We’ve talked a lot in this column about the various activities that might get you and your site in legal hot water, including some of the false legal threats you may face.
But that begs the question, who is likely to do either make the threat or file the lawsuit? While the answer could easily be just about anyone as lawsuits online are as varied as thy are in the bricks and mortar world, there are definiely some groups that have been far more litigious than your average netizen.
However, actual data in this area is very difficult, if not impossible, to come by. Not only does one have to factor in the courts of over 50 states and nearly 200 countries, but many of the most important legal threats never actually make it to court.
So, unfortunately, a lot of guesswork is involved but it doesn’t take much research to see some trends forming. With that in mind, if you’re worried about being sued for your blogging activities, here are some groups that you probably want to avoid or at least be wary of messing with.
5. Movie Studios
When it comes to Bittorrent and other P2P lawsuits, the movie studios, especially the independent ones, have been very active litigiously, suing hundreds of thousands of suspected file sharers over the years in in massive lawsuits that include tens of thousands of “John Doe” defendants each.
However, when it comes to bloggers, the studios have been a bit more quiet. Yet, they haven’t hesitate to drop lawsuits from time to time including one against a blog that was posting scripts online and another was sued for leaking a topless photo from an unreleased scene of movie.
That being said, most of the time bloggers find themselves butting heads with movie studios, it’s for leaking non-public information or doing something that is clearly and significantly copyright infringing. Movie studios, over all, have a decent history of not interfering with sites that post about movies, include released trailers and otherwise promote the movie as intended.
4. Record Labels
Where the movie studios have been active on the P2P front in recent years, the record labels have long since stopped their file sharing litigation campaign. However, their legal actions with bloggers remain much less clear.
Recentlly the record labels were allegedly involved in the closing of many music blogs on BlogSpot. The move was controversial because, reportedly many of the sites were operating legally and even working with the labels.
The good news, however, is that most legal action taken by the record labels comes in the form of takedown notices and site closures rather than lawsuits. In that regard, most would prefer to have their site closed than face the expense and headache of actual litigation.
3. Parody/Fan Blog Subjects
Though they might not be a group in the strictest sense of the word, it is impossible to completely ignore the pattern of companies suing fan blogs and parody sites for a wide range of things.
For example, very recently the blogger behind WTForever21 has been battling legal threats from Forever 21, the company the blog pokes fun at. Likewise an Apple fan site was shuttered in a settlement over the site’s leaking of confidential information.
For the most part, fan sites seem to be safe until they cross a line, such as when the Harry Potter Lexicon site attempted to publish a book, but parody sites begin life with a somewhat confrontational relationship and it seems some companies just don’t have a sense of humor.
There’s not much doubt that newspapers are on hard times right now but some have responded by targeting and suing bloggers as well as other sites that report their content.
Of particular interest in this area is Righthaven, a group that files lawsuits for infringement of content from the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Denver Post. The company has filed well over 200 lawsuits against sites republishing content from those papers, and has even targeted some big name blogs, including the Drudge Report.
Though Righthaven may be on the way out due to a series of legal defeats, other news organizations have been very active in filing takedown notices and taking other action, such as tracking content via services like Attributor and using that information to either secure takedown of the content or even target advertisers.
But as controversial as some of the industry’s tactics have been, for the most part they have only ensnared bloggers that have reused a large portion of their content without permission, making them fairly easy to avoid.
1. Stock Photo Companies
Finally today, of all the groups that have been the most active with legal threats against bloggers, the stock photo industry has probably been the biggest. Having sent tens of thousands of legal threats to website owners, many stock photo companies have made a side business out of tracking their images and collecting settlements, usually over $1,000 per image, for their misuse.
This, in turn, is why it is so important to make sure that your images are properly licensed and that you get them from reliable sources.
The good news, however, is that the industry primarily targets commercial bloggers and site owners. They don’t seem to widely target non-commercial use of their images.
However, if you do get caught using one of their images, you should widely expect that you will be getting a threatening letter in your mailbox sooner or later.
While these five groups are definitely some of the more common to sue and threaten bloggers, they are far from the only ones. With recent reports of a Taiwan blogger actually being jailed over a negative review of a restaurant, it’s clear there are many legal threats out there and many willing to exploit them.
This is why it is important you know the law and what your rights/responsibilities are under it. If you do that, you can avoid these groups as well as others who might seek to threaten you.
That, in turn, will help ensure that your blog stays active and stays strong while you stay out of the courtroom.
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private (However, please mention that it is a suggestion for The Blog Herald. This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.