Top 5 mistakes startups make with their privacy policies

Privacy policies are a critical pre-launch step for many web based companies. But not all privacy policies are created equal. Here are the top five common mistakes we see startups make with their privacy policies.

5.    The company doesn't have a privacy policy.
Collecting information from your users without a privacy policy is remarkably risky. In some states it may even be illegal depending on the type of website you operate. For example in California, commercial websites that collect personally identifiable user information which includes information that is commonly collected by commercial websites like names, emails and addresses are required to have a privacy policy.  Even if you’re not in a state that requires your website to have a privacy policy, privacy policies are still helpful for setting consumer expectations regarding your use of their data.

4.    The company copy and pasted (insert big companies name here) privacy policy as their own.
While most major companies do employ very good privacy law attorneys to write their privacy policies, these policies are tailored for that company’s specific needs. Copying and pasting their privacy policies as your own use can lead to a whole host of problems. While some problems, like forgetting to replace their business name with your business name, hurt you more from a business and customer trust perspective. Other problems, like making promises to do things you don’t do and can’t actually do (i.e. removing user data in a set period of time), could be legally actionable. So while having a privacy policy is important, it’s even more important to have a privacy policy that fits your company’s specific needs.

3.    The privacy policy violates the privacy laws of the state in which the company is located.
Privacy law is a bit of a moving target and laws vary significantly from state to state. Certain state laws even contradict other states laws. However, as a rule of thumb it’s a very good idea to make sure you comply with any relevant federal privacy laws as well as the privacy laws of the state(s) where your business is located.  If you’re not sure what laws you need to comply with, we highly recommend consulting an attorney in your area.

2.    Consumers can’t find the privacy policy on the website.
It’s not just enough to have a privacy policy that is tailored to your company; your customers also need to be able to find it, understand it, and agree to it. Legal standards can vary as to what kind of notice is sufficient. It’s often a good best practice to make sure your privacy policy is linked (in a working link), in a legible font in the header, footer or other highly visible part of your website.  To ensure your users have agreed to your privacy policy, wherever users will be giving you their personal information it’s a good idea to clearly link to your privacy policy on that form above the send button to ensure that users have a chance to read it before they submit information.

1.    The privacy policy makes a promise the company can’t keep.
The number one rule of writing a good privacy policy is to only make promises you can actually keep. Making promises that sound privacy conscious that you can’t actually keep lulls your users into a false sense of trust and when that trust is broken it can be a PR nightmare. It can also be a legal nightmare. For example, the Federal Trade Commission can bring legal action against companies who misled their users about their privacy practices.

And as important as this rule is, it can also be the hardest to comply with because making truthful statements in your privacy policy doesn’t end with the drafting of your policy. It means making sure you keep that information up to date as your data collection practices change. It means making sure that your marketing and business teams understand what promises the company made so your advertising and business practices are in line with your privacy policy. Unfortunately, lack of communication between these teams is so common it’s become a business cliché.  But despite the cliché, making sure you only make promises you can keep in your privacy policy is the number one rule when it comes to privacy policies and the number one mistake we see startups make when it comes to privacy policies.

Are you making any of these common privacy policy mistakes? Make it your new year’s resolution to get your privacy policy in shape! If you have questions about your privacy policy or privacy law in general, feel free to reach out to New Media Rights via our contact form.

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Our 2014 accomplishments!

Whether you’ve joined us as a Student or an Open Internet Defender we're stronger than ever thanks to support from individuals like you!

Please consider joining our community of supporters by making a donation and help us continue to fulfill our mission to:

  • Provide free and dramatically reduced fee one-to-one legal services to underserved creators and innovators that need specialized help with Internet, intellectual property, media, and technology law
  • Defend the Open Internet and push for badly needed copyright reform.
  • Create high quality legal educational materials and to educate the next generation of lawyers.

With your support we’ve done this and more in 2014 by:

In 2015, with your support we plan to:

  • Continuing to provide free and dramatically reduced fee one-to-one legal services to  400+ underserved creators and innovators.
  • Release a ground-breaking new legal educational tool to help creators.
  •  Sponsoring and organizing more than 12 workshops and community events throughout the San Diego region and throughout the United States about digital rights.
  • Working on policy initiatives to encourage the FCC to adopt real Net Neutrality measures.
  • Participating in the Copyright Offices 1201 hearings to make sure creators can access the materials they need to create and we can all make modifications to the technologies we own without risking criminal charges.

