LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -
Bloggers beware: what you post may not be legal
by Jennifer M. Schank, Attorney, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC
When blogging was introduced to the masses around 1999, few people realized its potential to turn stay-at-home moms into bread winners or secretaries into best-selling authors. Fast forward ten years, and the likes of Heather Armstrong of Dooce are wielding big-time power with moms, a coveted audience for advertisers. And former secretary Julie Powell is now a noted author and big-time money-maker, thanks to "The Julie/Julia Project" blog.
Most bloggers, though, do so just for fun, to advance a cause or merely to satisfy the frustrated writer within them. Whatever the case, a lot of people are blogging. NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, estimates more than 181 million blogs exist around the world.
A lot of what is posted in those blogs, however, violates copyright, trademark, privacy and defamation laws. No one's immune. Even Chris Moody, a blogger who co-founded an MBA course on social media, found himself named in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit stemming from a blog post where all he did was share a news article with a simple commentary.
While there's no 100-percent-effective way to prevent someone from pursuing legal action against you for something you post in a blog, you certainly can take steps up front to ensure you don't violate any laws. These tips can help.
-Speak the truth. Do not say anything on your blog that isn't true or you can't prove to be factual.
-Protect privacy. If you have inside information on a business or confidential knowledge on an individual, it's best not to publish it to the world before that entity has an opportunity to do so. Also, don't post videos or photos of people without their permission.
-Don't publish someone else's material as your own. That goes for photos, videos, music, written works or any other materials that someone else created. If you do publish someone else's material without express written permission, you must credit its creator and add some sort of commentary that adds to the original content. Your failure to do so could result in criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.
-Don't defame others. While people are and should be allowed to share their opinions freely, they need to be sure not to share them as facts. There's a big difference between saying "ABC Company steals from customers" and "I find ABC Company's return policies impractical."
-Add a disclaimer. Disclaimers should note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and include notes about validity and accuracy. Additionally, federal law protects bloggers from comments posted on their site by third parties, and a disclaimer is a good place to remind users of that fact.
When it comes to blogging, your best protection may come in following the same rules taught to most kindergarten children: use good manners, be nice and be considerate. It's OK to stir controversy and provoke debate, just try as you do so to treat others the way you would want to be treated.
For more legal information on blogging, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation's online section on Bloggers' Rights.
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