5 Tips to Avoid Lawsuits When Blogging

This is a guest post by Charles Borromeo of Justice Explained.

Bloggers most of the time are more concerned with the amount of visitors than to reflect on the legal implications of blogging. Indeed there are more and more lawsuits that are directed towards bloggers and it is important that we take some precautions in order to avoid falling into some traps. In this article I will be providing 5 simple tips on how we can avoid lawsuits.

Link to Your Sources

Plagiarism is very common among bloggers who are on the look for some quick content. However you must not forget that the content does have an owner and if you are caught you may end up in trouble. This is why it is important that you provide a link back to the site where you have found the original article. Do not copy the whole text verbatim. You can cite a part of the text but it is important that you rewrite it in your own words.

In most cases the original website will have a policy for republishing content and this should provide you information on what will be required from you.

Give Proof of What You Are Saying

It is important that you have proof of everything that you say on your blog. Otherwise you may end up being sued for defamation. Most of the time bloggers do not think about this and may end up posting an opinion as being a fact. This is the best way for you to become exposed to a lawsuit. Always make sure that you check your sources well before posting something on your blog. You should be ready to prove your statement before a jury.

Stay Away from Trade Secrets

You should be very careful when posting information that can be considered as trade secrets. Bloggers are most of the time on the prowl for newsworthy information that will allow them to increase traffic. Their ambition may thus lead them to post information that may be viewed as trade secrets by businesses and hence attract lawsuits. Remember that businesses have the financial resources and also lawyers that will be ready to look for compensations.

Do Not Publish Private Facts

Some bloggers erroneously believe that they can post anything they want on their blog because they have the rights for free speech. But did you know that there are some statements that you are not allowed to publish even if it is true? Indeed under the privacy law you are not allowed to publish any private facts that do not fall into the public domain.

For instance you will not be able to speak about the sexual orientation of a person (even if it is true) on your blog if it has not been revealed publicly. Failing to do so may lead you to become vulnerable to lawsuits. So the next time that you will be making revelations on your blog make sure that you are not publishing any private facts.

Create a Disclosure Policy

Since 2009, bloggers are required by the FTC to disclose their affiliations with the products and services that they are reviewing in their blog. For this reason it is important that you have a clear disclosure policy on your blog to make sure that you are not breaching any law. So if you are being paid or given free gifts in order to do a review you should make sure that you mention it in your post itself or in a separate disclosure policy.

There are various tools on the internet that will allow you to create a disclosure policy quickly and effectively and this can prevent you from getting into a legal problem.

Why not blog anonymously then?

One blogger asked me whether the problems listed above could be avoided by blogging anonymously. Although you may have some form of protection when blogging under cover it is by no mean a sure way to protect yourself. The court may ask your hosting provider (subpoena) to reveal your identity even if you are blogging anonymously.

As blogging become more and more influential we should expect an increasing number of lawsuits that will be mainly aimed to silence critics. These types of cases are commonly known as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Fortunately there are some anti-SLAPP laws that also exist and that may provide some sort of protection for bloggers. The best way to protect yourself however will be for you to follow the tips given above to ensure that you do not breach any law.

Your Legal Woes

Have you had any run ins with legal problems because of your blog, or had to take action against someone else because of theirs? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Charles,

    Good article, I’m sure it will save some people a headache who don’t know the info you shared. I would have to disagree slightly with #4, I’m sure this is the case MOST times, but look at how many people Perez Hilton has outed on his blog…. Also, I want to add to the list to be careful of even using another companies name/pictures/logo/likeness etc. I recently registered a domain name with “zynga” in it, and within 24 hours I had received an email from Zynga’s legal department asking what my intentions were for the site. Which would probably lead to your #5, making a TOS type page to clearly lay out what your site is about.

    I guess an average user might not think they’re breaking any laws or doing anything that can get them into major trouble, but obviously they can be, and can pay dearly for it!

    Steven (greenlants)
    greenlants just posted How to Move Your Website Up in Google Ranking- and How to Get Quality Backlinks!

  2. says

    Awesome tips, Charles.

    If you don’t remind me, I almost forget about being sued online. It’s a fact that people often forget government also regulate Internet access and violate some thing online also means jail or fine in real life, too. It’s not true that any thing online is unreal means there’s any laws applied.

    And thank you for introducing the tool to create disclosure policy. There’s also something like disclaimer. Do you know how to create it?
    Alan just posted 3D TV Without Glasses

  3. says

    I made a habit to keep all the links / sources of inspiration for an article. So that if needed I’ll have them in handy.

  4. says

    A terms of service page would also be useful in order to protect one from any legal battles that may be heading our way because of possible server hacks and placement of virusses and troyans on the server.

  5. says

    Charles, I’ve seen bloggers take a complete article from, say, Yahoo news, and then respond to each paragraph or point in the article. I say this is definite copyright infringement. They might say that since they are providing analysis or commentary, so it’s fair use.

    What say you?
    John Soares just posted How This Freelance Writer Does His Taxes

  6. says

    The worry I have with a couple of my niche sites is providing information or advice especially about health. Of course I do my very best to get good, trustworthy, up-to-date information on the sites, but it still worries me a little.

    I have a disclaimer page telling the world that I am not a health care professional at ALL but am just providing information I find in research news…and that…talk to your doctor about your treatment,.. etc. Of course there are scores of sites that claim to cure various conditions instantly if you buy their e-book, so maybe I shouldn’t worry so much!
    Christie just posted Guys- now you can prime the dating pump with Cloud Girlfriend!

