Being Safe When Allowing Guest Posts
For the busy blogger, accepting the occasional guest post can be a real win-win. They get a break from their normal writing routine and the guest blogger gets exposure to a new audience and some great promotion.
But while guest blogging can be mutually beneficial, it also comes with a new set of risks. Unlike comments, which are posted without any editorial control or initial oversight, bloggers who accept guest posts also accept both legal and professional risks.
So, before pushing a guest post live on your site, it is worthwhile to take a few moments to check and see if there are any potential problems with the work. After all, it only takes a few seconds to check a work for flaws but the headaches caused by unwittingly publishing something dubious can last the life of your site.
All one has to do is know what to look for.
When you accept comments or forum posts on your site, there are laws that protect you. Since you are posting data solely at the direction of the user, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects you against any copyright infringement claims and the Communications Decency Act protects you against any defamation suits.
The problem is that, once you have editorial control over the content posted, those protections are severely eroded. Depending on the nature of the infraction, it is very likely that you could be held partially liable for any damages that the guest post does. This is especially true if there is any reason to believe that due diligence could have prevented the mistake from being made.
However, even if there are no legal issues with a faulty guest post, there are plenty of professional concerns. A bad post, even a guest one, can leave a black mark on a site’s reputation. If your site has made its name on providing high-quality, factual information, it is not worth risking that to post one dubious guest post.
Furthermore, should a questionable post go up, more people are going to see the problem with the post than the name attached to it. To many, the post will be affixed with your site and your name, even if you didn’t actually write the work.
With your reputation and, potentially, your livelihood on the line, it makes sense to take a few moments and guard yourself against any potential problems. Fortunately, doing so is as simple as taking five simple steps that are not just good business, but good ethics.
If you’re looking at accepting a guest, it is important to take the following steps before you hit the “Publish” button.
- Work With Those You Know: The first piece of advice is the same as the one you received as a child, don’t accept candy from strangers. If your site becomes popular enough, you’ll likely have a lot of people offering you guest posts. However, it is best to work with people you know and trust. At the very least, make sure that the person is reputable and known for more than submitting thousands of guest posts.
- Read the Work Carefully: It is amazing how many sites accept guest posts without ever reading them thoroughly. In doing so, check the work for grammar and spelling mistakes and try to get a feel for what is being said. This is important as the next steps require an understanding of the work.
- Fact Check the Work: Opinions are one thing, but anything stated as a fact should be checked. Ideally, the guest blogger should have provided linked reference for all non-obvious facts. Be especially careful of anything stated as a fact that might harm the reputation of a third party as those could open up a defamation suit if they can be proved false. It is best to check and recheck anything you are unsure of.
- Check for Copies: Once you’ve done a “sanity check” on the work, it is worth taking a few moments to check the work for any copying on the Web. The process is as simple as typing in a few unique quotes from the article into Google but can be achieved quickly and freely by using BitScan’s plagiarism checking tool. The goal is not just to check for plagiarism or copyright infringement, but to ensure that the work is not just a recycled copy of an early post by the submitter. You want to make sure that the guest post is not only free of potential copyright issues, but also unique and original.
- Clearly Attribute the Work: Once you’ve confirmed the the work is at least relatively accurate and copy-free, it is important to clearly mark the work as a guest post. This can be done by putting the words “Guest Post” into the title of the piece, writing a brief introduction for the work and including a full author profile at the end. This greatly behooves the author of the work and, should a problem arise with the post later, offers you some distance from it. As with most things, it is in everyone’s best interest if we are clear as to who wrote what on the site.
The problem, however, is that far too few sites do this when accepting guest posts. They take the work, publish it and then check out for the day. Many fail to realize that accepting a guest post does not relieve you of your duties as a Webmaster, but rather, that your role changes from that of writer to editor.
It is important that, when accepting guest posts, you take them as serious, if not more so, than your own works. You are letting someone else, probably someone you’ve never met, use your site, your name and your reputation to spread their message.
