Legal Issues When Starting A Video Sharing Website

While it goes without saying YouTube is the big boy in the online video world, it is also true more and more niche specific video websites are being created by the week. If you are considering starting such a site, let’s take a starting a video sharing websitelook at the legal issues associated with starting a video sharing website.


Perhaps the biggest issue a video sharing website owner is going to deal with repeatedly is the DMCA. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. As the name suggests, this is a law passed by the federal government of the United States to address copyright issues in an online world.

A “copyright” is the right of the owner of a work to copy and distribute the work. For example, J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. She automatically was given the copyright in those books. If somebody wanted to copy and distribute the books or to write a film based on those books, they had to negotiate a license with Rowling.

The DMCA involves three parties online. The first party is the copyright owner. The second is the person posting the work without permission from the copyright holder. The third party is the site where the content is posted. There is a good deal of controversy regarding how the DMCA applies to the first two parties. As a site owner, however, you should thank the heavens for this law.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a boon to the owners of video sharing websites. Why? The law provides site owners with a “safe harbor” from prosecution for copyright infringement so long as the site adheres to certain procedures. These procedures include designating an DMCA agent service to receive complaints from copyright holders; steps to take when complaints come in; communications to the parties and other incidentals beyond the scope of this article. The key thing to understand is the site cannot be sued so long as you follow these procedures.

This concept is paramount because video sharing websites receive copyright claims continuously. People upload videos containing material infringing on the copyright of others constantly. For example, a person might submit a video and include a song they like as the soundtrack for it. If they do not obtain consent to use the music, they are infringing on the copyright.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to comply with the DMCA. This law is your get out of jail card as a video sharing website owner. Comply with the Act, and you can avoid legal action against you. Fail to comply, and you risk being buried under an avalanche of lawsuits.

Terms of Use

You also need Terms of Use for a video sharing website. Most website owners don’t understand the purpose of the Terms of Use. Also called terms and conditions, this document acts as a legal contract between you and visitors who use your site. The beauty of this deal is you get to set all the terms.

The truth is when most webmasters or site owners look at Terms of Use, they see boilerplate language they don’t understand. This is unfortunate because each of the clauses serves a crucial purpose. Let’s look at a few to give you a feel for the value of a properly constructed Terms of Use for a site.

If you require visitors to sign up to view or post videos, you must include a COPPA statement in the terms. COPPA stands for the Child Online Privacy Protection Act. Under COPPA, a site owner must obtain the verified parental consent of parents before collecting information from children under 13 joining the site. The process is labor intensive and expensive. If your site is not directed at young children, you need to include language in the Terms indicating as much.

A “jurisdiction clause” is also critical. What is a jurisdiction clause? States and countries have their own set of laws. A jurisdiction clause details what laws will be used in a dispute and where a dispute will proceed geographically. Let’s look at an example.

Assume I start my video sharing website in San Diego, California. A person in Pennsylvania sees their name mentioned in the video and threatens to sue me for slander. If I include a jurisdiction clause in my Terms of Use requiring all disputes to use California law and be heard in San Diego, the person in Pennsylvania will be required to sue me in San Diego. The person will likely abandon the complaint given the cost and expense of coming to San Diego.

The Terms of Use for video sharing website typically have 15 to 20 clauses designed to limit the potential liability of the site owner. Video sites are ripe for legal action, so make sure your terms are customized to your site and up to date with recent legal rulings.

Privacy Policy

As with most online platforms these days, a video site must contain a detailed privacy policy. The privacy policies set out what data you capture from visitors, how you capture it, how you secure it and what you do with it. Since the answers to these questions are different for every site, a custom privacy policy is a must.

In Closing

If you are considering starting a video sharing website, please keep in mind the above discussion covers only a select number of legal topics related to the site. Video sites tend to be a target for lawyers, so make sure you retain counsel and have all your ducks in order when the site goes live.

While nobody can guarantee you won’t run into legal issues, your goal should be to minimize the risk as much as possible at the outset. Feel free to contact me today for a free consultation.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.