The coronavirus pandemic has seen an acceleration in the shift to the use of online technology and it’s clear that the discoveries businesses have made over the past few months are going to transform the way they operate. Whether using existing technologies in new ways, or creating something new, this current period is a reminder of the essential role technology plays in all aspects of our working life.
Sherif Malak is a digital media lawyer with Shoosmiths’ commercial team and specialises in helping businesses make sense of a world in which property is as likely to be made of bits and bytes as it is bricks and mortar, and helps them navigate the new online frontier at which content and technology intersect.
“Firstly, we should remember that during this extraordinary time, the benefits of technology are proving to be incredibly positive and very much an enabler for businesses,” said Sherif. “The potential for reaching new customers is endless, and businesses with offerings that were far too niche to have survived a few years ago can now access, and sometimes even create, a market that was previously unavailable to them. It is also transforming the workplace: it is now possible to work efficiently from pretty much anywhere – which is so incredibly important during lockdown – so we must embrace this new world and celebrate the opportunities it brings, whilst appreciating that support must be provided to transition those adversely affected.”
Sherif brings together all aspects of legal expertise to support businesses in the digital media sector and those using their services, from IT contracts to data protection and from intellectual property to consumer rights. It’s not only an enormous sector these days, but one that’s constantly growing and adapting.
Take, for instance, augmented reality, the technology that overlays digital content onto the real world. There was a time when physical property and intangible property, known as ‘intellectual property’ were pretty straightforward legal concepts to apply – but the evolution of this technology has changed that for good and while businesses reap the benefits when adopting new technologies, there are new but important issues to consider that the law did not foresee, so businesses need to stay vigilant.
“There are so many legal aspects to running a business in an increasingly immersive world that the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed or acceptable are not always clear. So, for instance, if a retailer affixes a physical billboard advert on the front of a competitor’s store, it won’t be too long before they receive a call from that store’s lawyers. But what if a digital billboard is superimposed – who owns that digital space and what can you do if you want to prevent this? At the moment, very little.”
Other key areas on which Sherif finds himself advising clients include digital marketing and advertising law. The smartphone era has turned every consumer into a content creator and publisher. This has given rise to new forms of marketing, such as influencer marketing, further blurring the lines between consumers and advertisers. Where someone, who has thousands of followers on social media achieved through being proactive online, endorses a brand or product, it may not be clear whether this has been paid for or sponsored by a brand so the law requires this to be made clear – many have fallen short of what is required and found themselves censured by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The increase in data protection regulation in recent years has also made a significant impact on Sherif’s work.
“Algorithms predict our likes and dislikes based on large datasets gathered and shared behind the scenes and by stealth. Businesses have been quick to understand that the leveraging of this data provides for improved effectiveness and better targeted advertising. However, regulators seemingly wish to travel in the opposite direction: by ensuring any personal data collected about individuals is used in a way that is transparent and not unexpected, this will reduce the discretion available to businesses over its use.”
For advice on digital media and data protection law, contact Sherif Malak on 07799 265100 or contact Shoosmiths at www.shoosmiths.co.uk.
You can also follow Sherif on Twitter at @thedatalawyer