The media is a vital force in the United States, and as means of media distribution become increasingly complex, so do the various laws and regulations that come into play for media distributors. Law and regulation that may impact media companies encompasses everything from First Amendment protections to intellectual property rights to contracts. Even the smallest media companies generally should be aware of all the legal issues that could affect their work—and comply with appropriate laws. Consider discussing your questions about how laws and regulations apply to media companies with media lawyers from Priori’s vetted network.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all interstate communications, including media transmissions by radio, television, wire, satellite, internet, and cable. Accordingly, FCC compliance is a critical component of the regulatory environment for media companies. The Communications Act of 1934 established the FCC, and since that time, numerous other laws have been enacted to expand the FCC’s jurisdiction. Companies that fail to comply with FCC regulations may face fines and other penalties.
Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005
A major issue in FCC compliance is decency laws. The FCC prohibits the use of profane language and inappropriate content on certain media, especially during hours when children are likely to be watching. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act was issued in 2005 to strengthen and enforce such prohibitions. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act imposes significant penalties for even accidental violations of the FCC’s profanity and other decency restrictions.
Commercial vs. Non-commercial Media
Commercial media and non-profit, public, or non-commercial media are treated by the FCC differently. Public media is still protected by freedom of speech, but is restricted from encouraging actions that may ultimately profit an individual or the station. Calls to action (other than fundraising drives to sustain the public media station) are prohibited, such as encouraging the audience to attend an event, especially if the announcer is somehow involved in the event. If real monetary profit is possible, calls to action may come under payola prohibitions and can risk criminal charges.
First Amendment Protections and Censorship
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Whether small or large operations, the media has the right of freedom from censorship—and can take legal action if these rights are being infringed upon. Of course freedoms of speech and of the press are not absolute. For example, certain speech that is classified as vulgar, libelous or inciting is restricted. A First Amendment lawyer can help you better understand the boundaries of the First Amendment’s protections for your speech.
Defamation and Privacy Law
Media privacy law is intended to be a balance. While freedom of speech protects your right to spread a negative opinion or disseminate reputation-damaging information, it does not protect you from legal consequences of reporting false statements about a person, company, or organization. Libelous statements made in print or slanderous statements recorded and shown in the news can lead to expensive lawsuits, especially if reported by a major media organization.
Generally, the media has a duty to do due diligence on any potentially damaging news released to the public, and companies that fail to do so may leave themselves exposed to defamation suits, especially if the accused is not a public figure.
Privacy protections are not limited to defamation. It also requires news organizations to withhold victims' names under certain circumstances and to respect other privacy laws. Entering private property to take unauthorized pictures of a celebrity, for example, can lead to criminal charges and civil penalties. If you are not sure if an action may violate privacy laws—whether the actions concern a private citizen or public figure—a media lawyer can help you assess the situation.
Intellectual property is another vital area of media law. The following are some of the most important issues to discuss with media attorneys.
Copyrights are automatically conferred when anyone produces an artwork, such as an article, a video, or an image. Because of this, almost everything produced in the media is copyrighted material.
If your content is reused without your permission online and you’d like the content removed, you can request a DMCA takedown of infringing material under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Generally, the process is to issue a DMCA takedown notice in the appropriate format to the website host publishing the content in violation of copyright protection laws or without your permission. It’s important to note that DMCA takedowns generally only apply if the original content is reposted in its entirety -- and generally not if the original content is used as a cited source in another piece or is being satirized.
Most media content is licensed, whether to another news organization to reprint or to another site to show or another station to broadcast. For content creators like journalists, writers and artists, many licensing agreements may be required in order to distribute work across multiple platforms and distribution channels.
Is filming police officers permitted?
Lately, the legality of filming police officers has come under much debate, especially when the people filming are not traditionally considered to be journalists. Ultimately, it depends on the circumstances under which you are filming. Generally, you are permitted to videotape police officers, so long as you do not obstruct what the officers are doing. More broadly, in generally, people are permitted to videotape or photograph things plainly visible in public spaces, including police officers at work. On private property, however, property owners have a right to dictate what is filmed under privacy law. If you have concerns, it would be best to discuss with media lawyers.
What is reporter’s privilege?
Reporter’s privilege is a journalist’s right not to be compelled to testify about confidential information or sources related to something they report on. Discussing privilege with media attorneys can help you address any questions you may have.