The various cell phone videos that captured the forceful removal of a man from a United Airlines flight have generated hundreds of millions of views worldwide for good reason.
"Everyone can see themselves in this guys shoes," said University of Minnesota Law Professor William McGeveran.
But McGeveren says the passengers who made it all possible, did put themselves at legal risk when they shared their videos.
"Airplane tickets are contracts and you signed it when you bought the ticket," McGeveran said.
United, like other airlines and businesses that sell tickets, has an extensive Electronic Device Policy, which says "Photographing or recording other customers or airline personnel without their express consent is prohibited."
"The Supreme Court has said that the fine print of those rules does apply against you," McGeveran said.
But whether airlines actually file suit against you is another story. Viral videos aboard airplanes have become common, and McGeveren says lawsuits are extremely rare.
"The airline is not going to be the one to stop you from blowing the whistle on them because it will make their bad public relations situation even worse," he said.
Heather Cmiel, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, says it doesn't take an expert to know what it would mean if United brought a lawsuit against a passenger who captured video of the incident.
"I would not recommend it," Cmiel said, adding that airlines often benefit from funny or positive videos posted by customers. "You didn't see airlines making adjustments then and trying to get videos taken down."
McGeveran says the rules remain for the same reasons they still exist at concerts and sporting events. If you're looking to profit off of a video or violate someone's privacy, he says, that's when you should expect trouble. If you're simply documenting trouble, you're probably fine.
"If there's a public interest in knowing this information and having it documented, that would be an argument you'd get to use if you ever did really get in trouble," McGeveran said.
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