Bloggers Beware: Legal Tips When Joining the Blogosphere

Blogging seems as innocent as jotting down your daily musings in a diary. But with blogging, 1) you’re revealing those musings to the world, and 2) you’re inviting the world to muse along with you. Those important differences bring bloggers within the realm of…gulp…THE LAW. Whether you’re thinking of setting up shop in the blogosphere or you’re already the bloggingest of bloggers, you should heed the tips below:

Reviewing freebies: Cool — a book publisher says it will send you free books if you’ll be so kind as to review the books on your blog. Not cool, says the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC just implemented a policy that reviewing products you’ve received from the source as a freebie or for some other form of compensation without disclosure to the public is a no-no. The reason, of course: The FTC wants to make sure the consumer has access to valid and objective info, even on the ’net, and that your review isn’t influenced by the generosity of the source. (Who doesn’t love free stuff, after all?)

Third-party content: What fun is a blog with just your own words? Most bloggers spice up their posts with photos, links, songs, videos, and quotes from others. This is okay only if you have the right to use the content. The content is likely someone else’s copyrighted work, and your use of it may require a license. Your use also may be fair use, but that depends on a number of factors. (See my earlier post on fair use.)

Privacy and publicity: You should exercise special caution when posting photos of other people, because you don’t want to invade their privacy or violate their right of publicity. An example of an invasion of privacy: You take a photo of someone at a private party who’s carrying on in ways she might not if the world were watching, then post the photo on your blog for all the world to see. If the person had a legal expectation of privacy, you could be in hot water. Right of publicity, on the other hand, is the right every person has to use her name, image, or photo for commercial purposes. An example of a publicity don’t: You’re using your blog to advertise a new weight-loss product, and you use a person’s photo without her permission to show her weight loss from the product.

Policing comments: Comments from readers are part of the conversation and thus part of the fun. But they can also be 1) defamatory (publicizing a falsehood about someone else), 2) obscene, 3) an invasion of someone else’s privacy, or 4) infringing of someone else’s copyright. While certain laws may protect you as the blog host, you could be held responsible. How can you control comments without foreclosing them? You may not be able to do so 100%, but you should at least include terms of use stating what content is not tolerable and disclaiming responsibility for third-party content. And be sure to monitor your comments for offending material. You’re the blogmaster, so police with prudence.

Trademark: Blog titles can be trademarked, so be careful when choosing yours that you’re not using the same title as another blogger.