Blogger Roni Loren shared a story on her blog of being sued for misusing photographs that she pulled from another site. She thought that by giving credit to the original source she was covering herself from liability. She was wrong.
In today’s digital world bloggers are everywhere. They write about anything from sugar-free cooking to fashion to automotive technologies. Behind many of these blogs are writers who have made this their livelihood. What used to be “online diaries” and “scrapbooks” for these bloggers, have become sources of income — but along with the proliferation of bloggers comes legal responsibilities for intellectual property.
How bloggers get sued and how to avoid it:
- Cite your sources. This should be an obvious one. We’ve learned our entire lives to cite sources in school, and writing on paper versus typing a blog is no different. When you are stating facts and/or quotes that are not general knowledge and were created by someone else, you should give them credit. Be aware though, linking to a source is not the same as citing it — links can be broken, so citations should come in the form of in-copy attributions even if a link is also used, like so: “One thing to bear in mind when quoting text from someone else’s website, however, is that many companies carry content usage guidelines that will let you know if they do or do not want you using their content,” Corey Eridon, Hubspot.
- Give photo credit to images that you don’t own. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous post. If you want to use images in your blog posts, there is a safe, easy way to go about it. There’s a great website called Creative Commons that I use to find blog pictures in a safe, responsible manner. Just go to its search page, check the boxes for images that you can “use for commercial purposes” and “modify, adapt, or build upon,” and then search one of the five image-related options. Personally, I am a big fan of Flickr—its users tend to be very clear about how, and when, you can use individual pictures. Each image comes with an accompanying description of its copyright status, so you can be sure of whether or not (or how) you may use it legally. Just because a photo shows up in Creative Commons does not mean you may use it without attributing it to the original owner.
- Disclose your paid endorsements. Many people in the blogging world are unaware that they should tell their audience when something they write is actually a paid advertisement. This is especially true wow that the Federal Trade Commission recognizes blogging as more than a hobby. For more information check out the FTC FAQ Page. You can still provide useful information while getting paid, so there is no reason to not level with your audience about it. Hiding the truth usually hurts you in the long run, so be transparent about advertising.
- Defamation and freedom of speech – there’s a difference. The proliferation of gossip blogs is at an all-time high. Kids in high school, college students, adult socialites and celebrity gossipers are a dime a dozen. Regardless, you need to be cautious of the things you say about others (regardless of their public figure status) to avoid getting hit with a lawsuit. Anything you write that harms a person’s reputation and is untrue can expose you to scary amounts of liability. Even if you write something true, which by definition would not be libelous, if it harms a person who gets mad enough to sue you over it, you could spend a fortune defending yourself. Lawyers are expensive! You can disagree with people in a professional manner, and you can share your opinions about other people’s actions, but try to avoid mean-spirited personal attacks and gossip.
Whether you getting paid for your blogging expertise or just posting your thoughts for fun online, you need to make sure that you are following the rules of the web. Protect yourself by (1) citing your sources, including giving proper credit for images you don’t own, (2) disclosing when you are being paid to write something, and (3) staying away from badmouthing others.
Photo Credit: Mike Licht