Central Oklahoma experienced an afternoon of severe weather on May 6, 2015. From Tuttle to Bridge Creek and all points in between, residents searched for information to keep them safe and weather aware. For thousands of people, social media quickly filled this void.

With the introduction of live video streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope, people can now get real-time access to video anytime, from anywhere. But an interesting question recently surfaced: Is streaming copyrighted video on these apps legal?

During the storm, we observed people discussing this very topic with their followers.

Periscope Tweet 1

Periscope’s own content guidelines don’t exactly clear up the copyright question. It’s vague reference to “unlawful purposes” and “illegal activity” leaves plenty of grey area. The app, which is owned by Twitter, recently stated they have and will “suspend or shut down” accounts that violate their policies – but by then the damage is done.

We discovered several news anchors were also sharing Periscope streams of their own live broadcasts.

Periscope Tweet 2

So, what’s legal? According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyrighted material must be taken down IF the broadcaster becomes aware of it. If no one reports the infringement, then essentially no action is required.

We know this fight will continue in both the legal court and in the court of public opinion, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Err on the side of caution. This old adage will keep you out of trouble more times than not.
  2. Know the law. Claiming ignorance doesn’t protect you in a court of law.
  3. If you do find yourself in a crisis, consult a PR pro. Public Relations firms specialize in mediating crisis situations and can help you weather the storm.

Oklahoma City’s news media did an excellent job keeping people weather aware while social media helped countless people stay connected to loved ones in the storms’ paths. We know apps like Periscope and Meerkat can be incredibly useful and look forward to witnessing how they will be used for social good in the future.