5 Legal Aspects of Blogging You Should Know But Probably Don't
Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees our right to free speech, that doesn't mean you can happily peck away at your keyboard creating one fantastic blog after another without worrying about possible legal ramifications. For example, do you know what "intellectual property" is and how you can incorporate this property into your blog without being slapped with a lawsuit? What about defamation and disclosure issues?
If you are like most amateur or semi-professional bloggers, you have no idea that what you publish on your website could be considered illegal in civil court. To protect against expensive lawsuits and the consequences of reputation damage, many marketing companies and professional bloggers use software that provides risk management solutions, document retention and control of workflow to prevent content and/or blogging legal issues from crashing down on your career. Harm Bavinck, at my client Effacts, a legal management platform, has written about this subject in great detail.
Copyrighted text, images and videos are considered intellectual property, or property that cannot be used by someone else other than the person owning full legal rights to the property. To avoid illegally publishing intellectual property in your blog, always make sure you provide links to appropriate sources or get permission to publish the item in question.
Be aware that intellectual property laws are, for the most part, not an aspect of criminal law. Most copyright laws are concerned with compensation and prevention. Since compensation and prevention are civil matters, it is the responsibility of the owner of the property to enforce infringement of copyright laws.
The difference between defamation or libel and being allowed to say or write what you want about anyone or anything focuses on substantiating the claim by the defendant that an entity (individual or company) has implemented an oral, visual or written attack on them that has caused serious damage to their reputation and/or ability to make a living. Insulting or offensive remarks do not count as libelous or defamatory statements. Instead, bloggers sued for defamation must have published a false statement about the entity suing them. The Media Law Research Center further asserts that statements made within any type of media context that cannot be proven in court to be fiction or fact will not support a defamation lawsuit.
Never, ever divulge confidential information that you have learned by talking to someone, viewing private communications or from reading documents not intended to be read by anyone but those creating the documents. It does not matter whether you post confidential information anonymously or whether you have proof to back up your information--you could be unknowingly setting yourself up for a confidentiality lawsuit if your blog contains sensitive information. However, the majority of "breach of confidentiality" lawsuits filed involving web-based material are instigated by employers and corporations rather than individuals. However, you can avoid blogging juicy secrets that may land you in court by always getting consent first--in writing.
An example of the disclosure law goes something like this: Mike loves to play video games and has become an expert at it. His blogs contain game reviews along with descriptions of playing Xbox and Playstation games. A few game manufacturers regularly send him free games so he can play and blog about them. As soon as Mike started accepting these video games from a manufacturer, he should have disclosed his "material relationship" with the game producer on his blog or possibly pay hefty fines if taken to court. Disclosing material relationships with manufacturers applies to accepting free products, cash or sweepstakes entries for the purpose of writing a product or service review for the manufacturer.
Don't Make Outrageous Claims about Products (Unless You've Got Legitimate Proof To Back It Up!)
Legitimate proof is statistically significant results derived from clinical studies or laboratory experiments conducted by professionals. Claims made by wizened Chinese herbalists who assert an indigenous weed can grow hair, eliminate wrinkles and give you six-pack abs without exercising are not considered legitimate proof. Essentially, if you claim you have a magic pill that tastes like chocolate and can help you lose 50 pounds in one month, you better hope the people who buy your product really do lose 50 pounds or you will be needing a lawyer to represent you in court. Play it safe when blogging about products or services you want to sell by saying something like "consumers may generally expect", "results may vary", "these claims have not been verified" or simply don't make bogus claims at all.