  7. says

    Hmm…I have all the disclosures I could want, but nothing, and I mean nothing will stop me from writing whatever I want on MY site. It’s in my name, and everything there is ME, as an individual. No one will ever tell me what I can write about, what I can say, or how I can say it, period. I’ll go to jail before I allow anyone to do so.

    I don’t care what laws are passed. The site is mine, and I feel I should be able to say whatever it is I want to say. Laws be damned. I will state though that I don’t do any of the above anyway and keep a pretty clear mind on what I should and should not say on my blog anyway, simply out of respect for the individuals, not the respect of law.

    Besides, they’re more like guidelines, aren’t they? ;)
    Wayne John just posted Brave kitty loving on dolphins

  8. says

    I just want to add about images – they are probably the most disputable issue online. I think that the owners of images who don’t want their images to be copied, should place some labels on the image itself so i can see immediately that this image is protected and can’t be downloaded without the author’s permission.
    But personally, I think that if you place something online, you should make it free and for everybody.

  9. says

    Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s free for anyone to take. I guess I better start water marking my photos. Photos aren’t free and neither is someone’s writing. I have seen bloggers completely copy and paste an article. Unless you have permission from the writer, I just don’t think you should do that. You can’t take the entire content from a novel, slap your own cover on it and “credit” the work to the original author. Same should be for blogs and all of their content. If you want free images, go to a site like pixosphere.com – you can use any images for free and you actually have permission to use them.
    Mel just posted What I’ve Learned Writing A Book

  10. says

    Nice article, Charles. Thanks for posting this. Copyright infringement as far as images are concerned is also something I thought about as I was reading this article. The issue crossed my mind the other day as I was looking for an image to upload for my blog background. In the end, I decided to use a photograph that a co-worker of mine was nice enough to let me use. This actually ended up being better anyway, as it was something more personal. In any case, it’s definitely better to err on the side of caution as legal issues are concerned. It can be tricky, though, as things of such nature are rarely black and white.

  11. says

    I see this ‘avoid lawsuits’ focus at every turn. I’ve some bloggers from my country who have been cases like libel cases. I believe it happens due to lack of blogging law information, and blogging rights and protection. What you have presented here have just cleared up my mind with many significant issues in blogging today. Thanks so much!
    kira permunian just posted BIGGER and BOLDER Changes in the Blogosphere

  12. says

    Another point is to do with document sharing eg on Google Docs.

    Even if you delete the file from Google Docs, it still remains in its archives… so be very careful when sharing stuff over the web.

    You may think it’s deleted, but it’s still out there.

    Same applies when you make different versions on docs online. The versions are all archived, ie searchable if you have the original url.

    Ivan

  13. says

    This post is sure to be an eye-opener for a lot of bloggers. Thanks for writing it. Just a questions – do you know of a good source for a disclosure policy template?
    Thanks for the great post as always! I’m looking forward to more.

    • says

      It’s a little scary that people can sue you for a bad review but I haven’t heard of any cases where someone has had to pay damages for writing a bad review. I recall reading that products with bad reviews tend to have more sales than products with no reviews. Also, explaining the negatives of a product can make your review more credible, so I don’t think bloggers should shy away from saying negative things.

  14. says

    These are good points, and it’s really too bad that so many people seem to think that laws don’t apply the same way to things you post online as they do to things in the real world. Copyright and all those other fun laws apply just as much online as elsewhere. It just took a little time for people to realize that this was an issue, and some still want the internet to be a place where the rules don’t apply, buyer beware and all that.
    Stephanie – Home with the Kids just posted Are Your Emotions Keeping You From Making the Right Decisions About Your Online Business

  15. says

    Very informative. Thanks for sharing the tips on how you can avoid lawsuits when blogging. Hope to read more about it soon.

  16. says

    What’s the legal definition of “revealed publicly”? Does it have to come from the person in question at some kind of press conference? What if someone hears mention of a certain fact in a public park? Does there have to be some kind of “on the record” interview? Can a friend of the person in question reveal a fact like sexual orientation?

    Boy am I glad I don’t write a gossip blog…

  17. says

    Excellent advice Charles. I’m betting that most bloggers don’t know most of these guidelines. One of the issues I knew nothing about was crediting the owner of a picture I obtained from the internet for one of my posts. I frequently go to Google Images and type in the keyword for what I’m looking for, and a bazillion pictures pop up. I was told by one pro blogger that you aren’t required to credit them because they’re in the public domain. Yet, another pro blogger told me otherwise and that I can only use pictures from Google that allow their use under a Creative Common license. It’s confusing. Perhaps you can shed some light on this one.

    Thanks…….Matty

  18. says

    These are some very important tips and to add to your topic here in england the law is changing for online advertisers i think this could prove to be good for genuine bloggers that are in it for the right reasons. Now the law says it it says free then it should be free. Great tips for us as bloggers.
    lawmacs just posted Bloggers Help Me By Digging This Post

  19. says

    Very nice guideline Charles!

    I agree with you that bloggers and their blogs might attract unwanted legal activities if they’re not be careful with what they write about. It’s also true with other small business owners when it comes to content and affiliate links for example. The key is to be cautious and show up the professionalism by adding some “legal” pages like Disclaimer or DMCA notice…

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Duy just posted By: black_raven