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Policy and law around hashtags

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    Policy and law around hashtags

    Dappered is full of lawyers. Anybody familiar with legalities of hashtag use and social media? Here's my situation: We created and advertised/promoted a hashtag for our reunion goers, the idea being that their photos and posts would appear in our Twitter feed or on our Facebook page, depending on where they posted, and that we also would aggregate appropriate (non-drinking, non-makeout) content on a storyboard later and repost great images on Facebook, etc. One (and only one out of hundreds of users) became upset when he saw his image on our Facebook page, demanding that we remove it (which we did) and insisting that we broke the law and were unethical by not asking for his consent.

    I thought that images posted via hashtags were public domain, or at least, the domain of the hashtag creator, especially when the purpose has been made clear.

    Is this guy wrong? Or are we?


    Disclaimer: non-IP/TM lawyer here, giving you friendly advice but please do not constitute it as legal advice.

    I used to work with a nonprofit that had to deal with using images of people in public on their website. Was this reunion open to public? Did he purchase a ticket to attend? Did it take place in a public accommodation (e.g., restaurant, bar, park, street)

    He's being a litigious American--sure, he can sue, but I doubt any self-respecting lawyer will take his case. Your organization should be fine if: 1) the photo was taken in a public place; 2) you are not using his publicity for profit (e.g., marketing a product for sale); 3) He's not a celebrity or public figure; or 3) There are no untruthful statement made about him which constitutes defamation (e.g., you said he is HIV+ and he isn't).

    I'm sure there are other issues I missed, but based on the limited information you shared, here is my analysis. PM me if you have more questions.



      I should have been clearer. It's not an image of him. It's an image that he took. It's a scenic shot of the campus.

      He used the hashtag we created for our reunion weekend to post his pretty picture on his instagram account. Because he used the hashtag, it appeared, of course, in our instagram account and we decided to re-post it on Facebook with a "Gosh, look at the pretty picture Goody Two-Shoes took of the campus!"

      We're a small Midwestern liberal arts college. We advertised this hashtag well in advance, and we had reminder posters around campus asking people to use the hashtag to share their reunion photos and tweets, etc.

      He claims that we're being illegal or at least unethical because we reposted his image on Facebook without asking for his consent, even though he used the hashtag we created. He claims he was merely using the hashtag so that he could share his image with friends, and he had no expectation that we (the college) would re-use the image he took.

      In other words, he's claiming, more or less, that we violated his intellectual property rights by re-sharing a photo he shared on social media without asking for his consent.


        He posted it to Instagram, so if anyone owns the "rights" to the electronic picture of a public place (complete BS) then it'll be Instagram. He revoked any claims of Ownership by posting there.

        Non-lawyer, but he's still talking out of his butt.
        We're I in your position, I'd simply apologize to him and offer to remove the image. He can't really do anything outside of making a fuss.


          Yeah, he's a typical graduate of our college. Over-thinker, hyper-critical of anyone remotely authoritative. Jumps on any chance to fight "the man," in this case, his own alma mater, which is also very weird to me, i.e., he comes back to celebrate reunion, takes a photo during reunion, gets upset with us because we use it on our site about reunion and we even compliment the SOB on his photography skills.


            He may have a point. Instagram's updated policies state that he owns those pictures:


            Ownership Rights Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.
            Now, if he tagged those photos and all you did was display all pictures with those tags, then you should be good. Because he chose to tag those photos.


              Thanks, yes. That's what I don't get. He used "our" tag. I realize that we don't own the tag, and anyone can make up the same tag and use it for whatever purpose. But still, come on.


                Originally posted by Duvel View Post
                Thanks, yes. That's what I don't get. He used "our" tag. I realize that we don't own the tag, and anyone can make up the same tag and use it for whatever purpose. But still, come on.
                How did you use it on Facebook? Did someone download his pictures and then post them from your institution's page, or did you just reference the tag?

                It's one thing if you just displayed everything with a certain tag, quite another if someone downloaded those pictures and posted them from another account.


                  The analogy would be if my FB page displayed everything tagged with XYZ, and linked directly to those posts, then all I'm doing is resharing a piece of content that was already shared.

                  However, if I downloaded someone's pictures with a particular tag and uploaded it (i.e. not shared it), then that would be wrong because you appropriated that content.


                    It was another office that did it, actually, my colleagues in the college's communications office. I got pulled into because I then (before all the fuss) shared the college's FB post on my FB site (the alumni site).

                    As I understand it, the college comms people saw the image in their instagram account because the guy used the hashtag we created for reunion. So the college comms people, liking the photo, posted it to the college's FB page with a comment something like, "Thank you for the great shot of campus, so and so."


                      Did they re-share his photo, directly from instagram, or did they download and re-upload the photo?

                      Former should be fine; latter is not.


                        I am not sure, actually. Why is the former okay but not the latter? What's the distinction?

                        Thank you for the free legal advice, by the way.
                        Last edited by Duvel; June 9, 2014, 05:53 PM.


                          One is re-sharing what he posted, it links directly to his post. It's how the internet works. It is no different than me posting a link to someone else's post.

                          In the latter, you are using his content and uploading it from your account. It is akin to you copying my comment from another forum and posting it here -- even if you credited me, I own the content, and I can ask you to delete it.

                          There is strong precedence for the latter, and the Church of Scientology is particularly notorious for that (i.e. C&Ds to people publishing pieces of their "holy" books/literature).


                            I just took another look at the post in question. The college left it up! I heard that the jerk is okay with us using his precious photo now after getting our apology. It looks to me like it was re-posted, i.e., not shared directly from instagram.


                              I'm not a lawyer - however, I work in media and deal with a lot of content rights, especially with VCs and startups.

                              A lot of valuation is built around content, and it is always vital to know who owns the content and how that ties to your business model.