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Public Relations Legal Considerations


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Learn more about the key legal considerations faced by practitioners of public relations.

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Public Relations Legal Considerations

  1. 1. Public Relations Legal Considerations Presented by Brett Atwood
  2. 2. PR & The Law • Legal Issues are a growing concern for those who practice PR – Litigious Society – Abundance of Lawyers – PR Responsibilities are Growing in Complexity • Many in the industry fail to understand the legal responsibilities and vulnerabilities
  3. 3. First Amendment • First Amendment: – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
  4. 4. First Amendment and the Media • Print Media • Enjoys the greatest amount of protection • Television – Subject to government regulation (FCC) – Cable is also regulated • Internet – Initial attempts to regulate/censor have failed in the U.S. • Communication Decency Act • The Internet “deserves the highest protection from government intrusion”
  5. 5. First Amendment & Commercial Speech • First Amendment protects “free speech” and “freedom of the press,” but how what about the PR industry? – Protections for PR industry are not equivalent • “Commercial Speech” is classified differently • It has a lower level of protection from liability – Also has implications for media relations
  6. 6. Commercial Speech Regulations • “Commercial speech” is regulated using the following four-part test: – Does it concern lawful activity and not mislead the public? – Is the government’s interest substantial enough to justify regulation? – Does the regulation advance the government’s interests? – Is the regulation reasonable? (Must be no more extensive than necessary to serve the gov’t interest)
  7. 7. Political Speech • Political expression to employees are limited • Corporate campaign financing has been historically restricted – Recent developments are loosening these restrictions • Citizen’s United vs. the Federal Election Commission
  8. 8. Lobbying • The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 – Regulates “lobbying” activity – Requires lobbyists to register with the House and Senate – Aims to establish greater transparency and disclosure
  9. 9. Other Forms of Corporate Expression • There are also rules about: – political expression to employees – How you interact with unions – Internships
  10. 10. Public Companies & Investor Relations • If a company is publicly-traded, you must be aware of how the content and timing of any external communications might impact the stock price for shareholders – Avoid disclosing any information to “insiders” that can be used to make money • “Insider trading” can get you arrested!
  11. 11. Copyright • Copyright Act of 1976 – Includes rights of reproduction, distribution, adaptation, performance, royalties, display • Must assume, even if not marked (limited legal rights) • Owner (author) has exclusive right to reproduce, distribute and use • Limited, fair use of copyrighted works is not an infringement • In PR, works made for hire belong to the employer (assuming they take place during regular course of employment)
  12. 12. Trademarks/Service Marks • Lanham Act of 1946 – Word, Name or Symbol used to identify goods – Created through use of the mark on goods in trade – Infringement occurs when someone other than the owner uses mark on similar or related goods in trade
  13. 13. Defamation • A defamatory statement injures the good name of an individual/company and lowers their standing in the community • Two kinds of defamation – Libel – Slander
  14. 14. Slander • Slander – Spoken word defamation – Said to a third person but not printed or broadcast
  15. 15. Libel • Libel – Defamation in a tangible medium (print, Internet or broadcast) – To prove libel, you must show that: • Harm was caused • The story was published or broadcast • The person/company was identified by name • The media was at fault or error • The broadcast/published facts must be false
  16. 16. Fair Comment • Truth is the best defense against libel • Opinions also have some protection – Include facts to back up your opinion – Label your statement as “opinion” – Make sure the context is clear • Times Co. vs. Sullivan (1964): Court decision that actual malice must be proved
  17. 17. Privacy • People have the right to be left alone • To avoid invading someone’s privacy: – Obtain consent from the individual if using their likeness in photos/videos and/or taping • Do not record phone calls or tape someone without their knowledge – Do not release private information on an employee
  18. 18. Privacy • It is more difficult to legally invade the privacy of public figures (celebrities, athletes, politicians) since they surrender their privacy rights by the profession they choose
  19. 19. Case Studies
  20. 20. Enron • Enron (and even its executives) faced criminal charges for inflated earnings and financial projections through various communications channels including news releases
  21. 21. Abercrombie & Fitch • Clothing retailer Abercombie & Fitch was accused of discrimination amidst protests and lawsuits by Asian groups for selling and distributing t-shirts with offensive stereotypes
  22. 22. Scientology vs. Eli Lilly • The Church of Scientology filed a libel suit against an executive at Eli Lilly & Co. after he called the church a “commercial enterprise” in a published interview defending the company against anti-Prozac ads
  23. 23. Astroturfing • Lifestyle Lift was accused of having employees post fake consumer reviews online
  24. 24. American Apparel vs. Woody Allen • American Apparel used an image of Woody Allen in a billboard campaign without permission • Allen sued and settled out of court for $5 million
  25. 25. Protected Trademarks • Band-Aid • Coke • Fed-Ex • Frisbee • Jell-O • Kleenex • Liquid Paper • Magic Marker • Popsicle • Realtor • Scotch Tape • Styrofoam • Velcro • Xerox
  26. 26. Former Trademarks Now Genericized • Aspirin • Cellophane • Dry Ice • Escalator • Heroin • Kerosene • Laundromat • Linoleum • Thermos • Trampoline • Videotape