This Legal Guide is intended to provide an overview of the legal issues associated with the growing live webcam industry. Our firm’s experience in representing network operators, studios, and models allows us to share a broad industry perspective on the potential legal concerns.
Live Webcam Networks
Live cam networks face a host of legal issues which must be addressed from the start. Initially, the network must start with proper online agreements with its studios, models, and customers. Each of these agreements must be strategically drafted, with the unique goals of the operator in mind. Next, the network should take advantage of various legal protections provided by federal law for online service providers. Specifically, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and exemptions to Title 18 USC s. 2257 should all be considered. Specific steps are required to secure the protection of these laws, including publication of notices, implementation of policies, and crafting of internal operating procedures. Filing forms with government agencies is also required for certain protections. The network operator should also carefully consider the legal risks associated with certain visual depictions, when creating a code of conduct for models. Certain explicit or fetish activities can greatly increase legal exposure. Most importantly, the network operator must ensure that all models are over the age of 18, and have voluntarily registered to broadcast their performances.
Section 2257 Records Keeping Obligations
Federal law, specifically Title 18 USC s. 2257 & 2257A, requires that any publication of actual or simulated sexually-explicit conduct be supported by specific categories of performer records, maintained in a particular manner. While these statutes are the subject of a legal challenge, the obligations currently exist. Any 2257 records keeping protocol should be developed in close consultation with legal counsel. By way of summary, the records must include: 1) a 2257 compliance form (containing the model’s legal name, address, date of birth, stage names or aliases, and the date of original production of the content); 2) a legible copy of the model’s picture identification card; 3) a list of all url’s associated with the performance; and 4) a copy of the content. For live web cam networks, this last category can be addressed by maintaining a representative sample of the model’s content, sufficient to identify the model. The records must be maintained by any producer, which is broadly defined in the law to include websites that publish the content. The location of the records must be disclosed on the website, in a specific manner, and inspections allowed if requested by the Attorney General. Failure to comply with this statute is a federal felony carrying fines and imprisonment.
Intellectual Property Rights
The allocation of intellectual property rights in a live webcam business is an important consideration. Will the model own the copyrights and trademarks associated with the performance, or will the network claim ownership? What sort of licenses will the parties have, and when will those licenses terminate (if ever)? Can the rights be assigned or sub-licensed? Different decisions will be made in different circumstances, based on a wide variety of considerations including legal liability. It is essential that all parties know what rights they own, what they license, and what they have sold. Network operators should strongly consider seeking trademark registration for their brand names, given the rampant piracy and cybersquatting in the field. Copyrights to any expressive works should likewise be registered.
Live cam operators that become aware of underage content, or any instance of child exploitation occurring on their sites, must report the incident to the Cyber Tipline, operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The failure to do so carries criminal penalties. Additional information about this legal obligation can be found at Law of Sex
Warnings & Disclaimers
Live webcam broadcasts can be viewed and recorded by anyone with a computer or mobile device. The recordings can be widely distributed without the performer’s permission, on a variety of pirate websites. Nothing is deleted from the internet once it is published. Any online network can be hacked, or abused by those wishing to cause harm. Accordingly, clear warnings and disclaimers should be published on the site, to ensure all parties are aware of the risks.