If You Can’t Afford A Lawyer, You Can’t Afford a Community

I’ve been consulting for over a decade now and I’m still staggered by the legal issues which can arise.

Bad news, the legal concerns about a community are only going to increase.

Consider:

  • What happens when superusers claim they’ve been treated as underpaid employees and are entitled to compensation?
  • What happens when you use an idea posted in the community and the poster wants royalties for those ideas?
  • What happens if you’re hacked and a member’s data is posted in the community?
  • What happens when an online member conflict becomes an offline member conflict? (did you take reasonable steps to prevent it?)
  • What happens if you’ve collected data you shouldn’t have?
  • What happens when your most popular member asks for all their contributions to be deleted (especially those which bring in the most traffic?)
  • What happens if members share information or advice which isn’t true and other members act on this information? (especially in banking/healthcare)
  • What happens when members share illegal/grossly indecent material in private messages you’re not watching?
  • What happens if you run a competition and the winner is underage or lives in a country where the competition is perceived as gambling?
  • What happens when you find yourself subject to laws in countries where you have no presence but some of your members do?
  • What happens when one country demands you host any data about their members within that country? (do you even know where the community data exists?)
  • What happens when employees send flirtatious messages to community members (or other staff members) via the community?
  • What happens when data/knowledge from a private community leaks into the public sphere?

My experience is the less time people have spent with a lawyer, the more comfortable they are that their terms and conditions and outdated laws will protect them.

Don’t count on it.

It’s hard to tell where the laws on online communities will end up, but we can probably expect them to become more stringent than less.

Be prepared, spend time with a lawyer, and proactively identify and negate the threats in advance.

Plenty of customer communities have been shut down recently because they were deemed too much of a legal liability.

A simple rule here, if you can’t afford a lawyer, you can’t afford a community.

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