Search
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Yes, I Can Hear You Now!

by Jenelle C. Dodds, Esq.

Technology items seem to be a hot gift for Christmas this year – mp3 players, mobile phones, and digital cameras, to name a few. If you want to stay out of jail this Christmas, here are some legal guidelines for the use of your new electronics.

We have all heard horror stories about grandmothers being charged with illegal file sharing by downloading music. Also, you probably know that it is a crime to use a video camera to make a copy of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster. What you may not know is that Massachusetts has an eavesdropping statute, and violating it can certainly lead to a less than merry Christmas. The law in question generally prohibits anyone from willfully and secretly hearing or recording the contents of any speech, other than speech being broadcast publicly, through the use of any device that is capable of receiving, recording or amplifying such communication. The law also applies to wire communications, which includes phone calls, but has an exception for hearing aids, or other devices such as TDDs or other communications equipment provided by common carriers to its subscribers. Violations of the law are punishable by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars or prison sentence of up to five years. So, unless you are a law enforcement official or have the person’s consent, you may not use your phone, video camera, or other gadget to listen to or record anyone’s voice. Sharing funny messages from your answering machine or voicemail is okay as the recording is not secret and the person leaving the message is consenting to being recorded by speaking to the machine or voice mail. Using a baby monitor or walkie-talkie to listen to your neighbor’s conversations or using your cell phone to record the argument at the table next to you in a restaurant is not. Youtube fame is not worth the risk.

Jenelle C. Dodds is an attorney in the Business & Finance Department at Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP in Springfield, where she focuses on general corporate and business matters. Her email address is jdodds@bulkley.com.

Back to Top