That is not something you should take lightly.
Fortunately, problems with guest posting are relatively few and far between. The vast majority of guest posting arrangements are executed without any problems and the biggest issues lie with authors recycling their own posts on as many sites as will take them.
Odds are, if you follow the first step above and work only with those you know and trust, the chances of a problem arising are slim to none. Still, it pays off to go ahead and use due diligence when accepting the post, not only to head off any legal issues, but to maintain a high quality of posting.
Considering the consequences for not doing so and the minimal amount of effort it takes to be sure, there is little reason not to be safe.
After all, as the saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry and if a guest blog post goes awry, you could find yourself with many reasons to be sorry.
Jonathan Bailey writes at Plagiarism Today, a site about plagiarism, content theft and copyright issues on the Web. Jonathan is not a lawyer and none of the information he provides should be taken as legal advice.
yeah it’s most likely relatively safe if you set it up with someone you trust
Never used guest posts, i’ll try to do it. Thanks.
Thanks for the tip. I’ve added a feature to my site where anyone can submit guest post where I can review and post them if I feel like it, but I would have forgotten to check for plagiarism.
Sir Jorge: Most likely. But I do hear a good number of cases of someone being backstabbed by a former friend. Cautionary tales to be certain.
Sandy: Something to consider at least, a lot of sites use them regularly.
Dan: It’s probably just a good idea before you hit “submit”. It only takes a few seconds fortunately.
This is a really important point, Jonathan. I’ve recently had several people contact me about whether or not I think they should guest blog or give their articles to syndicated sites in order to “help” promote their site. My first response is “who will own and protect the copyright” and they usually don’t have an answer.
When you “give” your work away without checking these things from the basis of a writer, the site owner can do what they like with the content, to a point. I hope what you’ve written will help those who have guest bloggers, but I’d also like to know about this issue from the position of the contributing writer. What are our rights?
Also, to connect more dots on the issue of guest blogging, I wrote an article series called Learning the Art of Guest Blogging here on the Blog Herald. :D
Lorelle: Good question and something I’ll have to write about later for the BH, but I’ll summarize the “Who has the copyright” issue by saying that the author does.
There are only two ways you can assign copyright to another.
The first is through a work for hire. That only happens when you are a direct employee (in the Federal sense) of the person who is obtaining the copyright or if are a contractor, the work involved is a certain kind of work and a contract is signed before the work’s creation.
The other way is through a direct, written and signed contact offering the copyright ownership over to the other party.
Neither fits a typical guest blogging situation.
As such, a guest blogger does give some rights up to the work as part of an implied license, but the actual copyright stays with the author. In fact, if the use of the work changes beyond the bounds of the implied license, the original author could request removal of the work.
The best approach is to get a contract in writing, but few actually do that because of the nature of the Web. This is one of my bad habits too.
Excellent point indeed and thanks for the link to your series. I completely forgot about that! The months have flown by!
Thanks for the info. Another question that comes up is the issue of the guest blog host blogger working to protect the content of the guest blogger if the content has its copyright violated. As guest blogger, I’d want to know that the blog I’m contributing to will let me know or work to protect what I write and not think “Well, that’s not my work, even though it’s published on my blog, so I’m not going to do anything about it.”
Not that I think a blogger would, but the thought has crossed my mind.
Lorelle: There’s no easy answer to that question. If the guest blog clearly is an infringement, I think the host would be a fool to try and protect original author. If there were a fair use issue or the notice of infringement were completely misguided, I would think the host would be a fool to act on it without involving .
Personally, I would encourage host bloggers to use their best judgment when reviewing such complaints. Though it is always best to act on a cease and desist when you receive it and wait for legal council to tell you otherwise, your reaction should be based upon the nature of the request.
If it is a valid complaint or an obvious case of plagiarism, take it down post haste. If there are other issues raised, work with the original author to resolve them until you can get legal advice to do otherwise.
Just my take on the situation. Fortunately, these types of situations are relatively rare!