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Legal Issues Bloggers Must Understand

Know These Legal Issues or Risk Big Trouble

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Regardless of the type of blog you write or the size of your blog audience, there are legal issues all bloggers need to understand and follow. These legal issues are in addition to the blogging rules that bloggers should follow if they want to be accepted into the blogging community and have a chance for their blogs to grow.

If your blog is public and you don't want to get into legal trouble, then you need to keep reading and learn about the legal issues for bloggers listed below. Ignorance isn't a viable defense in a court of law. The onus is on the blogger to learn and follow laws related to online publishing. Therefore, follow the suggestions listed below, and always check with an attorney if you're not sure if it's legal to publish specific content or not. When in doubt, don't publish it.

Copyright Legal Issues

Copyright laws protect the original creator of a work, such as written text, an image, a video, or an audio clip, from having that work stolen or misused. For example, you can't republish another person's blog post or article on your blog and claim it as your own. That's plagiarism and a copyright violation. Furthermore, you can't use an image on your blog unless you created it, have permission to use it from the creator, or the image has been copyrighted by the owner with a license that allows you to use it.

There are a variety of copyright licenses with different restrictions of how, where, and when images and other copyrighted materials can be used on your blog. Follow the link to learn more about copyright licenses, including the exceptions to copyright law that come under the umbrella of "fair use" which is a gray area of copyright law.

The safest and most convenient options for bloggers when it comes to finding images, video, and audio content for their blogs is to use sources that provide royalty-free licensed works or works licensed with Creative Commons licenses. For example, there are many websites where you can find images that are safe for you to use on your blog.

Trademark Legal Issues

Trademarks are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and are used to protect intellectual property in commerce. For example, company names, product names, brand names, and logos are usually trademarked to ensure competitors in the same industry don't use the same names or logos, which could confuse and mislead consumers.

Business communications typically use the copyright registration symbol (©) or the Service Mark or Trademark symbol (a superscript 'SM' or 'TM') following the trademarked name or logo the first time of that name or logo is mentioned. When other companies refer to competitors or other brands in their business communications, they are expected to include the appropriate copyright symbol (depending on the status of the trademark owner's trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) as well as a disclaimer stating that the name or symbol is a registered trademark of that company.

Remember, trademarks are tools of commerce, so their use isn't required in most blogs. While corporations and media organizations might opt to use them, it's unlikely that the typical blog would need to do so. Even if your blog is related to a business topic, if you're simply referring to trademarked names to support your opinions in your blog posts, you don't have to include the copyright symbols within your blog post text.

However, if you use a trademarked brand name or logo in anyway to mislead visitors to your blog into thinking you're affiliated with the trademark owner or represent the owner in any way, you will get in trouble. Even if you use a trademark symbol, you'll get in trouble. That's because you can't mislead people into thinking you have a relationship with a trademark owner that could affect commerce in any way when in reality you don't have such a relationship.

Libel

You cannot publish untrue information about anyone or anything that could negatively affect that person or thing's reputation on your public blog. It doesn't matter if you get no traffic to your blog. If you publish something false about a person or entity that could damage their reputation, you've committed libel and could be in big trouble. If you can't prove the negative and potentially harmful information you publish on your public blog is true, don't publish it at all.

Privacy

Privacy is a hot topic online these days. In the most basic terms, you cannot capture private information about visitors to your blog and share or sell that information to a third party without permission from each person. If you do collect data about visitors in any way, you need to disclose it. Most bloggers provide a Privacy Policy on their blogs to explain how data is used. Follow the link to read a sample Privacy Policy.

Privacy laws extend to activities off of your blog, too. For example, if you collect email addresses from your blog visitors via a contact form or any other way, you can't simply start sending mass emails to them. While you might think it's a nice idea to send a separate weekly newsletter or special offers to those people, it's a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act to email those people without first giving them a way to opt-in to receive those emails from you.

Therefore, if you think you might want to send mass emails in the future, add an email opt-in check box to your contact form and other places where you collect email addresses. With that email opt-in check box, you need to also explain what you plan to do with email addresses. Finally, when you do send mass email messages, you need to include a way for people to opt-out of receiving future email messages from you.

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