Blogging may seem as easy as sitting down, typing some thoughts out, and hitting publish – but as you get deeper into the practice, you can run into some legal issues you might not expect. Knowing what they are can help you avoid any missteps. Some issues are common sense to people with publishing experience, but others may be a surprise.
It should be common sense to only publish your own work, but copyright issues are more convoluted than you might expect. For example, it’s important to know how much you can quote of a source before it becomes plagiarism. Always include sources and links to sources that you quote or paraphrase, so that you’re giving the original author proper credit. You should also always endeavor to create your own content rather than mirroring existing content or publishing the content of others.
Most media online is protected by a copyright, just like written works. Music, videos, and images can’t be used as you please – they usually require some kind of attribution or permission from the source. Learn about different kinds of use licenses and how to properly cite media that you didn’t create on your blog. Never just save and publish a photo from another site.
You can buy photos with the proper rights from stock photo websites, hire a photographer, or take your own pictures if you’re concerned about finding the right photo. Many people also publish work under creative commons licensing, which may allow you to share with attribution. There are many different types of licensing, though, so make sure you understand what’s required of you. For example, some types of licensing require that you’re not making a profit off the page where the media is used.
Unfortunately, Shield Laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources when asked don’t always apply to bloggers. The application varies by state. If you’re being compelled to reveal a source and aren’t sure what to do, consulting an attorney would be a good first step. Sometimes protecting a source can lead to criminal charges against you. Vikas Bajaj of San Diego Criminal Law Center recommends interviewing several different people when trying to choose a criminal defense attorney. Find out what similar cases the person has handled and what the outcomes of those cases were – that way you can get an idea of what each attorney can do for you.
There are times when things in your personal life are going haywire and you’re tempted to share that with your readers or take it even farther and humiliate a person online. It’s especially dangerous to publish things about people that aren’t verifiable or that stretch the truth. You can be sued and subject to monetary damages if the person you malign decides to take you to court. In order to establish defamation, a claim against you must prove that the information published was knowingly false. However, just saying something is your own opinion doesn’t always mean you’re not libelous. Sometimes people mask a statement of fact by claiming it’s an opinion – and this can open you up to defamation suits, too.
If you’re surprised to learn that product endorsements must be disclosed as such, you’re not alone. Whenever you’re receiving any kind of payment or item to promote, use, or review a product online, you need to mention it in the post. The reason for this is that promotional mentions are a form of advertising – and your readers need to know that you’re advertising to them. You should also be open about affiliate links if you use them on your blog.
If you’ve thought of a clever name for your blog and want to register a personal domain, stop and check whether someone owns the trademark to that name before you set it up. Registering a name that is already trademarked to someone else leaves you open to losing the domain when that entity decides it wants to register the domain. Coming up with an original name that isn’t yet reserved is worth the extra time.
Avoiding legal snares will help keep you out of court and publishing quality content on your blog. Making sure everything you publish is your own work, that you’re being honest, and that you aren’t using information in a careless way should help you stay on the straight and narrow. Understanding the potential legal problems that can befall you as a blogger is an important aspect of responsible, worry-free publishing.