Funeral Technology and the Law: Are You Protecting Your Firm Online?
Article by Ashley Montroy of FrontRunner Pro
I had the privilege of attending not only the annual Funeral Director’s Boot Camp at American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service this past weekend, but also a course dedicated to understanding the risks of using technology in the funeral profession. The course was taught by a Funeral Business Attorney right out of New York City; Nance L. Schick, of The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick. To say I was impressed with the important information she was giving to the room full of funeral directors would be an understatement. I just couldn’t wait to get home to share what I learned about this vital topic that often gets left behind in our busy lives.
Ms. Schick spoke about rules to follow when dealing with social media or making changes to your funeral home website; she offered attendees basic, yet valuable, security practices for funeral directors when it comes to technology and small businesses.
One thing she said over and over again is this: As a funeral director, your duties and responsibilities have not changed; only the means that you carry them out. With that being said, let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
Regarding Social Media
#1: Always Link to the Source of Content.When you are posting something; be it an article, picture, poem or anything in-between, always link to the source. The original source needs to be given credit for the work they did. It’s simple really: if you are not linking to the source when doing your own status updates, then essentially you are stealing that person’s work.
#2: Create and Abide by a Social Media Policy. If you, as a Funeral Home owner, have live social media accounts, you should have a social media policy in place. A policy basically acts as a guideline for your staff to follow when managing these social accounts. They are using your property, and therefore, your business will be held accountable. You may want to include policy points like:
- Do not defame a person’s character
- Never use profanity
- Do not use trademarks that do not belong to the Funeral Home
- Never steal content from sources without giving them that source credit/link
Concerning Your Funeral Home Website
#1: Protect yourself—always. When you sign up with a new website provider make sure you are clear on what happens if you ever want to switch providers. How will you get the funeral home website content and your families’ information? Will it be in a readable file that you can easily give to your new provider or are they going to give it to you in an encrypted file that you will have to pay to unlock? Does the contract say that you are obtaining their services as a “work for hire”—meaning they work for you, and do not own the intellectual property on your website.
#2: Compile staff passwords for the funeral home’s digital property. These could be passwords for computers you own, email and other accounts that are connected directly to the funeral firm, and more. Make sure you always have passwords to all of your property, in case anemployee was ever to leave. I know many funeral homes work in a family environment and do not gather these types of things “because they are family.” You never know what will happen; we see family businesses go astray all the time. Protect your business; it is your right to have those things no matter who the person in question is.
Practice Basic Security
#1: Protect your written work. It does not matter if you write something on a piece of paper or on a keyboard–only the method of production has changed. Know that anything you write, however you write it, is protected under copyright. Essentially the only time you need to copyright something is when you are going to be directly making money off of it or by selling it. So, any obituaries or website content you’ve written is legally yours, and it should not be archived anywhere online you are not aware of, or made available by anyone without your expressed written permission.
#2: Give staff individual account log-ins for your funeral firm software. What happens when a staff member quits, is laid off, or even fired? Better question—what happens to your business when they know your passwords and how to access valuable information? You need to protect your firm from ever experiencing the prospect of this kind of security breach. Giving staff individual logins to your accounts not only gives your staff accountability for what they do, but also allows you, as the business owner, to pull down one individual account—rather than spending countless hours changing all of your passwords.
Some Final Words of Thanks
I really want to take a minute to thank Ms. Schick for outlining these important legal issues surrounding the day-to-day operations of a funeral firm. As a lawyer, she has dealt with many cases that relate to these topics. As a funeral technology provider; it is my job to make all funeral directors aware of not only how technology can help them but also how it can hurt them if not used properly. She has, in effect, helped me to fulfill my responsibilities to the profession.
Knowledge is a powerful tool. I hope you all take away something to help you in protecting your firm, so you never have to spend your valuable time—not to mention money—in rectifying a legal infraction born simply of ignorance. In other words, I hope you decide to invest a small amount of time in protecting your personal and professional reputation and that of your firm now. That way, youcan rest your head easier at tonight, knowing you took another (very important) step in the right direction.