Social Media, YouTube, and The Internet

The Basics

  • Content posted to social media and the internet is considered speech activity, so all the same principles described above still apply.
  • Be informed about using copyrighted or trademarked materials.
  • If you are a victim of online hate speech or bullying, document it, report it to appropriate authorities and call Palestine Legal for tips on reputation defense.


  • Be thoughtful in your postings; often jokes and commentary students thought were private have later been taken out of context and disseminated by opposition groups.
  • Make sure you only post information about yourself or your group that you are comfortable with your college, classmates and potential employers seeing. Even if you have high privacy settings, information may not be as private as you think.
  • If you are being attacked online because of your support for Palestinian rights, contact Palestine Legal.

Copyright Law, Fair Use & Parody

Under the fair use doctrine, you can use copyrighted work (images, songs, articles) for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as criticism, comment and parody.

So what’s “transformative” use for the purposes of the fair use doctrine? The definition can be confusing, but fair use generally falls into two categories: 1) criticism and commentary and 2) parody. Criticism and commentary may include using a few lines from an article you are quoting. Parody must poke fun at the author or work and offer some kind of critique of the work. There are no hard lines here, so contact Palestine Legal if you have a question or are threatened with copyright infringement.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can my college read my Twitter posts or Facebook posts?

Your college is able to read anything you hold out to the public as well as activity taking place on university servers. (This could include .edu email addresses, college computers and college wireless networks.) In addition to Twitter and Facebook posts, keep in mind that emails you’ve sent can always be forwarded by the receiver (even if you believed them to be private), and your college, or other authorities may be able to read them.

Can my college punish me for something I posted on my personal Facebook page or Twitter account?

It depends. Online speech, even if made off campus, may be the subject of valid sanctions where student conduct violates narrowly tailored ethical or professional program rules.[1] In other words, it depends on what you say. Punishing students for posts that support Palestinian rights or are critical of Israel or the Israeli army, for example, would likely violate the First Amendment at a public college and free speech principles at a private college.  Different ethical and employment rules may apply to student government representatives, faculty and staff.

Can my university prevent our group from using the university’s logo in our divestment campaign?

It depends. It could be a violation of trademark law to use your university’s logo where there’s a likelihood that viewers will believe your university endorsed an action which it hasn’t. However, if you are using the trademark for the purpose of parody, artistic, or political speech, you may have a First Amendment right to use the trademark. Trademark law varies from state to state, so if you have a question about this or have been ordered to ‘cease and desist’ from using a trademark, call Palestine Legal.

Can I use Caterpillar or another company’s logo on our website calling for divestment?

Usually yes.  The key issue in trademark infringement cases is the likelihood of consumer confusion. This test differs in jurisdictions, but as long as there is little chance that someone viewing your website will actually mistake it for Caterpillar’s website, or an official Caterpillar communication, you should be fine.

What about using an official government seal on a flier or website?

There may be other laws that prohibit using official government seals, so you may want to avoid using a city seal or a university logo on a mock eviction flier – you don’t need it to get your message across and it could lead to a trademark suit or even criminal charges. 

What if I get a ‘cease and desist’ letter from a company telling me I need to take down the logo or they’ll sue?

Contact Palestine Legal immediately. We can help you determine whether there is a potential violation, help you respond adequately, and make sure you’re represented if necessary.  If you’re worried you may be in violation, you can take the image down, and put it back up after you’ve consulted with an attorney.

Can a record company force me to take down a YouTube posting of our flash mob where we use a popular song and change the words?

It depends.  Modifying or altering artistic works without the express permission of the author could be an infringement of the copyright owner’s rights unless the modification is considered “fair use” (see next question), and you could be sued. If you are in doubt, Creative Commons has links to sites that allow people to use songs for free without fear of infringement.

Can I use an artist’s song in a parody video urging them to not play in Israel?

It depends. We believe this would fall under the legal definition of parody under the Fair Use doctrine if your video is making fun of or criticizing the artist whose work you are using. This doesn’t mean you or YouTube won’t receive legal threats to take the video down. Contact Palestine Legal if this happens.

YouTube Wrongly Removes Video Calling on Alicia Keys Not to Perform in Israel
In June 2013, activists made a parody of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” video calling on Keys to not tour in Israel to protest Israel’s human rights abuses. YouTube removed the video after receiving copyright infringement threats from Alicia Keys. However, the activists’ video, which used Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” song, is a parody that includes themes of a girl “on fire filled with catastrophe” who is “not backing down.” The activists’ video contains images of Palestinian women and girls resisting the Israeli occupation, as well as clips of Israel bombing Palestinian cities. The purpose of this parody was to draw public attention to the urgent issue of apartheid and other Israeli human rights abuses, and called on Keys to support the BDS movement. While the video contains a few short clips of Keys’ original video, these were sufficiently transformed for the purposes of criticism and commentary. An activist later re-posted the video, which can now be found here.

If you’ve been accused of copyright infringement, call Palestine Legal to see if you have a basis for challenging a removal or infringement accusation.[2]


[1] Tatro v. University of Minnesota, 816 N.W.2d 509 (2012) (University did not violate free speech rights when it sanctioned mortuary science student for blogging about “playing” with cadaver, taking her “aggression” out on it, and keeping a “[l]ock of hair” in her pocket, among other things in violation of program rules prohibiting disrespectful conversational language outside the laboratory about cadaver dissection as well as internet blogging about cadaver dissection or anatomy lab).  

[2] In a similar incident in 2011, YouTube removed a Greenpeace parody video of a Volkswagon ‘Star Wars’ themed commercial after LucasFilms demanded the video be taken down. Greenpeace challenged the takedown. After two weeks of suspension, YouTube put the video back up. 

Disclaimer: Do not rely on these materials without first seeking the advice of an attorney about your particular situation and facts. Only a licensed attorney, reviewing your individual facts, may render legal advice. This information is provided as a public resource for information purposes only. Nothing in this resource should be taken to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Palestine Legal.