How Giving a Bad Review Can Bring You Legal Trouble

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Recently the world learned about the case of, Liu, a Taiwanese blogger who was arrested and given a 30-day suspended sentence for giving a restaurant a bad review.

Liu’s case has drawn so much attention because of how outrageous it seems. To be arrested and convicted criminally for giving a restaurant a bad review seems insane, especially in the U.S. and other nations that put a high value on free speech.

But while Liu’s case may be an extreme one, bad reviews are actually fraught with legal peril. To be clear, many of the legal problems that are associated with negative reviews also hold true for positive ones but companies and individuals tend to be far more angry and far more litigious about people saying bad things rather than good ones.

So, if you’re looking to write a negative review, here are a few things to watch out for as they could be levers that your target might use against you and your site in an attempt to silence you, justly or unjustly. [Read more…]

The Problems with Anonymous Blogging

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Whenever I talk with others about the legal risks that come with blogging, it is inevitable that someone says that the risks don’t apply to them as they blog anonymously and no one will ever know who they are.

The truth is that, while anonymous blogging may be great for certain purposes, it isn’t a bullet proof vest that lets you do dumb things legally without fear of reprisal. Even if you can bring together a perfectly anonymous site, you have to be flawless in your execution of it ensuring that every single interaction, no matter how small, is untraceable.

While anonymous or pseudonymous blogging might be good enough to fool your mother, your boss or your friends, it won’t be enough to fool law enforcement nor anyone with adequate motivation and resources to track you down.

Anonymous blogging may free you up to say things you otherwise couldn’t, but it doesn’t free you up to break the law. Basically, if you’re blogging under a different name, you should expect to be found out if you make it interesting enough for anyone to seek out your information.

[Read more…]

The 5 Groups Most Likely To Legally Threaten Your Blog

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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. [Read more…]

5 False Legal Threats Bloggers Routinely Face

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Legally, blogging can be a very scary activity. Since few bloggers are acquainted with media law before setting up their first site, they are dealing with issues of trademark, copyright, libel, privacy, etc. when they have little understanding of the law itself.

This, often times, creates problems where a blogger oversteps a legal boundary and finds themselves either being sued or threatened with legal action. However, it also can create the reverse problem, one where the blogger is threatened with legal action when they haven’t done anything against the law.

To be clear, in the U.S., anyone can sue anyone for any reason at any time. If your sole purpose is to avoid a lawsuit, being within the law is, unfortunately, no protection. There’s always a chance you could have to spend the time and money to defend yourself in court.

However, if you have a more practical goal of not being hit with a lawsuit that has a chance of success, you still don’t want to give in needlessly to false legal threats. With that in mind, here are five of the more common false legal threats that bloggers face and why they carry no weight. [Read more…]

Why Fonts on the Web Are a Copyright Mess

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Font ImageIf you design websites, you know well that the list of Web-safe fonts, though having grown some over the years, is very short compared to the number of fonts available in the world.

In fact, only a fraction of a percent of all fonts created are available to Web designers. Though, considering how hideous some fonts are that might actually be a good thing to a degree, there’s not much doubt that the Web would be a more vibrant and more readable place with more options available.

One cause of this has been the technical challenges that make adding more fonts difficult, including the fact that different operating systems have different fonts installed by default and installing fonts has, historically, been difficult to do,

However, there’s also been a set of legal obstacles that have prevented an explosion in Web fonts and kept many of the most popular fonts in the world from being truly web safe.

What can be done about this? First we have to understand the problem and then look at what others are doing to make the Web a much more exciting place for font lovers. [Read more…]

Trademark, Copyright and Fan Sites

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On June 1st, the blog and community site Canon Filmmakers announced that their site was coming to an end. However, it wasn’t because the owner of the site was retiring or a server catastrophe ate all of the posts and guides, instead, it was a legal threat from Canon itself forcing them to close and turn over their domain (Note: Link to likely to stop working shortly).

