Media Liability Insurance

(The most common liability lawsuits faced by media companies.) Author Icon Written by Trusted Choice Author Icon
Written by Trusted Choice

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Content production and distribution has changed dramatically since the rise of the internet. In today’s fast-paced, 24-hour news cycle, a lawsuit for libel, slander or even copyright infringement can happen at any time.

While a general liability policy will cover some media liability issues, others may be excluded, or your coverage levels may top out well below the amount you are being sued for. If that is the case, you will be covering the cost of legal defense on your own.

Media liability provides protection from lawsuits that result from issues such as slander, libel, copyright infringement, or even piracy. It is something you absolutely need if you are involved in the media world.

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Media Liability Insurance Is a Necessity in Today's World

The internet has changed the media landscape in a variety of ways, allowing information to be shared quickly and easily. Unfortunately, it has also made it much easier for content to be plagiarized or copied, making the likelihood of a lawsuit much higher.

Whether you are a small publication, freelance writer, or major media outlet, protecting your business with media liability insurance is well worth the cost. A lawsuit can come out of nowhere, and regardless of whether the case has merit, you will need to defend it, and that can be very expensive.

According to a report by the American Intellectual Property Association, in 2011, the average cost of litigating a copyright infringement case through trial was estimated to range from $384,000 on the low end up to a whopping $2 million on the high end.

These types of lawsuits are more common than you might think and can be extremely expensive. Coverage levels vary by insurance company, but many insurers write policies up to $10-$20 million, and most policies offer worldwide protection.

The Nuts and Bolts of Media Liability Insurance

Media liability insurance provides protection for media and entertainment companies against claims brought by third parties. The policies cover issues such as libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and even copyright infringement.

The policies tend to be highly specialized and are not sold by all insurance companies. Media liability policies are often custom policies that are written to address the concerns and possible liabilities for the specific business being insured. 

These policies offer the option to purchase only coverage for the specific liabilities your business may face.

The downside is that media liability policies are usually "named peril," which means that coverage only applies to the perils listed on the policy; anything else is excluded.

The perils that are often included in media liability policies include:

  • Defamation
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Copyright and trademark infringement
  • Plagiarism
  • Unfair competition
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Breach of license
  • Piracy

Media liability insurance covers the cost of defending a covered peril lawsuit, regardless of whether the claim is legitimate, up to the policy limits. However, if it is determined that you acted in an intentional or malicious way, coverage will be denied.

Some insurers also exclude certain types of media. Common exclusions include:

  • Adult content
  • Gambling content
  • Celebrity or gossip content
  • Controversial content

Media liability insurance is usually available on an occurrence or claims-made basis, and understanding the difference is important when shopping for this type of coverage.

  • Occurrence: This type of policy covers any incident that occurs during the policy period, regardless of when the claim is actually filed. This means that if a claim is filed after the policy expires, as long as the incident occurred during the policy period, it will be covered.
  • Claims made: This type of policy covers a claim only if both the incident and the claim happen during the policy period. If a claim is filed after the policy has expired, you are on your own. These policies stay in force and automatically renew as long as the premiums are paid.

The Most Common Media Liability Lawsuits

Here are a few real-world scenarios of where media liability insurance can be a lifesaver:

Invasion of privacy: The law allows the aggrieved party to file a lawsuit against another individual or company that unlawfully intrudes into their private affairs. It also applies to disclosures of private information, publicizing a person or company in a false light, or the appropriation of a person’s name for personal gain.

Regardless of whether your intent was malicious or it was a simple mistake, invasion of privacy lawsuits can be expensive.

According to Philadelphia Insurance Companies, a newspaper was sued for invasion of privacy after a reporter “friended” a local schoolteacher under less-than-honest circumstances (pretending to be an old friend) and used that access to publish unflattering photos of the teacher that involved alcohol. The teacher was fired.

The newspaper eventually settled the invasion of privacy lawsuit.

Slander: Slander occurs when a person tells other people an untruth about another person and that untruth harms their reputation. This is a civil tort and can be the basis for a lawsuit. The difference between slander and libel is that slander is spoken while libel is written or broadcast.

Speaking ill of someone’s professional qualifications in a way that could possibly harm their reputation or business is a prime example of slander.

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal highlights what a slander case typically looks like. Dr. Daniel Burkhead filed a slander lawsuit against surgeon Dr. Kabins, accusing him of making "false and defamatory statements concerning Burkhead's ability to competently practice medicine.” According to the article. Kabins settled the slander case for a whopping $800,000.

Libel: Libel is basically the written form of slander. Articles that are published in print or broadcast through radio, television or film that do harm to another person’s reputation are considered libel.

While anyone can be a victim of libel, celebrities suffer more than their fair share. Kiera Knightley sued the Daily Mail after they published an article claiming she had an eating disorder. She won the suit and donated the settlement to a charity.

Defamation: Defamation is basically used to cover any type of statement that hurts a person or company’s reputation. Defamation is a civil wrong and the basis for a lawsuit. Libel and slander both fall under the wide umbrella of defamation.

Copyright infringement: This involves the use of works that are protected by copyright law without the permission of the creator, publisher or owner of the copyright.

These types of cases often involve songs, artwork and photographs. Examples include a song being used in a movie or commercial without the permission (or offering compensation) of the original artist or recording company that owns the copyright. There have also been cases where artwork is put onto T-shirts or used in commercials without the permission of the copyright owner.

Piracy: This refers to the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted item such as a book, recording, television program, or other trademarked item. Selling pirated movies on the street corners of New York City is one example, as are knock-off handbags.

According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, music piracy around the world causes roughly $12.5 billion in economic losses every year.


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Where Can I Get Media Liability Insurance?

Media liability insurance is highly specialized and is not sold by all insurance companies. This makes it doubly important to consult with an experienced agent who understands the specific pitfalls that media companies face.

An insurance agent who specializes in media liability coverage can help you narrow down the coverage you need and pinpoint which dangers are most relevant to your particular business.

In addition, an agent will do the legwork for you, getting quotes from a variety of insurers and presenting all of the options to you, so you can choose the perfect media liability policy to help protect you and your business.

Get started today by contacting a local independent insurance agent.

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PennLaw Copyright Infringement Markets 2013