Yesterday, I covered examples of blog disclaimers, simple paragraphs, fun statements, and legal policies from different blogs. Today, I want to cover how to write a blog disclaimer, protecting you and your blog from the world of litigation and prosecution.
In Creating The Perfect Blog Comment Liability Disclaimer from The Intuitive Life Business Blog, the author goes through the process of contacting a lawyer to review their blog disclaimer from start to finish. It’s a good lesson in how to write a good disclaimer, while still making it personal. The lawyer points out that:
Fortunately, there is a wide body of caselaw and law review articles concerning website disclaimers. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Caution is appropriate when applying those case precedents, however. Blogging is a more dynamic interaction – truly akin to a somewhat stilted conversation. Judges will eventually view this distinction as significant. After all, doesn’t a reactive series of posts and responses start to look like advice which may be relied upon – to the benefit or detriment of the commenter?
A valid point covered the “conversation” created with comments. By responding to comments, the blogger becomes a “moderator”, which could be interpreted as “directed communication”, making yourself an expert, thus libel for your expertise. So the disclaimer should be clear that you are not responsible as an “expert” and for what people do with your advice and wisdom.
Who is responsible for the content within comments on your blog? The blogger wanted to say “Your words are your own” in his disclaimer, turning over responsibility to the reader. The lawyer argued against that with, “Your blog is an environment created by you for the purpose of hosting these words. It’s your public message board. Those words belong to you.”
The content you write, and the comments your readers write, are all on your blog and therefore, you have a measure of responsibility over anything that appears on your blog. You control what appears on your blog so make sure it speaks well for you.
In How to Write a Blog Disclaimer by Websites Made Simple, he covers some of the basics of writing a disclaimer and gives some examples of the different styles and lengths of blog disclaimers.
A blog disclaimer is becoming more and more necessary to have nowadays. Especially with all the suing going on and not to mention our natural behavior to rebel against any system or law. As much practice you put into responsible blogging, you will stumble upon unavoidable situations where you happen to offend someone.
What Should Be In A Blog’s Disclaimer?
A blog disclaimer can say anything, but here are some things that you may consider if you are putting together your own disclaimer.
- Content Validity: A blog is always in transition. The information you publish today might not be valid or accurate two weeks or two years from now. Content, sources, information and links change over time, so make sure your protect yourself from the natural evolution of blog content.
- Content Accuracy: We all make mistakes. The disclaimer should take the accuracy and validity of your blog’s content into account.
- External Links: What you link to reflects back on your blog. I made the mistake recently of publishing a link inaccurately, linking to a porn site. It was quickly fixed, but mistakes happen. URLs and domains change hands. Protect yourself in your blog’s disclaimer from what is at the end of a link, as well as from those linking to you.
- Photographs and Graphic Images: If you are using images that are not yours, then say so. If they are, make sure you claim them and hold yourself harmless from any harm caused by the images, such as offending someone.
- Files, Programs, and Downloadables: If you offer downloadable files or programs, such as WordPress Plugins, Themes, etc., make sure you get the wording exactly right to protect yourself in case your file damages or harms someone’s blog, site, or computer.
- Libel and Defame: Be clear that anyone reading your blog will not hold you libel for what you say or display. State the content on the blog is the opinion of the blogger, not intended to “malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual,” or anyone or thing, especially those with the ability and desire to fight back.
- Responsibility: You should state that you are responsible for the content, not your employer, volunteer group, membership organization, church, or other agencies which you might be seen to represent. Take care with this. If you volunteer for an organization, and blog about it, you could be seen to “represent” it through implication, just as much as you might be representing your employer if you write about the company and/or your work.
- Personal Views: State that these are your personal views, which implies you are responsible for them, not your employee or another agency. Your blog is your opinion.
- Protection from Commenters: Consider stating that you are not responsible, nor will be held liable, for anything anyone says on your blog in the blog comments, nor the laws which they may break in your country or theirs through their comments’ content, implication, and intent.
- Protection from Fellow Bloggers: If you have multiple bloggers and/or contributors on your blog, consider some statement that covers them, protecting them but also protecting you from what they say in their blog posts.
