While the Internet still retains some of the “wild wild west” feel, increasingly, Internet activity, and particularly blogging, is being shaped and governed by state and federal laws.
For US bloggers in particular, blogging has become a landmine of potential legal issues but many of the US laws apply to bloggers globally. For example if your blog readers are in the US then you need to abide by the latest Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules no matter where you live.
In this article we highlight five of the most important US laws when it comes to blogging and give some simple and straightforward tips for safely navigating them.
5 Blogging Legal Issues
1. Paid Posts
Over the last five years bloggers have begun to displace traditional media outlets as individuals’ source for reliable information and recommendations. This development has created big opportunities for advertisers to get bloggers to endorse a product or service, primarily through posts or affiliate links.
The Federal Trade Commission published a recommendation that companies who promote their product through word-of-mouth marketing must disclose these relationships. The recommendation applies explicitly to blogging, meaning that bloggers must disclose the fact that they are being paid to promote or review a product when that is the case.
If you are paid to promote a product or if you write about a product, make that clear to your readers. Add a sentence at the beginning or end of the post saying something like: “This post was sponsored by XYZ”, “I was sent this product by XYZ” or “I was a guest of XYZ”.
2. Deep Linking
One of the biggest advantages that blogging has over traditional media is the convention to include links in an article which connect the reader directly with the source. The links could direct the reader to a file, a different page on the same site or to a new site altogether.
Deep linking involves a blogger who places a link on his site that leads not to the front door of a site, but instead to a particular page within that site.
Currently, there is no law that explicitly bans all deep linking to content you do not own. However, courts have declared that individual deep links are in violation of state law if they are not cited correctly. Thus, it is clear that passing off someone else’s work as your own by linking to a site in a manner in which it appears that the linked to content is a part of your site, is considered copyright infringement and it violates state laws that govern competitive business practices. But, it also appears that if you make it clear that the deep link you are providing isn’t to your own site then you are in the clear.
Review the links you have used in the past and make sure that they are cited correctly. When in doubt, make it completely clear that the deep link you have provided isn’t to your own site.
3. Images and Thumbnails
Images are an important way to make your posts visually more appealing and to keep the readers interested and engaged. Often, rather than creating the images they use themselves, bloggers simply use other images that they find or buy online. Because of the obvious copyright issues with just copy and pasting someone else’s picture from their site to yours without permission, bloggers have come up with an alternative technique for using the images of others with thumbnails.
With image links, courts are concerned both with copyright infringement and trademark infringement, which in simple terms means they want to stop bloggers from passing off someone else’s name or trademark as their own.
The law on thumbnails is a bit clearer. As long as you are actually creating thumbnails, which have standardized dimensions, and aren’t just reducing the size of an image slightly, a USA Circuit court has held that thumbnails are protected under the fair use exception of Copyright Law.
Review any images you have used and make sure that you have actually created thumbnails, as opposed to slightly reducing the image.
4. Domain Name Trademark Issues
If you’re just starting out as a blogger, chances are you don’t have a trademark yet. However, large corporations do. If you’ve registered a domain name that a trademarked entity can lay claim to, you may have to give it up.
Never register a domain in the name of an existing trademark. The days of profitable cyber squatting are long gone, and attempting to do so today will only cost you time and money.
One of the best ways to do a free check is to simply do a search engine search for the name of the domain you want to use as well as some common variations.
5. Blog Comments and Liability
For those of you who have opened your sites up to user-driven content, be it comments, reviews, or a bulletin board, you may have had to deal with finding slanderous, libelous, copyright infringing, or just plain hateful speech content on your site. Even though you as the webmaster didn’t have anything to do with the content, people inevitably look to you to fix the problem or even to blame when someone gets hurt.
The law was designed to encourage free speech by allowing ISP’s, bloggers, and message board webmasters to focus on building participation and not on the potential liability of getting sued for some user’s crimes. But while it protects bloggers from things like having to watch for defamation, slander or hurtful talk, the law does not give protection for federal crimes or intellectual property violations, meaning that you can potentially be found liable if this type of behavior takes place on your site.
Monitor your blog comments and any other content created by your readers then delete content you're not comfortable with.
As a final note, and to make sure we all avoid legal problems, do not rely on this information as legal advice, nor as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding.
You should instead regard this article as intended for entertainment purposes only. It probably won’t make you laugh but hopefully it will help you enjoy that crazy wild west feel of blogging and stay on the right side of the law.
Guest post by Yo Noguchi
Yo Noguchi is an experienced freelancer, guest blogger, and frequent contributor to a blog hosted by Benchmark Email, one of the world’s global provider of email templates.