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Policy and Implementing it on Social Business Communities

An online discussion started by a community manager for his company’s internal social network brought out an issue that is critical to the smooth operation of online communities, both internal and external.

One of the users on their internal business website network copied and pasted an article off another site possibly without realizing it’s a copyright violation.

When you build a community for the business and have a number of different users actively adding to content, linking and posting, there are almost always a risk for copyright infringement in some form or the other.

Even if not deliberate, not everyone will be as aware about copyright and licensing issues as the next person ... and without moderation of every single post and activity before publishing (which is not viable for most) it’s always possible some copyright violation happens on the site, which can snowball into messy situation with the owners of the content.

It’s clear that it may not be possible to be 100% sure this doesn’t happen, so the objective is always to mitigate the risk and ensure that everyone is aware of it. This is done through educating users and putting in a policy.

While most people may not directly be involved with plagiarism, something as simple as adding a picture for a blog post they published and later discovering that picture was copyrighted is enough to start a legal course of action.

It’s important to create a comprehensive policy that explains things like use of images and video, and the need to use quotes and references when using extracts of other peoples work ... and it's just as important to be able to explain this is simple terms.

If every user that signs up is made aware of the policy for using the community or network the risk of them doing any of this (at least knowingly) is reduced. However, it’s good to be able to consider and account for what can be done should this still happen.

What do you do if there is still content posted that may be a violation of policy or copyrights?

This is where administrative capabilities come in handy.

If your community software platform has good administrative capabilities it gives you the option to step in and moderate content and user activities where it's really required. If the software being used doesn’t give you moderation abilities, it can put you in a tough spot knowing something needs to be done but doesn’t let you take any action before someone else does.

A number of platforms put together by assembling various open source software components usually don’t offer this level of administration, which is then really not suitable in a business situation where you, as a business, are held more accountable for everything published online.

It’s like having the most comprehensive policy in place and not having the ability to implement it. The ability to moderate the community and content is the last line of defense against issues caused by such copyright violations.

Here are a few things that can be done to reduce the risk of copyright and content duplication:

  • Develop a user policy that is easy to understand and ensure all users have read (and agreed to) the policy on sign up
  • Re-enforce the policy through offline training for internal networks where location is not an issue and by discussing it on the community where it’s not possible to educate users offline
  • Have a community manager or moderator who is assigned the responsibility of scanning the activity and content on the site daily and raising a red flag for any violation of the policy
  • If you don't have a dedicated intranet manager or administrator, then train your employees to police themselves and each other
  • Contact users who have violated policy through internal messaging or email so they understand what the risks of their actions
  • Moderate and take down any copyrighted content

With a good user policy, constant awareness, and the ability to implement the policy can keep your community site clean and free from legal issues, and unwanted trouble can be kept at bay.

How do you handle this in your online community? 

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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