Legal Requirements For Social Media Websites

The web has evolved into a giant social networking platform where the physical limitations of the world, including country borders, matter little. If you are considering getting involved on the business side of this movement, it is important to know the legal requirements for social media websites so you can avoid problems.

Social Media SitesLegal issues faced by social media websites

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there are different types of social media sites on the web. Facebook is much different than Yelp, which is much different than Twitter. Each works a bit differently and will need to confront unique legal issues. Still, there are a number of common legal requirements all social media sites face, so let’s start there.


Social media sites are user generated content platforms. Users are allowed to upload content into their accounts for viewing by others. For example, you might upload a funny video off of YouTube to your Facebook account to share it with friends.

Problems arise when users upload copyrighted content without the permission of the copyright owner. Such action leads to legal claims of copyright infringement with each claim carrying potential damages of $150,000. Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your site by complying with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

The “DMCA” provides social media websites with immunity from copyright infringement lawsuits based on content uploaded by a member. For example, Twitter can escape liability from infringing content uploaded by a member who is tweeting.

If you are starting a social media site, comply with the DMCA is an absolute must. There are a number of steps you must take to do so such as selecting a DMCA agent service, and they are complex. Read the rest of this article and then contact me to discuss compliance.

Terms and conditions for social media sites.Terms of Use

You need to control the conduct of people using your website. Why? Well, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do you want people coming on and spamming other members with casino offers?
  • Do you want members threatening each other?
  • Do you want members trying to hack your member list?
  • Do you want members posting racist attacks?

The answer to these and other questions is rather obvious – no! Fortunately, you can define how members interact with the website by forming a contract with them – the terms of use. The key is to create terms and implement them in a manner courts will find binding on the members of the site. Here’s a hint. Putting a small link to them on the bottom of your site does not cut it.

The terms of use are also used to cover other critical information as well. Going to charge members for access to the site? You need to include the information in your terms. Going to force anyone suing you to come to your town to file the lawsuit? You need to include the correct language in your terms. The list of topics to cover can be extensive. If you don’t believe me, go pull up the terms of use for iTunes.

Privacy Policy

Privacy policies are required on all social media sites these days. Why? California has passed a law requiring the policies to be created and published on any website capturing personal information from an individual living in California. Since it is highly likely at least one of your members will live in the state, you need to comply.Privacy policy for social media sites.

Privacy policies are tricky little beasts. They act as a contract with your members, so you need to be very careful about what you disclose. If you indicate you are or are not doing something in the policy, but do the opposite, you can run into major legal problems because you are breaching your privacy policy!


Think COPPA is a movie director? No, we are talking about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Known as “COPPA,” the law details what steps a website must go through if it allows kids under the age of 13 on the site. Fines for failing to comply with the COPPA regulations are $16,000 per child, which adds up quickly.

COPPA is a nightmarishly complex law. Every social media site needs to be carefully inspected to see if it falls within the parameters of COPPA. If it does, particular language needs to be added to the terms, privacy policy and a compliance procedure should be developed.

Determining your COPPA exposure is critical because the penalties for getting it wrong are brutal. Don’t believe me? Artist Arena paid a million dollar fine to the FTC in October 2012 for failing to comply with the law when gathering information from kids under 13 on fan sites for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. If your site has just ten kids on it under 13, you could be staring at a $160,000 fan. I bet that isn’t part of your business plan!

In Closing

Social media sites represent a great way to make money online if you can generate enough interest. After all, the members of the site create nearly all the content and let you use it for free. Still, there are legal considerations. Drop me a note today to discuss your project and learn more about how the legal requirements for social media apply to your site.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.