False Advertisement and Copyright Infringement in Healthcare Should Not be Overlooked
Copyright infringement and false advertisement are some not-so-discussed topics in the healthcare industry. However, they can have devastating consequences for facilities that are not careful. Missteps are easy in these cases, and resolution can prove to be extremely difficult. Problems occur not only with newly-developed content, but through embedding or sharing content as well.
Case 1: Social Media Marketing Goes Wrong
A healthcare facility in the mid-Atlantic was trying to improve its social media presence. An employee performed an internet search for images that would align with the theme of the organization’s website, and copied several from the internet search to the organization’s social media pages and website.
An attorney representing the photographer of the copied photos later contacted the facility.
The photographer alleged that the images were used without permission and filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against the facility that stated that the facility was infringing the photographer’s exclusive copyrights by reproducing, displaying and distributing the nine copyrighted works on its website and Facebook page. The case was mediated before a Federal Court magistrate judge and settled for an undisclosed amount.
In the age of social media marketing, taking photos from search engines such as Google can be tempting, but can also have devastating consequences as demonstrated above. To avoid these situations, images within Google search results now feature easy-to-read licensing information to easily check each photo’s copyright status.
Case 2: Invalid Award Display Proves Costly
Along with copyright infringement, false advertisement is another reason to remain vigilant when it comes to posting on a web page or social media platform. A Florida hospital provided a notable example of this when it displayed the seal for The Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program despite not meeting the criteria for the program.
The facility was caught and forced to pay $10 million in punitive damages for false advertisement.
Mitigating Copyright and False Advertisement Risks
The cases above provide a stern warning for healthcare organizations everywhere. When seeking photographs or other media for your organization’s use, remember these steps:
- Obtain initial authorization by leadership to modify social media and website content.
- Have a process for review of modifications by leadership or legal counsel.
- Determine usage rights for images available on the internet.
- Determine whether the media are subject to copyright or are licensed by the artist/photographer/producer.
- Include the “creative commons” licensing in the image search.
- Consider images in the public domain.
- When using images outside creative commons licensing, contact the artist/photographer/producer for permission and to determine associated costs for use.
- Have all website and social media platform modifications reviewed by leadership and/or marketing staff and/or counsel.
- Consider taking photographs on your own, being mindful of privacy laws pertaining to any individuals portrayed in the images.
Bear in mind: just because an image is freely available in the internet does not mean it is free to use without permission.
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This blog is part of RCM&D’s “Healthcare Risk Round Up” series. For access to more timely content like this, complete the form here to subscribe to the quarterly newsletter.