Are you compliant online? The legal digital rulebook

With the rapid growth of digital technology, charities might be left wondering if their legal responsibilities are also changing, writes lawyer Diane Yarrow

The third sector has changed massively in my lifetime and continues to do so. We are entering a world of wearable technology and digital currency, where your phone seems to know where you work and live and adverts appear to read your mind. But the opportunities that this technology presents to engage with a target audience, brings legal challenges too.

Whether you are trying to reach the Silent Generation or Generation Z, there’s an unprecedented array of options available for an organisation looking to connect with stakeholders and the public.

Your key asset is your brand and it's important to guard that, but does the sheer scale of this mean that the traditional legal rulebook has had to be thrown out of the window or are there still some guiding legal principles that an organisation should bear in mind, however they choose to interact?

Is it someone else’s?

Not using another party’s intellectual property without consent should be a fundamental principle of any digital rulebook.

Copyright covers, photographs, music, film, audio and art. Trademarks can take the form of logos, slogans and brand names. In most cases the copyright owner needs to give permission for the work to be used and the owner of a trademark can prevent unauthorised use.

Essentially, if you are using something that you haven’t created, then you need to think about getting consent or being safe and using royalty free content instead. There are websites that will direct you to content where the owner has given general permission for use such as Creative Commons.

Pause for thought

Live-streaming is a growing trend. As we get more "in the moment", it is important to pause and think about what you are saying and who you are saying it about.

For example, when announcing details of a fundraiser, charity partner or another stakeholder, have all the details been finalised before you make the announcement? Even if they have, have you checked whether you need their approval?

A simple question can be really helpful here. Whether what you are saying is positive or negative, are you going to be revealing information about someone or something that is confidential, without consent? If so, stop and think.

Regain control

Social media promotes interaction by way of retweets, sharing, rating, comments etc. So when using digital data, and social media, control is lost almost immediately over how your information is represented.

Think about what you will do if there is a use or interaction that you are unhappy with and have a plan in place to deal quickly, effectively and publicly (if appropriate) with any negative interactions.

Back to basics

In keeping up with the latest trend, don’t forget some basic legal housekeeping, such as website compliance, terms of use, cookies and data protection including opt-out/in consent and a privacy policy. 

Make sure everyone who will be using the official accounts knows how you want to be represented in the digital world. Put together a digital guide setting out the dos and don’ts for staff and volunteers and make sure everyone is clear about what digital behaviour would expose the organisation to risk.

Diane Yarrow is a partner and specialist in charity law at Gardner Leader Solicitors

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