Defamation laws vary considerably between states, and you would want to contact a lawyer in your state to determine if further action is possible. If you believe you have been defamed, your lawyer must be able to demonstrate that the statement concerning you is:
- Injurious (negatively impacted you or your club)
Copyright Infringement: A Constant Risk at Health Clubs
Copyright infringement—also known as piracy—is when an individual or business uses another individual or business’ work without permission. Copyright infringement can happen at health clubs in a number of ways, from trademarks and intellectual property to music-specific copyright issues.
Example 1: AFG’s social media manager posts an image to Instagram that they found on a Google Image search and downloaded without permission from the person who took and owns the photo.
Example 2: AFG posts a video to advertise a new group exercise class at their club with the latest Ariana Grande hit as background.
Examples 1 and 2 put AFG at risk for a copyright infringement claim because they do not have permission to reproduce the content in question without first obtaining the rights from the original owner.
Even if AFG has the license to play Ariana Grande’s latest hits in the club, it does not mean they have the rights to reproduce it on social media—including if it’s playing in the background of YouTube videos recorded in your club.
As a business owner, you need to ensure that anyone who creates intellectual property for your business has attributed all intellectual property to your brand. For instance, if you utilize a third-party logo designer or nutritionist to create a weight-loss guide, make sure they assign the property to you. Otherwise, they can later claim rights to the property, leaving you open to liability.
Privacy Breaches: Not All Members Want Their Photos Taken
Does your health club contract include a photo release waiver? If not and you’re not careful, you could find yourself with a lawsuit in your hands.
Example: AFG wants to run some social promotions and decides to take and post photos of their gym while its full of members. These photos include the faces of Jane Doe Member and her teens. AFG did not ask Jane if they could take photos of her or her children, or include it in their marketing materials.
This example could be considered a breach of privacy. It is always best practice to check with a member before sharing their image on social media or your website. Taking the photo without permission may not be illegal in your state, but often the way a business uses the image could give the person shown a right to take action, especially if it was an unauthorized use of their image for commercial purposes.
That said, often including pictures of your members in your social and marketing can be a great way to build community in your club and make your members feel valued and represented. The key is to obtain permission first.
Dealing With Online Harassment
Online harassment can come in many forms. Both businesses and individuals can become targets of harassment and a “cyber-mob attack.” Many platforms, such as Yelp and Facebook, allow users to review businesses without verifying that they’ve ever visited or stepped inside the business.
Example 1: Jeff Smith Member was dating one of AFG’s employees. They broke up. After the breakup, Jeff and his friends start posting multiple negative reviews of AFG on Yelp, Google, and Facebook.
What can AFG do? Unfortunately, there may not be many legal courses of action. If AFG believes the reviews are libelous, the club could contact a local attorney to see if there are any legal actions to be taken. AFG should contact the platforms where the reviews are posted to report any reviews they believe to be fake or against the platform's code of conduct.
Example 2: Margo is a personal trainer at AFG. One of her clients asked her out, and she said no. He then took to social media, posting inappropriate comments on Margo’s behavior in the club to both his personal social accounts and AFG’s pages.
If AFG has documented and reported the comments to the social platforms as inappropriate, AFG could delete the inflammatory comments from AFG’s pages and block the user from their social media pages. However, AFG cannot control what he posts to his own pages, due to free speech protections. While some federal laws address cyber harassment that crosses state lines, state laws—and how local jurisdictions enforce them—can vary widely. A local lawyer would be best-positioned to go over potential next steps with AFG.
To prevent sexual harassment offline in your club, check out IHRSA’s Preventing Harassment Briefing Paper.