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November Newsletter: Giving Tuesday--Night Owl Edition

New Media Rights


This Giving Tuesday, December 2, New Media Rights is running a one-day, 24-hour fundraiser where your donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to $10,000. So mark your calendar now and please pledge to give now by sending the dollar amount you want to pledge

Without your continued support, we can't do work like like helping local San Diego filmmaker Bill Perrine with his latest documentary film It’s Gonna Blow: San Diego's Music Underground 1986-1996.

Your donations help ensure we have the resources to reach a wide variety of clients to provide critical legal services, like the services we provided to Bill.
This year, we have a unique opportunity to double your impact to New Media Rights on Giving Tuesday. But there’s a catch. We’ll be competing will all of the other wonderful programs at California Western School of Law for that $10,000 match on a first come, first matched basis.
That means in order to maximize your impact we are asking
donors to give at 12:00am PST on December 2nd. As an added bonus, the first person to make a donation on Giving Tuesday at the Open Internet Defender Level or above will get a T-shirt from Bill Perrine’s latest documentary, It’s Gonna Blow.

Steps to help us rock Giving Tuesday:
Step 1:Pledge to give now by sending the dollar amount you want to pledge
Step 2 Click here to add a reminder to your calendar to give to New Media Rights on Giving Tuesday or join the facebook event!
Step 3: Don't forget to give on Giving Tuesday!
But wait?!? Why Should you give on Giving Tuesday?
By giving on Giving Tuesday, you can double your impact, and help us to do more great work like the work we did this year.
Thanks to your continued support we:

See a full list of our accomplishments for the year and our exciting plans for next year here!

All the best,

Art Neill, Teri Karobonik, and the New Media Rights team


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New Media Rights Sponsors Startup Weekend San Diego MEGA: Web / Mobile / Maker

New Media Rights, proudly announces our sponsorship of Startup Weekend San Diego MEGA: Web / Mobile / Maker, beginning November 14th at San Diego’s new downtown library. The event is a weekend-long, hands-on experience where innovators and aspiring technology entrepreneurs can hear from industry experts whether their startup ideas are viable.  New Media Rights' sponsorship of the event includes an offer of free legal services for the winning team.

Startup Weekend San Diego is just one of the ways New Media Rights supports the next generation of innovators creating jobs for the San Diego region, and developing technologies to help improve the world.  New Media Rights works directly with technology startups, creators, and internet users every day in San Diego, offering free and reduced fee legal services on internet, media, and technology law matters.

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PRESS RELEASE: President Obama urges the FCC to adopt real net neutrality


November 10, 2014

Contact 619-591-8870,

New Media Rights welcomes President Obama's statement supporting real net neutrality

New Media Rights is pleased to announce that this morning President Barack Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify the Internet under Title II. In plain language, the President came out in support of real net neutrality, the principle that says Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all internet traffic equally. New Media Rights has been advocating for reclassification in our recent Open Internet comments  to the FCC (and our reply comments) as well as in our letter to the President and his Office of Science and Technology Policy. We thank the President for his support of Title II reclassification and encourage the FCC to adopt the President's position. Here's the President's statement.

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Put a mugshot on it? Things to think about before using mugshots on commercial products.

At New Media Rights we’ve received a surprising amount of contact forms related to using mugshots on commercially sold items. Although we cover whether mugshots are in the public domain here, this blog post tailors that information a bit more specifically for people who may want to put a mug shot on something and sell it.

A word of caution upfront, putting a mugshot on any commercially sold items raises some serious legal questions. If you’re serious about starting a business like this you should consult with an attorney since this blog only raises some of the issues you may need to look out for and is NOT legal advice.

Copyright law protects creative works including, believe it or not, mugshots. But the exact copyright status of mugshots from different law enforcement agencies is a bit more complex.

