Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications have surged in popularity as businesses and the mainstream media tap into their capabilities.
Of course, more users also create more opportunities for bogus sites to be registered, as companies such as Vogue Australia are now discovering.
Despite the legal pitfalls, said Deacons Sydney chairman Nick Abrahams, the risks associated with Twitter and its ilk are far outweighed by the potential benefits, particularly the business opportunities it can create for clients.
"I think that Twitter, because of the instantaneous nature of the communication and the shortness of it, does lend itself better to business uses [than social networking websites]," he said.
Legal issues associated with Twitter were put in the spotlight last week, when Vogue stumbled across a rogue Twitter profile using its name. Abrahams said disputes such as these are relatively easy to resolve, because web 2.0 operators risk incurring liability if they don't remain vigilant and responsive to complaints.
"I would imagine Twitter would be generally quite responsive in the case of Australian Vogue (a bogus Twitter profile) who was quite clearly using the trademark that Australian Vogue would have. The area of law that you are looking at is trademark infringement and also passing off - whereby an entity seeks to gain benefit by passing itself off as another entity," he explained.
"We've had quite a lot of experience particularly with properties like MySpace where there have been bogus sites put up in the name of famous people. There is a standard process you can use to get that down, and all the big Web 2.0 properties will have that process published on their website."
However, Abrahams did recommend that lawyers become familiar with the legal teams behind the Web 2.0 applications to speed up the resolution process.
"Clients get very agitated when they find out about these sites, so they want action very quickly and it's good to be able to know precisely who to call in that regard to get things taken down."
Distinguishing between Web 2.0 and the internet is also crucial for practitioners and the courts, as a recent case in the ACT illustrated.
"We saw that in clear point in the ACT when there was a judge who allowed the service of a default judgment by facebook, and that's actually not allowed under the rules of facebook as it can not be regarded as private non-commercial purposes," Abrahams said.
Other potential legal issues associated with Twitter include the risk of defamation law suits, as US celebrity Courtney Love recently discovered when she twittered about her former costume designer.
"I think people need to keep an eye on how frankly they respond, or how frankly they engage in these Web 2.0 properties, because they do tend to have a degree of informality about them, so it would be best to remember that whatever you are saying can amount to defamation," said Abrahams.
- Laura MacIntyre
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