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Growth of Online Media and Publishing Brings New Risks

Finding a photo online is simple. Paying tens of thousands of dollars for copyright infringement can be a challenge.

According to federal law, you can sue a company for using your photo and receive an award of up to $30,000, even if it didn’t harm your business. (In legal language, this $30,000 award would be called “statutory damages.”) Now, consider how many photos are copied and posted on company websites, blogs, and social media daily. You don’t have to be an attorney paid on a contingency basis to realize how big an exposure this can create for businesses.

Copyright infringement, though, isn’t the only risk that has grown with online publishing. With the popularity of online review websites, defamation has become easier than ever. Anyone with online access and a negative opinion of a business can publish falsehoods on review sites or blogs that can damage a firm’s reputation. While the websites that host the reviews are generally not liable for defamation under federal law, bloggers who decide to post defamatory comments may be liable, even if they don’t write them. The case law on this issue is still evolving, but suffice it to say that being critical of a business online can lead to major legal headaches.

Finally, the growth of online publishing has heightened the risk of violating a person’s right to privacy. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, confidential information can be both personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI). Something as simple as posting a person’s name or home address on a company website could be a privacy violation if the company doesn’t obtain the person’s permission.

To protect companies from such exposures, insurers offer media and website publishing liability coverage. Media liability policies have been sold to news organizations for decades to help them survive libel lawsuits. Today, those policies have been expanded to include coverage of media websites. While  many companies may not need a media liability policy, they might benefit from a policy that provides website publishing liability coverage.

To learn more about these policies or other cyber risks, e-mail me at Also, make sure to follow me on Twitter @doughertyshawn.

Stay tuned for the next blog post in our Cyber Monday Series.

Shawn Dougherty

Shawn Dougherty is the assistant vice president of ISO's Specialty Commercial Lines Division. He is responsible for providing the overall direction, leadership, and client service for ISO's cyber liability (e-commerce), D&O (management protection), businessowners, crime and fidelity, financial institutions, employment-related practices liability, and professional liability (other than medical) insurance programs. He is also the ISO product manager for the Lloyd's Wordings Repository, an electronic database of policy wordings and clauses regularly used within the London market. Mr. Dougherty has worked at ISO since 1988.

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