6: the legal bit (core)

Photo of a gavel lying on a document

cc steakpinball

Why do we need to know about the legal side?

If you’re using Facebook or Twitter or other social media, you ought to think about your privacy settings.
If you’re doing stuff for or with children on the internet you ought to think about child protection.
If you’re searching the internet for a picture to use on a poster, you ought to think about Creative Commons and copyright.
If you’re employed and using social media, you ought to think about libel, defamation, harassment and loss of reputation.
If you want to carry out an online survey or use e-newsletter sites like Mailchimp you ought to know about data protection.
If you want to use filesharing sites like Slideshare and Google Docs, you ought to know about data security.

  Privacy and Security

According to Mark Zuckerman, creator of Facebook, privacy is “a social norm of the past”. Facebook and other social networking sites are receiving criticism for not protecting members’ information. Facebook has come under attack for changing its privacy polices, with users being nudged towards sharing more information with the wider Web. They are also not clear enough about how users can control their information and who actually owns it. Users find it very difficult to delete their accounts. Whatever social networking sites you use, they will have privacy settings, and you need to take a look at them to make sure you’re not revealing more about yourself than you want to.
Here’s a video showing you how to manage your privacy settings on Facebook. (Note that the video was made in 2013.  Some of the buttons on Facebook to which it directs you have changed, but the functionality remains the same.)

  Child protection

Anybody who works in a library ought to be aware of how children can be protected and protect themselves online. Have at look at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and in particular look at the Thinkuknow section. You should also be aware of The Internet Watch Foundation .
One question that often crops up in libraries is about children using sites like Facebook.  The Daily Telegraph reports that 59% of children have used a social network by the time they are ten.  The COPPA Rule (which applies to websites based in the USA) prohibits online organisations from gathering personal data from children under 13 without parental consent. As getting this consent would hamper children from signing up, most social networking sites require that you must be 13 before you can get an account, but this is usually ignored by children who sign up anyway.
If you see a child under 13 using a social networking site in the library, realistically you can’t stop them. Try to make sure they know how to protect themselves online, and if you’re seriously concerned about what they are doing, notify their parents. When looking at devices you can type the name and “parental control” into Google for information or see the Childnet International website. Facebook has a Family Safety Center with a section “Help Your Teens Play it Safe“.

One interesting development you might want to take a look at, is the iRights campaign:  http://irights.uk/the_5_irights/.  This sets out 5 proposed rights for children and young people – rights that we should all aspire to, and work towards.

  Copyright and Creative Commons

Copyright law exists to protect the intellectual standing and economic rights of creators and publishers of all literary, dramatic, artistic, musical, audiovisual and electronic works. As long as the work is original, copyright protection is automatic. You break copyright if you:

  •   copy work
  •   issue copies of the work
  •   perform, show or play the work in public
  •   broadcast the work
  •   adapt the work …..without permission from the copyright owner

Websites that rely on collaboration, user contribution and the sharing of files all run the risk of breaking copyright law. Even using somebody else’s photograph without permission on your website can get you into serious trouble.   The safest way to proceed is to ask the creator for permission to use their content, or to look for content registered under Creative Commons.

  Creative Commons

Many owners now publish their work under a Creative Commons licence. Under these terms it is possible to use their material without permission (with a few restrictions, such as their work cannot be used for commercial gain). This video explains Creative Commons.
Many people who work in libraries create posters and use photos. If you’re looking for photos free to use under Creative Commons, Flickr’s Creative Commons section is a good place to start. (Most of the images on this page came from there.)

  Libel, defamation, harassment and loss of reputation

Some individuals could use a social networking site, blog or wiki to criticise an organisation or post libellous, inappropriate or illegal content. In 2014 two individuals were convicted of sending abusive tweets to Caroline Criado-Perez.  The ability for people to anonymously post defamatory and offensive comments on social media sites is of major concern to local authorities and individuals. Some authorities will have guidelines for the use of Web 2.0 for business purposes. Remember that bad press gets round fast with social media. Watch this commoncraft video on Social Media and the Workplace.
If you have a blog, it’s possible to moderate people’s comments before they are published, but if you do moderate then you are legally responsible for the content, so could be liable if it breaches copyright or is defamatory. Legally, it’s simpler not to moderate and publish full disclaimers.
Most Web 2.0 software is free as it comes with third party advertising: some of these adverts may be inappropriate or offensive and could become associated with yourself or your library authority (depending where you are accessing this course from you may see advertisements). Loss of reputation could also occur if editorial attention is not paid to any contributions made to a site (on a wiki for example) and the site becomes badly organised, poorly spelt or publishes inaccurate information.
Finally, think about what you are saying about your employer when you use social media. Internet history is littered with people who bad-mouthed their boss or colleagues during a drunken night on Facebook, and got fired the next day. If you’re going to vent your anger, do it at the pub rather than in writing.

  Data protection

The Data Protection Act 1998 establishes basic principles in relation to the processing (i.e. management) of personal data. The Act seeks to make sure that all information that an organisation keeps about an individual has been obtained lawfully, is used for the correct purpose, is accurate and up to date and is not kept longer than is needed.
If you create online polls using SurveyMonkey or similar tools, or if you send out e-newsletters using Mailchimp or similar, you need to think about Data Protection. You’re likely to want to collect people’s contact details and other personal information, and if you do, you need to do it in accordance with the law. Most large organisations have Data Protection Officers; if you plan to keep personal information, you ought to talk to yours.

  Data Security

Data security is very closely related to Data Protection. There are so many organisations sharing information, and so many examples of government officers losing data on laptops, data sticks and CDs, that data security is a huge issue for us. If you are employed by a local authority or other government body, your employer will have signed up to the Government Connect Code of Connection (CoCo). Have a look at this document from the Local Government Association to get an idea of what is involved.
This has implications for our use of social media. Many employers ban sites that allow file sharing, such as wikis, Google Docs and Slideshare, because they are considered to fall outside the Code.
You need to find out what your employer’s policy is with regard to data security, and wherever possible you should use your organisation’s tools of storage and collaboration rather than filesharing sites in the internet “cloud”.
The internet makes working with other people quick and easy, but you always need err on the side of caution when it comes to making data and information publicly available over the internet.

  Digital Economy Act (DEA)

You might hear about this, because it’s potentially a big problem for libraries: the Act was passed in 2010 and basically says that internet service providers (ISPs) have to take responsibility if their customers breach copyright – for example by downloading music illegally. The ISP has to keep detailed information about customers and the way they use the internet, provide this to copyright holders on request, and take action against the customer if necessary.
There’s a big question about whether libraries can be called internet service providers. We certainly provide internet services, but we don’t fall into the traditional definition. It looks like this will only be established through case law.
If you want to find out more about the DEA, have a look at this presentation by Janice McFarlane given at the 10th eBooks conference in Edinburgh in 2010. However, please note that time frames on the introduction of the Ofcom Code that implements the Act have been continually stretched. At the time of writing – 2014 – the Code has not yet been put in place.


  1.   Find out what your employer’s policies or guidelines are, that cover the above issues.
  2.   On your blog, outline which of the above issues affect your job.

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