This wasn’t the first time Canon used or attempted to use Trademark to shut down a site about them. In 2009, for example, they sent a takedown notice to WordPress.com, which was hosting a site entitled “Fake Chuck Westfall”, which is a parody of the real-life Canon technical adviser Chuck Westfall and commonly lampoons the company. However, in that case, WordPress.com refused to remove the site and it remains online today.

Other sites have reported problems with Canon, especially when they’ve used the trademark in the domain itself, but Canon is far from the only company to have legal spats with their fans. Fan communities, it seems, are plagued by legal problems, both trademark and copyright related, and are among the most legally-risky sites to create.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create a fan site, be it a blog or a community, just that you have to be aware of the risks and work to mitigate them.

[Read more…]

Copyright, Trademark and Blog Design

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Automattic LogoAlmost every blogger knows that blog design is important when trying to build a successful site. How your site looks and feels not only sets the tone for your blog, but it also is a big part of what separates it from similar sites and gives it an identity of its own.

However, just as with the content and the domain name of your site, there are ethical and legal issues that come with the theme of your site. Specifically, both trademark and copyright law protect or may protect the theme you’re using right now. But unlike the content that fills your pages, most bloggers don’t create their own theme, at least not from scratch, putting them in the position of using someone else’s work on their site.

That being said, the ways in which copyright and trademark impact Web design is not nearly as simple and as straightforward as with other types of content due to how the laws overlap and what they don’t protect.

So, if you either want to protect your blog’s design or make sure that you’re on the right side of the law with your blog’s theme, here is what you need to know about copyright, trademark and blog design. [Read more…]

Watch Out for the Law Trolls

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Troll ImageMost people online know what a “troll” is and pretty much everyone, regardless of whether or not they know the term, has encountered at least one in their travels on the Web.

Wikipedia describes a troll as, “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

However, there is another type of “troll” working on the Web as we speak. Though this kind is much more rare, it is also much more dangerous. Where a traditional troll may disrupt a conversation or say hurtful things, legal trolls (or law trolls) sue/threaten people and, in doing so, attempt to ruin them financially, often over minor perceived violations or no violation at all.

But as few and far-between as these legal trolls are, they are growing and you need to be aware of them and how to avoid them, at least as much as possible. So, with that in mind, here’s your guide to the world of online legal trolls. [Read more…]

5 Things to Check When Reading a Terms of Service

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With TwitPic recently finding itself in hot water over a terms of service change that prevented its users from reselling photographs they had uploaded using the service (their TOS has since been changed to slightly less controversial terms), there’s been a great deal of interest lately the terms we agree to when registering new accounts at various site and the time bombs that could be buried in there.

The truth is that very few people take the time to as much as skim the TOS before clicking “accept” and are completely unaware of what is in the legally binding contract they just “signed”. This has the potential to create major headaches down the road when and if these services decide to exploit their rights to their fullest.

So, if you’re motivated to be a little more careful with the terms you agree to, here is a quick primer on five critical things you want to check when accepting a new TOS. While, obviously, this isn’t a complete list, these are probably the things you probably want to look for first in order to best understand what it is you’re signing and what it might mean moving forward. [Read more…]

3 Sites to Get Free News-Related Images

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The social impact of Bin Laden’s recent death has been incredible and it also became an incredible force across blogs and other Web sites. Countless bloggers, even those who usually don’t cover news-related topics, felt the need to peak out on the breaking story and, along the way, dip their toes into news and political blogging.

But with so much attention being focused on how blogging and social media is changing journalism, there are still scant few resources that give bloggers and other webmasters access to the media used by mainstream outlets.

The problem is that, while there are countless great sites on the Web for stock photos and other images, they are more targeted at providing attractive, but generic images for a blog post. If you need a photo to indicate friendship or represent something being locked down, these sites are great. However, if you need a photo of a recent rally in Washington D.C. or of a particular celebrity, they are virtually useless as most of the photos they have are not timely and not related to current events.

However, there are a few sites that offer news-related images for free on your site. All you have to know is where to look and how to search them correctly.

Here are some of the options to consider. [Read more…]