News media in the United Arab Emirates have reported this week that posting images or video of someone in the Emirates without their consent is a crime punishable by up to AED 500,000 (about US$136,000) and a prison sentence of up to six months (read The National’s story here). To those familiar with the UAE’s media laws, this is not news, but, as we’ve mentioned before, these days we are all publishers and with that status come many of the responsibilities that traditional media houses have had to bear for years. In the age of Facebook, anyone that publishes a photograph of someone without their explicit permission is at some risk of falling foul of the law and could even be considered a criminal.
At first, the prospect of being thrown in jail for posting someone’s photo on Facebook may seem faintly ridiculous, after all, posting images of friends, family, events and other gatherings online is now commonplace. However, most countries have established laws governing intellectual property rights, privacy and defamation that are being brought to the fore with the increasing volume of images and video being published online. In the UAE, a new cybercrime law was introduced in November 2012 spelling out all the online activities that would be considered criminal, which included the posting images, video or other materials that might cause the “unwarranted violation of privacy of others”. In the absence of written permission from the person portrayed, it is the police and ultimately the courts who decide whether your post can be classified as a crime (i.e. the law does not require that the person whose rights may have been infringed brings a case to court). As evidenced by the story of the citizen journalist who allegedly witnessed a road-rage crime in Dubai earlier this year, the police do have the right to lock you up if your content breaks the law.
It is, perhaps, not very likely that your brand will be subject to a criminal prosecution as a result of inadvertently publishing an image that the law considers illegal, but there is a risk: and the more images you post online, the higher that risk is. Brands are likely to be most at risk when they’re posting content featuring customers, staff and other members of the public. Let’s face it, with so many brands eager to celebrate their customers online, social media marketing is pulling the other way from traditional advertising and marketing that routinely seeks multiple approvals for absolutely everything.
What’s the risk? It’s a common assumption for companies that they don’t need to get employees to sign permission waivers simply because they are employees. It’s also fairly common for brands to take customers at their word (if they say they’re happy to have their photograph taken, why bother with getting their signature on a image rights form?). In reality, simply taking a photo of your well-attended product launch or people looking at your exhibition stand and posting it on Facebook is a brand risk, albeit a small one.
So, does this leave brands completely hogtied when it comes to image sharing on social networks? In our opinion, this shouldn’t be the case even if some potential for risk exists from time to time, but having a durable communications policy appropriate for digital media is a must. For most businesses, having clear policies, adopting best communications practices and ensuring good content management minimises risks from posting content. Conversely, not taking the time to develop clear content policies and processes does leave your brand open to more risk. Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.
See also, Alexander McNabb’s post on this news story on his own blog Fake Plastic Souks.
If you would like help with your content strategy contact us now.
Listen to Alexander’s radio interview
Dubai Eye 103.8FM’s Drive Live show talked to Alexander McNabb about the UAE Ministry of Interior’s warning to social media users. Listen to the interview here.
Read more about brand content
Create more compelling content (September 2013)
The problem with content (August 2013)
Time to revisit your brand positioning? (July 2013)
Are you being genuine? (May 2013)
Are brands at risk from the UAE’s new cyber-crime law? (November 2012)
We are all publishers (March 2012)
Disintermediation and the media (November 2009)