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August 19, 2011

What To Do If You Get a Legal Threat Online

Threat PosterThe Internet, for better or worse, is the largest meeting place to have ever existed in history. It’s a place where millions of people, from all backgrounds, can get together and exchange ideas, news, artwork and pictures of cats.

However, it’s inevitable that, with so many people in one “place” that there are going to be disagreements and some of them are going to get quite heated. Just as you don’t always get along with your “real world” neighbors you probably won’t get along with some of your virtual ones either and, also like physical world problems, virtual world ones also, at times, disintegrate into legal disputes.

So, if you blog long enough, especially if you routinely discuss or use work from other people on your site, there’s a chance that you’re going to be the subject of a legal threat.

For the unprepared, this can be one of the most terrifying experiences one can have online. Such threats often come with fears big legal bills, huge settlements and more. It’s pretty easy to paint a worst-case scenario that is either unrealistic or completely impossible.

Still, these are matters that should be taken seriously and knowing what to do is important. Though I’m not a lawyer and certainly can’t provide legal advice, there are steps that most attorneys advise you to take and I’ve outlined them below. read more

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August 5, 2011

5 Legal Guides Every Blogger Should Read

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Image of Law BooksAs we’ve discussed previously on this site, being a blogger can be very risky legally. With a slew of potential legal issues including copyright, defamation, trademark, privacy and much more, there are many ways a well-meaning blogger can find themselves being sued.

To make matters worse, there’s a great deal of conflicting and confusing information on the Web and what good information there is, generally, is scattered across multiple pages and sites. This makes learning about the law difficult and means you can spend a great deal of time just trying to keep yourself out of court.

Fortunately, several bloggers and blogging-related organizations have worked hard to produce legal guides that give you a good breadth of information in a simple, single work that you can easily read or search through.

With that in mind, here are five of the best of those guides, what’s in them and how they can be useful in helping you protect yourself and your rights. read more

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July 29, 2011

Why Where You Host Your Site Matters Legally

One of the beautiful things about building your own site is that you can choose where you want to host it and what you want the domain to be. On that front, the Web provides nearly limitless choices with hosts in nearly every corner of the earth and hundreds of domain extensions. The room for opportunity and creativity is incredible.

However, where you host and where what you choose for your domain has a large bearing on your site and there are many factors that you need to consider.

Many of the factors are actually technical. Your server’s proximity to your visitors affects its speed and not all countries are as well connected as you would like for hosting a site. For example, you wouldn’t want to host a site aimed at an Asian audience somewhere in rural South America.

But on top of the technical considerations are legal ones. Whenever you sign up for a hosting account in another country, you’re doing more than moving your site there, you are, in many regards, subjecting yourself to the laws of that nation.

That can have some dire consequences for your site if you aren’t careful and, in extreme cases, can even result in your arrest and possible extradition.

In short, thinking about these issues is an important consideration when choosing a host, but one that few actually weigh. read more

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July 15, 2011

Your Email, Your Privacy and Your Blog

Image of Email PrivacyMost of us take email for granted. We just type in an address, pound out a message and hit send. We trust our email will get there in a prompt fashion and that, if needed, we’ll hear back from the recipient shortly.

The problem is that email doesn’t go directly from point A to point B. Your email, as with nearly all communication on the Internet, is first passed through a series of intermediaries that receive it and send it on its way again.

Since this happens within the blink of an eye it’s easy for us to miss it or not think about it. However, this system has drastic impacts for the relative privacy of email both in terms of how secure our information is and what others can do with it.

The truth is simple. Email, at least by itself, is not a private method of communication and should never be treated as such. Your email is not safe from snooping by the government, by your employers, by your ISP nor even disclosure by your recipient.

The impact this has on you depends on how you want to use email, but the basics of the situation are pretty much the same for everyone, never put anything in an email you don’t want disclosed publicly later. read more

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July 11, 2011

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

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June 24, 2011

The 5 Groups Most Likely To Legally Threaten Your Blog

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No Parking Image

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

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June 20, 2011

5 False Legal Threats Bloggers Routinely Face

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

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June 10, 2011

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

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May 27, 2011

Copyright, Trademark and Blog Design

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

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May 20, 2011

Watch Out for the Law Trolls

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

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