20 Legal Facts Every Blogger Should Know

Filed as Guides on October 21, 2011 12:59 pm

Courthouse ImageWhen it comes to legal issues, most bloggers are either unaware or misinformed about the laws that they operate under. Unless you studied to be a journalist, publisher or a lawyer, you most likely didn’t get an overview of mass media law. That’s unfortunate because now, with blogging and social media, everyone is a journalist and/or a publisher, at least from a legal perspective.

With that in mind, there is simply way too much to ever cover in one article. However, here is a brief overview of some of the facts that you need to know in order to stay safe online. Obviously, this won’t be in-depth and, if you want more information you should consult an attorney (or at least do further research).

But this should give you an idea of what you should be looking for and what questions you should be asking.

Also, it’s worth noting that these facts are based on U.S. law, if you are outside the country, obviously the situation is going to change.

On that note, here’s a look at 20 legal facts every blogger needs to know:

General

  1. The Web is world-wide. As such, your content will reach virtually every country and every jurisdiction in the world. As mentioned above, the facts below are based on U.S. law but you always have to remember that what is legal in one area may not be legal in another. That can, in some situations, bite you.
  2. As a blogger, you are posting works to a public forum. Even if only a few people read your site, the law treats it largely the same as if you had screamed everything in a crowded square or printed it on the cover of your local newspaper.
  3. As a blogger, you are responsible legally for what you post and, posting anonymous or pseudonymously is not a guarantee against legal consequences. Such steps can help avoid other consequences, such as professional ones, but generally not legal ones.

Copyright

  1. Copyright protects works of creative authorship and is a collection of rights over those works. Those rights include the right to make copies, the right publicly display/perform the work and the right to make derivative works. Doing any of those things to a copyrighted work without permission is an infringement.
  2. Copyright is given either to the author of the work, or their employer if they they are creating the work for their job (Note: Contract work does not always transfer copyright), the moment that work is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. No further action is required for a work to be protected, though copyright registration is required to sue and has other benefits.
  3. By default, copyright blocks uses of a work. If you want to give broad permission to use a particular work use a Creative Commons License to let others know the terms they can use it under. Likewise, if you are looking for a work that you can use, seek out one with a CC license or otherwise made available for reuse.
  4. The current term for copyright in the U.S. is for the life of the author plus 70 years for individuals or 95 years for works of corporate authorship. Once that term expires, the work lapses into the public domain, where it has no copyright protection.
  5. Fair use is an exemption to copyright that allows others to use copyrighted works without permission for certain limited purposes. However, there are no bright line rules when it comes to fair use. Instead, fair use is decided on a four-factor test that looks at each case in context. The only way to know for certain if a use is fair or not is through the courts.
  6. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it relatively easy to get any infringing copies of your work removed from sites hosted in the U.S. Similar laws also work in the EU, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries.

Defamation

  1. Defamation is the communication of any statement, presented or implied to be true, that is false and puts a person, business or other entity in a negative light, falsely harming their reputation.
  2. Slander is any defamation presented in a transitory medium, usually spoken word. Libel is anything that is printed, published or otherwise put into a fixed form. Most defamation online is libel, not slander unless it is not not being saved as it is being said.
  3. For the purpose of defamation, it doesn’t matter if it is communicated to one party or a million. Both meet the criteria as long as someone’s reputation is falsely hurt.
  4. Truth is an absolute defense against a defamation claim but it must be a verifiable fact. Likewise, opinions are not libelous but they must be actual opinions, not statements falsely labeled as opinions.
  5. Libel law is largely set on the state level, meaning that what is libelous in one area might not be in another as there are many inconsistencies.

Trademark

  1. A trademark is a word, symbol, phrase, sound or almost anything used to identify a business or their goods/services. Trademarks do not have to be registered to be protected, but registration can and does help. As such, if you use your site for business, you likely have some level of trademark protection in your name.
  2. Trademark law is designed to prevent confusion in the marketplace. This means using a mark in a way that implies you have a relationship with the business that doesn’t exist is likely trademark infringing. The same goes for using a confusingly similar mark.
  3. Though trademark protects things copyright can’t, such as names and phrases, that protection is limited to uses that cause confusion. You’re free to talk about a business.

Privacy

  1. There are four different types of privacy torts: Intrusion upon seclusion, misappropriation of image, publication of private facts and false light, the latter of which is similar to defamation.
  2. Once a fact has been made public, it’s considered in the public domain and repeating it is not the same as making it public. As such, any information you put on your blog, Facebook, etc. is considered public and can be repeated by others.
  3. Privacy laws, as with defamation, vary from state to state, be sure to look up your local laws.

Bottom Line

Obviously, this list barely skims the surface of these topics and, if you have a legal question about any of these areas you need to either consult with an attorney or, at the very least, do a lot more research on your own.

The goal of this is more about telling you the types of things you should know and relaying some of the key pieces of legal information that every blogger absolutely must know in order to be safe online.

In short, though there’s much more to learn, these are some of the key facts you have to know and they should serve as a great place to start for learning more.

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