In general mugshots taken by federal law enforcement agencies(such as federal prisons and the FBI) are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright law. This is because a photo taken by a federal employee as part of their work for the federal government is in the public domain and not protected by copyright law.

However, for mugshots taken by state law enforcement the mugshots may or may not be in the public domain since state, city and other local entities can make their own decisions on whether or not to release mugshots and other photos taken by their employees into the public domain. In addition, some states may chose to restrict access to some mugshots under certain circumstances for reasons unrelated to copyright law.

For photos that are under copyright and access is not restricted, depending on your use of the photo, fair use may apply. However, for commercial use in particular we strongly recommend seeking out legal counsel before you release your product commercially to ensure you have a strong fair use argument.

Right of publicity & privacy laws
Even if the mugshot you intend to use is in the public domain(or your use is fair use) there are still other legal issues to consider. Approximately half of all US states have right of publicity laws. Although statues vary significantly from state to state, they are designed to prevent unauthorized commercial use of a person’s image, name, and likeness, although some are expansive enough to cover things like the sound of a person’s voice. Thus in some states, when mugshots are used commercially in certain ways they may violate a person’s right of publicity.  Keep in mind that some states, like California, even extend this right after death.

Also, just because your state doesn’t have a law called “right of publicity” doesn’t necessarily mean your state doesn’t have a law that would prevent a mugshot from being used commercially. Sometimes that kind of law may be part of the states privacy laws or even unfair competition laws.

These are just a few of the legal issues that come up when using mugshots commercially on products. If you are seriously considering putting mugshots on products and selling them, we highly recommend seeking out an attorney to advise you on the full array of legal issues that may arise from this type of business.

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Copyright & Fair Use Workshop for Filmmakers and Video Creators - A Doculink sponsored event in Los Angeles Saturday November 8

Update! Here's the video from that event!


New Media Rights' Executive Director Art Neill is speaking in the Los Angeles area Saturday November 8, 2014 about Copyright, Fair Use, Music Licensing, and Creative Commons at 1:30pm at the Glendale Public Library.  If you're in the LA area come on out and say hello!  The event is sponsored by Doculink and the Glendale Library, Arts and Culture Department.

Here's the details from Doculink, and a flyer for the event is attached below as a pdf.

Please RSVP to Colleen Stratton if you're planning on attending.

On Saturday, November 8th, Doculink, in conjunction with Glendale Library, Arts and Culture Department, will present: "WHAT'S FAIR ABOUT FAIR USE AND COPYRIGHT? - HOW FAIR USE AND COPYRIGHT LAW AFFECT DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING AND ONLINE VIDEO CREATORS"

Attorney Art Neill of New Media Rights will give a workshop on how Copyright law both restricts and empowers documentary filmmakers and other video creators. We'll cover key legal issues in filmmaking, including

The basics of copyright law, including how it protects your work, and how it restricts what you can do with others' work

  • How to reuse video footage and images under fair use (Fair Use permits use of copyrighted works without permission under specific circumstances)
  • When and how to get a license for music, footage, and other materials
  • How to properly use openly licensed (Creative Commons) materials

DOCULINK is a community for documentary filmmakers who share information, leads, ideas, and a commitment to support each other's growth as nonfiction filmmakers.

Art Neill is an attorney and the founder of New Media Rights in San Diego and practices public interest law in the areas of internet, intellectual property, and communications law. He is an adjunct professor of law at California Western School of Law in San Diego where he teaches Internet & Social Media Law (primarily focused on Internet, Intellectual Property, licensing, and online publishing law).

DATE and TIME: SATURDAY, November 8th, 1:30 pm-4:30 pm,

FOOD: Potluck.  As aways, please bring snacks and drinks to share!

LOCATION:  Glendale Central Library

222 E. Harvard St., Glendale CA 91205

818 548-2030

The event will be held in the AUDITORIUM on the SECOND floor.

Receive 3 hours FREE parking across Harvard at the Marketplace parking structure WITH VALIDATION at the Loan Desk.
Metered parking is available on the west side of the building in Lot #10 and on Harvard Street.
Handicapped parking is available at the front of the building.

Please RSVP to Colleen Stratton
Feel free to pass this invitation along to other people who might be interested.   Hope to see you all there!

