Marketing Sherpa recently featured an interesting article which touched on two topics that we like to inform our readers about here at The PR Lawyer- social media and blogging and the legal industry. "How to Keep Your Blog Out of a Courtroom - Advice from Legal Pro on Providing, Creating Content" provides some tips on how to avoid legal troubles with your online blog.
The article consults with Nina Yablok, a Business and Corporate Attorney at Law who has been a business lawyer for 30 years. Since 1993, she has been working with clients who engage audiences with message boards and chat rooms. With years of experience in the legal industry and social networking, Yablock comments on the changes in technology but the consistency in liability concepts.
Yablock explains, the more the author of a blog edits user comments, the more responsible they become for the overall content on their blog. For example, content "creators" are always responsible for what they create, but content "providers" are not. According to the Marketing Sherpa article, "YouTube, for instance, is not legally responsible for every video on its site."
Don't be so quick to edit offensive or illegal comments on your site. "The more you monitor and regulate user content on your site, the more you're liable for what is said," Yablok says. "As soon as you begin deciding which comments stay and which comments go, you become more responsible for every comment on the site."
Set a standard for monitoring comments and stick to it. If a comment breaks those standards, delete it. If it doesn't break those standards, leave it. Bad language or highly offensive remarks should be taken away; it is most important to worry about offending your blog readers. By following a casual editing environment, "you're just a provider. You're going to be excluded from liability under an assortment of laws that protect the people who provide rather than create content," Yablok says.
Other tips from Nina Yablok to consider:
- Quoting should be limited to a few sentences from an article or person and include proper links back to the original content or Web page. Large paragraphs or pages of quoted text can be seen as plagiarism.
- When discussing famous people, a rule of thumb is to not use their fame to promote your product or company without their consent. Be wary of posting celebrity images on company blog as well. It can be seen as a type of endorsement.
- Be careful with trademarks on your blog. Using images or implying connections between your blog and a trademark can lead to a lawsuit. However, discussing a trademarked product or service is something you're able to do. Posting a caveat at the beginning of the post to avoid any type of confusion when talking about trademarks.
- Images that you have created, own, have a license for, or are part of a free stock photography archive are all fine to post on your blog. When researching images, first decide, "Who is the owner?" "Not all images available on Google are free clip art, Yablock warns." Be sure to check the original posted links to research ownership, and get permission before posting. It is also a good idea to learn more details of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (pdf document)
- Be wary of passing along negative information or continuing rumors. Protect yourself by citing your sources. Capturing and saving screenshots of your content with the date as evidence is a wise thing to do in order to prove that the rumor was not started by you.