4 Things Online Publishers Need to Know to Avoid Legal Trouble

Filed as Features, Guides on July 27, 2014 9:00 am

Online publishing has made it so easy for anyone to express his thoughts and opinions online, as well as share experiences and expertise. With online publishing being relatively new, some people who are only starting in the niche may not be aware that there are laws that do apply online.

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Print publications have traditionally been regulated by the government, but depending on where you are based, online publishers may get into legal trouble on various counts. Lawyer Daniel Perlman advises that online publishers should know the specific laws governing online publications in your particular area, but in general, here are things you need to know to avoid legal trouble.

Copyright legal issues

Copyright laws have been set in place to protect material created by entities. This includes written work, images, video, and audio. Plagiarism falls under copyright laws in that if you use another person’s blog post, for example, and claim it as your own, you are held liable.

There are different copyright licenses, ranging from you having to ask permission from the owner before you can use his material to using material without permission as long as you link to the source.

Before you use any images, videos, etc., make sure you know their copyright license.

Protip: Always go for Creative Commons license or royalty-free license.

Also read: The 3 Most Common Copyright Mistakes Bloggers Make

Trademark legal issues

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Isn’t trademark the same as copyright? Nope!

Trademarks are the realm of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which protects brands, names, and logos from being used by unauthorized entities. Once you have registered your trademark, you can sue others who use it. The reverse applies. If you use someone’s trademarked name/logo/etc., then you will be held liable.

The important thing to remember about trademarks to avoid legal trouble is that you should not use trademarked brand names or logos to mislead readers into thinking you are affiliated with that particular brand. Otherwise, if you’re just using the brand as part of your opinion piece, for example, that should be okay.

Privacy legal issues

Privacy is one of the most controversial issues these days, and as an online publisher, you have the legal obligation to protect your readers’ privacy. One of the first things you should do is write up a privacy policy which will let your readers know exactly how you deal with their data.

Basically, if you collect any data – email addresses for newsletters, for example – make sure that you have a policy set in place that will protect that and that you let your readers know.

Tortious interference issues

Tortious interference sounds so legally scary, doesn’t it? It is defined as:

encouraging a breach, infringing on another’s agreement, interfering with contract, interfering with contractual commitments, interfering with contractual obligation, interfering with contractual rights, intermeddling, intermeddling with business activities, obstruction, work against anothers contractual relationship, wrongful interference with business relationships, wrongful interference with contractual relationships

In short, tortious interference means that, because of your blog post, you hamper the ability of another party to do business, or if you encourage someone to break a contract.

This can easily happen when you’ve been ripped off by a seller online, for example, and you write about it. If your post is a call to arms to your readers to boycott the seller, the seller might have a legal case against you.

What you can do to avoid falling into this trap: word your post very carefully so as to avoid coming across as actively inciting readers not to patronize an establishment.

For example, instead of saying “Don’t ever buy from this deals site because they sell fake products!”, say, “I wish I hadn’t bought from this deals site because it seems that the product I receive is not genuine.”

Knowing the above can save you from legal trouble in the future, so make sure that you take them in consideration as you write your next post.

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  1. By Ryan Biddulph posted on July 28, 2014 at 6:51 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Hi,

    I feel generating good karma, helping people, being honest, and following your intuition helps you avoid legal issues as a publisher. Nice breakdown here.

    For example, you noted the case where people can take legal action if you intentionally smear their business, and it affects them adversely. Good karma says to let it go. Even if you’re angry as can be, and want to spread the word, it’s still using force.

    Force negates and power attracts. Calling someone out negates, meaning, you’ll get in more trouble than you bargained for in most cases because you’re trying to hurt someone and their reputation, because you feel they cheated you. Let it go

    Sure, sometimes people make honest mistakes but in most situations our conscience tells us what to do, and if we run afoul of the law, we simply ignored our conscience 9 times out or 10, to settle some score, or to get over on someone, or because we are lazy, and try to take shortcuts.

    Listen to your conscience and help people. Take the high road. You’ll thank yourself later.

    Thanks for the share.

    Ryan

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