Doculink flyer revised.pdf2.19 MB

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FCC Consumer Advisory Committee ends year with consumer privacy and disabled access recommendations

The Federal Communication Commission's Consumer Advisory Committee held its final meeting of the year October 20.  New Media Rights is a member of the Consumer Advisory Committee, and we are part of the Consumer Empowerment, IP Transition, and Broadband (as co-chair) Working Groups.

In our final meeting, the group passed two important recommendations,

1) Recommendation Regarding Mobile Device Security

The Recommendation Regarding Mobile Device Security provides the FCC with guidance on how it can provide leadership to ensure consumers have the information they need to make meaningful choices about their privacy, to encourage innovation in mobile device security, and to make sure companies adhere to best practices in protecting consumer's privacy, safety, and security when they are online using a mobile device.

2) Recommendation Regarding Access for Eligible Individuals with Disabilities to Lifeline Service

This recommendation encourages the FCC to take direct steps to make sure that the expansion of Lifeline to mobile devices includes accessible devices for the disabled.

Recommendation Regarding Mobile Device Security
New Media Rights took part in drafting the Mobile Device Security recommendation.  You can view the whole recommendation here, or view an excerpt below regarding our specific recommendations.

"... the Consumer Advisory Committee recommends that the Federal Communications Commission consider the following measures to increase consumer understanding and interest in mobile device security:

1.     Convening a workshop focused on mobile device security and privacy best practices to assist the FCC in developing consumer advisories and education resources;

2.     Hosting a “Data Jam” type event with a theme of mobile device security and privacy best practices;

3.     Enhancing the existing FCC Security Checker ( web interface to include:

preselecting the OS when accessed from a mobile device

adding more detailed tutorials to explain how to adjust the settings

including accessible video tutorials;

4.     Continuing to work with CTIA, device manufacturers, carriers, and OS developers to improve the consumer experience and usability as it relates to security- and privacy-enhancing techniques;

5.     Coordinating carefully planned and funded Public Service Announcement campaigns aimed at educating consumers on device security and privacy;

6.     Encouraging innovation in mobile device security and privacy;

7.     Developing new FCC-hosted education materials on specific topics. These topics could include but are not limited to: mobile payment security best practices, the importance of two factor authentication, security tips when accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots, and the relationship between security and accessibility;

8.     Utilizing the FCC Complaint Call Center in Gettysburg and web complaint submission process to direct consumers to existing FCC educational resources on mobile device security and privacy;

9.     Considering any recommendations put forth by the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council and its Cyber Security Working Group on these topics."

This follows previous work at the FCC Consumer Advisory.  Two other recommendations we're particularly proud of this year are a) a recommendation aimed at ensuring libraries and students have access to the internet through E-rate reform, and b) a recommendation on improving the openness and transparency of complaint data, while ensuring consumer privacy at the FCC.  The FCC is set to release improved complaint data before the end of the year.

New Media Rights looks forward to being part of the next FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, which will begin its new term in Spring of 2015.


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NMR to speak on fair use & copyright law at the Alliance for Community Media Western Region Conference, October 23 in Ventura, CA

New Media Rights Staff Attorney Teri Karobonik will be speaking on a panel at the Alliance for Community Media Western Region Conference on October 23, 2014 in Ventura, CA

The topic of the panel will be "Intellectual Property, Copyrights, and Fair Use in Media"

Technology has made it increasingly challenging to navigate the world of intellectual property, particularly in media and arts. This panel will address common questions journalists and creators face such as:

  •  What kind of rights do you need to secure?
  • What is Fair Use and can anyone explain whether it applies? 
  • How do you navigate the legal issues inside of platforms like YouTube? 
  • Where can rights be obtain if needed?
  • What are a producer’s liabilities?
  • Can local bands play cover tunes?
  • Can you fight a take-down notice?
  • How much trouble can our organization be in? 

The panel will be an opportunity to give positive support to journalists and artists, showing them the ways the law can actually empower their creativity, how to avoid legal disputes in the first place, and how to move forward if you do face legal threats.

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September Newsletter: Standing up for the Open Internet at the FCC!

