Would You Volunteer For An Organization That Makes You Sign Away Your Right To Ever Say Anything Negative About It?
from the what-are-they-hiding? dept
Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the news that Save-A-Pet is making volunteers sign an extremely overbroad form, forbidding them from saying pretty much anything negative about the organization or anyone associated with it:
According to the form, a recent policy change requires volunteers to sign a form giving up their right to post ?any comment or picture? about an ?employee, volunteer or client? of Save-A-Pet without their consent. Volunteers must also agree not to post any ?negative comments or pictures involving any . . . resident,? nor post any comment that ?could be construed as harassment of the public, volunteers or staff,? nor use the Save-a-Pet logo or “organizational material? except on ?approved Save-A-Pet flyers.” Volunteers who have questions about whether information is ?confidential,? or whether any posting is otherwise ?appropriate,? are directed to ask the chief administrator for guidance.
As Levy notes in his post, a private organization can make you sign something that gives up your First Amendment rights, but there are some limitations. The bigger concern is just how extensive, broad and ambiguous the limitations are. For example:
The vague language about postings that “could be construed as harassment” is also disturbing. In the course of my practice, I have often seen complaints (and threats of litigation) from companies or political figures who treat mere criticism as harassment. Even the term “harassment” can be dangerously vague. Forbidding speech simply because of how it “could be construed” sweeps far too broadly. And companies often misuse the fact that all of its information is otherwise “confidential” to claim that any criticism that includes such inside information is improper.
Similarly, a posting that is accompanied by a group?s logo, or which reproduces the text of a memo from an organization?s director, is likely to be protected as fair use rather than infringement of entity?s trademark or copyright, to the extent that they are being used to illustrate or demonstrate the points being discussed (as, for example, I have done in this blog post). Yet again Save-A-Pet?s broad form prohibits such innocent uses.
While Levy notes that it appears Save-A-Pet is probably responding to a specific event and is also using a form that it appears to have copied from elsewhere, you really have to wonder if the “cost” of such a form is worth it. It’s so aggressive and broad that it’s clearly scaring off some potential volunteers (such as the one who sent the form to Levy). But are people saying negative things on Twitter about the organization really such a problem that it outweighs the cost of people being unwilling to volunteer? It seems likely that the cost of such a form greatly outweighs the benefit.
It seems likely that whoever decided to use the form simply never considered the negative consequences of offering such a form. Because, really, all it does is scream out that the organization is really sensitive about any form of criticism — and makes you wonder if, perhaps, that’s because it deserves some.