only through approved and sanctioned OFFICIAL accounts and pages. If you are not sure whether your page/account is official (and may make statements on behalf of the WTSDA and/or WTSDF), it probably isn’t and you should talk to HQ.
5. Confidentiality. There are privacy laws in many jurisdictions. You should not use social media to divulge private or confidential information. Once something is posted on the internet, it NEVER truly goes away. You can delete a post, but others may have records and it may be sitting in someone’s cache some where. Safe rule of thumb: ask yourself, do you care if the whole entire world sees what you are about to post? Will you care in 10 years if someone pulls it out and says, “do you remember when you posted…?” If the answer to either is yes, don’t post it!
6. Other laws. You need to be aware of a number of different types of laws to ensure you are violating any of them. There are rules regarding lobbying and political activities for agents of nonprofits. WTSDA affiliates should not be performing lobbying or political activities that may look like they are tied to the WTSDA/WTSDF.
7. Ownership of the social medial accounts. If you represent a region (that is, if you are a Regional Director) or the committee chair, please remember that those internal groups are not legal entities in and of themselves. Each region is merely a way for the internal operations of the WTSDA to organize and break management into manageable groups. If you establish a Regional Facebook page, that facebook account “belongs” to the WTSDA, not you as regional director and not “the region”. The same may be said for regional webpages, instagram accounts, linkedin profiles, etc. As a result, before posting or commenting (whatever) you should think about the impact the information you are posting could have not only to the region but on the WTSDA as a whole. If, when you ask “is this information appropriate for the WTSDA to be stating/sharing (etc.)?” you aren’t getting a resounding yes, don’t do it!
8. Tax Implications. The WTSDA and WTSDF both are tax-exempt entities and there are actions and activities that could impact that status. Form the IRS website: “To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” Certain activities may jeopardize the status. If there are any questions about this – please contact the LAC or WTSDA Treasurer.
Bottom line: Think before you post. Remember, once it’s on the internet, you can’t “take it back” and it can’t be “unsaid”.