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Ethics and the Law

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Sadie Wilks

on 16 January 2019

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Transcript of Ethics and the Law

Ethics and the Law
Not a black-or-white issue, usually grey
Individuals have different standards and perceptions of what is "right" and "wrong"

Public Relations & Ethics
PR pros are "advocates" for their orgs/companies
But also represent the various stakeholders, public

PR practitioners are justified in disseminating persuasive information, so long as objective and reasonable people would view those persuasive efforts as truthful.
PRSA Six Core Values


Ethics begins with the individual. What personal beliefs would you compromise in the course of doing your job?
Professional Guidelines
PRSA and IABC have published Code of Ethics
These groups play a key role in advancing ethical practice.

PR practitioners are not licensed. So, how are codes of conduct/standards enforced?
Why is it important to be ethical?
Relationships are key to success in PR
Relationships are based on TRUST
Dishonesty destroys trust
Thus, dishonesty destroys your relationships, credibility
Your usefulness as a PR pro is nil
Media & Ethics
Works both ways
No gifts, favors
Contaminates the free flow of info
If media can be bought, publics lose their trust in objectivity/credibility... then PR suffers as well
Ethical Dilemmas Can Lead to Legal Dilemmas
So, how bad can it be, really?!
FTC can file charges (under Lanham Act) against firms that distribute false or misleading info...

When it comes to info and documentation provided by clients, PR firms & practitioners must show "due diligence" (read: fact check)

p. 206, PR Strategies and Tactics 11e
Libel - printed
Slander - spoken
Making a false statement about a person or org that creates public hatred, contempt or ridicule
Public vs Private Figures
Who has a better shot at winning a defamation suit?

Which groups are considered public figures?
Are corporations public figures?
NY Times vs. Sullivan,
Beyond libel, US Supreme Court developed test for determining actual malice, which must be present for a public figure to win libel suit

They engage in advertising and promotion, offering products and services to public.
Often involved in matters of public controversy and public policy.
They have access to the media.
Actual Malice
Prove It!
p. 208 PR Strategies and Tactics 11e
Must prove these four things for libel:
False statement was communicated through print, broadcast or electronic means
Person libeled must be identifiable
Actual injury inflicted ($$, reputation, mental suffering)
Person making statement was malicious or negligent
Eeek! How do I avoid libel?!
Products or people can be libeled
...Stick to the facts!
Employee Communications
orgs should have signed release on file to use images, comments
newsletters are commercial in nature, so editors should keep content work-related
keep in mind though, the trend is toward increased monitoring of employee email, esp public employees subject to FOIA
Freedom of Speech/Expression
You have the right, but... employers are concerned about being held liable for your blog/SM comments
Whistle blowers are protected; corp, gov't or nonprofit
Copyright Law
is protection of a creative work from unauthorized use.
Which org materials should be copyrighted?
How can you use the copyrighted materials of others' appropriately?
Copyright does not protect ideas. It does protect how they are expressed.

When does copyright begin?
For full legal protection, official registration with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is required.

Protects Individuals:
life of the creator plus 70 years

Protects Corporations:
95 years from publication
Fair Use vs. Infringement
You may quote copyrighted works:
must be brief in relation to the length of the original work
complete attribution of the source
use quote marks for verbatim content

Advertising/promotional items
must have permission
provide context (does it imply endorsement?!)
Fees? Unlimited or one-time use?
Photoshopped images are subject to this as well
Freelance and commercial photographers retain ownership of their work. Even if you buy it. Reprint permission must be transferred in writing.

Freelance Writers
Ownership of a writer's work is subject to negotiation and contractual agreement.

What is ghost writing?
Trademark Law
Registered trademarks are protected by law.
can be a word, symbol, or slogan
used singly or in combination

Trademarks are always capitalized, eg Kleenex
Some are now generic, meaning you can use them without capitalization or permission, eg nylon, thermos or yo-yo.

Misappropriation of personality?
Am I infringing on trademark?

p. 213, PR Strategies and Tactics 11e
Regulation by Government Agencies
Promotion of products/services does not have First Amendment protection because it is commercial speech, which can be regulated.

Why might messages be regulated?
Public Health

Consumer Protection

Public Safety
Lanham Act
anyone making false or misleading claims can be held liable
Sponsored Events
If events attendees can prove negligence, you will be held liable.

Detailed logistical planning is key.
Traffic flow (foot & auto), facilities, signage, security, first aid...
Liability insurance is recommended for any public event.
Permits from city/county may be needed as well.

Working with Lawyers
Build that relationship, before you have a problem
Full transcript