New Media Rights

We want to thank all of our supporters who made our #Oneof1000 celebration a success this summer.  It was nice to celebrate all we’ve accomplished as a community in person and online, and we hope to enjoy your company for some delicious tacos again soon!

Despite taking a moment to celebrate with clients and supporters like the San Diego based nonprofit Green Neuroscience Lab (pictured above left with their newest scientist!), our team has been standing up for the Open Internet at the FCC; writing to the President about the importance of copyright reform and an Open Internet to 21st Century innovation; appearing on This Week in Law; releasing new educational guides (here, here, and here); delivering educational workshops, and answering your legal questions.  Here’s are the highlights of what we’ve been up to!
Standing up for net neutrality and protecting the Open Internet
To protect the Open Internet, it will take both activism and sound legal arguments. New Media Rights has been actively involved in the fight for Net Neutrality at the FCC. There we’ve been making the kind of detailed legal arguments needed to explain the importance to independent creators, tech startups, and consumers of protecting the Open Internet by reclassifying internet access under title II. In our latest reply comment in the FCC's Open Internet proceeding we focused on a series of claims by broadband providers that are simply not supported in the record, and amount to a dangerous “take our word for it" approach. As with our initial comments, our goal was to ensure meaningful, defensible protections for the Open Internet under Title II of the Communications Act. You can check out our full comments here. For a lighter take on why the broadband providers “take our word for it" approach” is especially dangerous you can also check out our initial blog post here.

New Guides
We’re proud to announce three new legal guides. Special thanks to our amazing legal interns, who help us create these. Thanks also go out to all of you; our guides are inspired by the legal questions you ask us, so we couldn’t produce these guides without you!
  • Our new guide to 3D Printing and the Law is a guide for makers to explain some of the basic legal issues surrounding 3D printing. The guide answers key legal questions like, does the creator of a 3D-printiable file always own the file? Special thanks to former NMR Intern Christine Brekke for her work on this guide!
  • Our new guide, Disastrous Disclaimers in the Digital Era,  is a guide for blogers, vlogers and online journalists on how to use disclaimers when writing about products or services they may have received for free. Special thanks to former NMR Intern Amy Vaughan for her work on this guide.
  • Our final new guide,  Intellectual Property & Fiscal Sponsorship Agreements for Scientific, Research, and Archival Projects, is designed to help smaller projects understand intellectual property and other important considerations when entering a fiscal sponsorship relationship with a larger nonprofit. Special thanks to NMR Intern Marko Radisavljevic for his work on this guide.
Spring Internet and Media Law Clinic
Are you a student at California Western School of Law passionate about helping artists, entrepreneurs and internet users with legal issues brought about by the digital age? This spring we will once again be offering an opportunity to be a part of our clinic class, check out our intern page for more details on how to apply. Applications open October 1st and close October 31st.

Upcoming Events

It’s  Gonna Blow Premier
Thursday October 9th from 7pm-10pm
Our client, San Diego based filmmaker Bill Perrine, is screening his new film, It's Gonna Blow: San Diego's Music Underground 1986-1996 here in San Diego! New Media Rights actualy provided legal services for the film so we’re especially excited about the premier. We'll be at the screening and we hope to see you there! You can buy your tickets here.

San Diego Small Business Advisory Board Annual Community Outreach Meeting
Friday, October 17, 2014.
Come visit New Media Rights and other organizations that assist small businesses at the SBAB Annual Community Outreach Meeting! Please RSVP to Small Business Ambassador Lisa Gordon Hosch at
How can you support independent creators and artists?

Please remember New Media Rights is an independently funded nonprofit program.  The reason a real attorney is able to review and respond to your request for legal services, is because of the support of individuals like you.  Become an NMR Supporter and ensure this service exists for years to come!  In addition, if you know any organizational or foundational

We accomplish a great deal on a modest budget, so any donation makes a huge impact for us. You can make a donation to support legal services and advocacy for internet users and creators by clicking here.  

Please also make sure to connect with New Media Rights on
 Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Thanks again for being part of the New Media Rights community. Keep an eye out as our future battles and work on behalf of internet users and independent creators continues.

All the best,

Art Neill, Teri Karobonik, and the New Media Rights team


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