- Do No Harm: It helps when you say that your “intention” is to do no harm. To not injure others, defame, or libel, just in case someone thinks you are doing harm. “Harm” is subject to interpretation not facts. It’s your opinion and advice, not counsel. What you write on your blog is not to be taken as fact nor absolute. If people use your advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations, and are injured, you are not to be held responsible.
- Disclosure of Paid-to-Blog: Some disclaimers may include a disclosure statement that says the blog’s content is, or is not, generated to make money or paid for blogging content. If this is not included in the disclaimer, make sure you publicly and visibly post a disclosure as there is a growing call for blogger’s ethics for transparency.
- Language Issues: I got in trouble in Israel for using the English word “maniac” which translates into a “bad” word in Hebrew. Language is a tricky thing, so consider adding a statement about not being responsible for translation or interpretation of content. Also, if this issue is important to you, you know that punctuation can change the intent of a statement, so hold yourself and your blog harmless from prosecution for bad grammar and punctuation.
- Copyright: If you want to make your disclaimer a catch-all, be sure to include a statement on your copyright policy, setting the guidelines for how and when your content may be used by others.
- International and Cultural Laws: If your blog is read by someone from another country, a country which has laws which restricts or censors content, and your blog’s content crosses their line, who is responsible for “crossing the border”? Is it you or the reader? Either way, consider a statement that says you are not responsible for defamatory statements bound to government, religious, or other laws from the reader’s country of origin.
- Limits on Damages: Consider adding a statement that restricts the financial claim that could be taken against you and your blog. If legal action is brought against your blog, it could be brought against you personally, your home, properties, and more. By setting a cap limit on the financial responsibility, it could help the courts set a lower rate if you lose, since you publicly stated the limits.
- Make It Readable: Make your disclaimer readable. While legaleeze is fine, make your disclaimer easy to read and understand in plain and simple language.
- Have Fun But Make It Legal: Have what fun you will with your blog disclaimer, making it match your blogging and writing style, but make sure the words are still “legal” and will protect as much as amuse your readers.
My disclaimer is that I’m not a lawyer, just giving you tips and advice, so if you want a serious disclaimer with teeth in it, have it reviewed by a lawyer to ensure it soundly protects you and your blog.
My Favorite Blog Disclaimer
The most amazing blog disclaimer I found, which had me in hysterical laughter reading it, came from legal redux: Herche’s Blog Disclaimer. It’s almost more of a rant and rave than a disclaimer. Here are a few excerpts from this long and wonderfully written disclaimer:
Heretofore and unto now, this blogger hosted weblog has had to rely exclusively on the blanket disclaimer provided for the corporate body of blog*spot addresses. While this kind of disclaimer is usually sufficient to protect a blogger from liability, it falls short when dealing with inherently offensive content, websites with a mind of their own and authors who are excessively paranoid about being dragged into court. With the above firmly borne in mind, we propose the following weblog disclaimer:
…The views expressed by the authors on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of this website, those who link to this website, the author’s mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, grandparents, cousins, step relations, any other blood relative and the author himself, this website’s web host…
Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed.
…Although it may claim otherwise, this website does not offer legal, medical, psychiatric, veterinary, gynecological, archaeological, astronomical, astrological, ontological, paleontological, philosophical, axiological, audiological, bacteriological, mineralogical, criminological, terminological, dermatological, ecclesiastical, campanological, phrenological, phonological, technological, hematological, campanological…
…This website may inadvertently link to content that is obscene, prurient, useless, hate-filled, poisonous, pornographic, frivolous, empty, rotten, bad, disgusting, hostile, repulsive, virulent, infectious…This website in no way condones, endorses or takes responsibility for such content.
The disclaimer covers content, comments, responsibility, links, government and local laws, jurisdiction, communications methods, prisoners and access to and from jails, women at risk of becoming or are pregnant, and even lawyers. My favorite section is:
Please contact your local bar association, law society, neighborhood association of jurists, medical board, county hospital, phone book, online directory, local emergency number in your jurisdiction, mother or Google to find a or obtain a referral to a competent professional. If you do not have reasonable means of contacting an attorney-at-law, lawyer, civil law notary, barrister, solicitor, medical professional, coroner or any other professional in the area of your inquiry, meaning you are an orphaned, computer-illiterate social hazard, please exit this window and get your life in order.
How often have you wanted to say something similar on your blog?