Mass media law is a legal field that encompasses a variety of communications industries, such as print media, film, broadcasting, and the Internet. With modern communications technologies, the mass media has the ability to affect many people in a variety of ways. The laws that govern these communications can be complicated and have far-reaching results. Many of the suits brought by media lawyers involve copyright infringement, defamation, censorship, and privacy.
Copyright law is one of the main ways that mass media law is involved in communications industries. Copyrights apply to print, visual, audio, and digital media. Individuals and corporations own copyrights on creative communications or works, and media law often attempts to protect those rights.
Copyright holders may require legal aid if their rights are contested, or if the creative work is copied without authorization, or pirated. Also, copyright law allows reproduction rights to be purchased. For example, a filmmaker may wish to purchase rights in order to make a movie based on a previously published book.
Another legal field within media law is defamation law. There are two main types of defamation — slander and libel. Both categories require the offending statements or visual representations to have a negative impact on the reputation on the person being defamed.
Libel usually involves statements that are printed or broadcast. Libel is therefore typically recorded and somehow published for public consumption. Slander, on the other hand, usually involves a defamation made verbally or by gesture, and may or may not be recorded in some way.
Mass media law encompasses free speech law as well. In many countries, freedom of speech is a governmentally-acknowledged right of people. On the other hand, many governments have laws that allow for censoring of objectionable, sensitive, or harmful communications. Media lawyers may deal with the legal balance between free speech and censorship.
Privacy law is often considered to be part of mass media law. Individuals and organizations are sometimes granted the right to keep certain information private. Attorneys on these types of cases may protect the privacy of individuals or, as in the case of the Freedom of Information Act in the United States, work in favor of releasing information to the public.
Mass media law has had to adapt to accommodate Internet communications. Blogs, social networking sites, and easy access to visual and print material can all affect legal issues such as copyright law, defamation, and free speech. The legal framework for international communications may be changing as a result of the Internet as well.