Bloggers: Avoid Legal Trouble With These 5 Tips

Joe Pawlikowski
Joe Pawlikowski is a freelance copywriter with a background in SEO and affiliate marketing. Visit his site at JoePawl.com.
Joe Pawlikowski
Joe Pawlikowski
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Blogger legal issues

Blogging might seem like an innocent activity, but it is riddled with potential legal issues.

OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Most bloggers won’t break the law, and those who do probably won’t get caught. It’s a fool’s errand to police the entire internet.

That doesn’t mean that bloggers are immune from the law, though. If you break the law and do get caught, you could be in for more trouble than you can handle. It’s best to stay on the straight-and-narrow adn avoid the potential legal issues that can hamper bloggers.

Thankfully, there aren’t too many pitfalls. Just follow these tips and you should keep your nose squeaky clean.

1. Do not copy content without express written consent

You learned it very early in your education, and you heard it repeated throughout school: do not copy other people’s work without citing them. The even greater lesson: do not pass off someone else’s work as your own. It seems as though many bloggers pretend they never learned about plagiarism.

When people publish content on the web, they own it. Either that, or their publisher owns it. Either way, if you take it without permission, you are stealing. While that might merely result in a not-so-friendly note demanding that you remove the content, it could very well lead to a lawsuit. It could also greatly damage your reputation; wronged bloggers tend to tell everyone about the experience.

Sports fans know the line that broadcasters say at some point during the game: Any use of the accounts or descriptions of this game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited. Keep that key phrase in mind: express written consent. Get it in writing. It’s the only way to cover yourself.

2. Avoid unlicensed images

Just as you cannot take someone else’s words and publish them on your own website, nor can you publish images that someone else owns. This might seem a little odd. Bloggers use other people’s images all the time. Do they get express permission every time?

The answer is clearly no, but that doens’t make the practice right. It’s still stealing, no matter whether you get caught. Given the increasingly powerful tracking tools available, getting caught is more of a certainty these days. If you don’t have permission to use a photo, either in written form from the owner or through a license, you can get sued.

Blogger ROni Loren has a cautionary tale about using photos without permission. Even if you don’t make a dime by using the image, the owner can sue you for damages. You might have credited them thoroughly and linked to the original. It doesn’t matter. The owner can press the issue if he or she so pleases.

The solution? You can take advantage of Flickr Creative Commons, a popular option among bloggers. You can write to a photo owner for permission. You can join a stock photo service and gain access to royalty-free images. Or you can just take your own images. Whatever you do, don’t take images from just anywhere.

You just might get sued.

3. Check for potential trademark infringement

Your blog might might sound totally original, but it still might infringe on someone’s existing trademark. The key to trademark law is not that marks are identical, but rather that they could potentially confuse consumers. That’s why you can have Dove chocolate and Dove soap from different companies. You could not, however, start a line of candy bars called Dove, or even Turtle Dove. There’s just too much potential for confusion.

It can be very difficult to determine whether your blog name infringes on another publication’s trademarks. Danielle Walker found that out the hard way. Her blog, Against All Grain, seemed perfectly benign. The only issue is that an older company, called Against The Grain, had recently filed a trademark application. You can read about the issue at ProBlogger. The change didn’t kill Ms. Walker’s blog, but it did require her to make significant changes.

The author of that post, trademark attorney Xavier Morales, has a ton of information on his site, SecureYourTrademark.com. It’s worth a browse even if you don’t intent to register your blog name as a trademark.

4. Disclose gifts and affiliate relationships

If you get something for free and write about it, you must disclose that relationship. If you link to a product and make a commission from sales, you have to let your readers know. This actually sounds pretty common sense, right? Yet it wasn’t spelled out clearly until 2009, and wasn’t fully clarified until 2013.

If you review products that companies send you for free, or if you make commissions when people click links and buy products, please, read the “.com Disclosures” document (it’s a PDF). Or at least read a good summary of it.

The last thing you want is to fall afoul of the FTC’s guidelines. You could land in serious legal trouble. And trust me, the last entity you want to run afoul of is the federal government. They do not take matters like this lightly, even if you consider yourself small potatoes.

5. Stick to facts and opinion

The First Amendment might protect your freedom of speech, but you cannot use that freedom to the detriment of others. If you make knowingly false statements about someone, you open yourself up to legal issues. A harmed party could claim defamation of character.

This happened a few years ago when blogger Crystal Cox found herself on the wrong end of a defamation lawsuit. A jury found her guilty and ruled she must pay the plaintiff $2.5 million in damages. This is a rather extreme case, and not one seen often, but it certainly provides a cautionary tale for bloggers.

If you stick to blogging about verified facts and your clearly stated opinions, you will be taking steps to avoid lawsuits like this. In other words: don’t accuse people of things they might not have done. The law is on their side.

Comments

  1. Hi Joe,
    I never knew about the 3rd, 4th and 5th points, So first of all thanks for the explaining it.
    And the most shocking point here is the affiliate one, as you have to share that it will generate an income to your readers. Although, I will do this anyway as I want my readers to trust me completely.
    The 5th points sounds kinda dangerous, as you will have to pay money for stating something. This point needs to be erased in reality.
    Thanks for the post. Keep Rocking!
    Anurag recently posted..Top 10 SmartPhones in India Under 20000 ( July 2014)My Profile


  2. Twitter:
    Great advise to avoid legal problems online. Thanks
    Jupitor Chakma recently posted..10 Eye Health Tips to Protect Your Child’s VisionMy Profile


  3. Twitter:
    Hey joe,
    Very important post and this post really gonna help many newbies. First two point you mentioned is very important and we should follow it. Other point are also important. Thanks for sharing this post with us.
    Sudipto recently posted..Best Android Phone Under 12000 In IndiaMy Profile


  4. Twitter:
    Avoiding unlicensed images part is the most difficult and most widely abused blogging trait. But, my guess is, that blogging / reviewing a given product and using its image from its website should put you in legal trouble, right?
    Umair recently posted..How to Add Custom Ringtones in AndroidMy Profile


  5. Twitter:
    Hey Joe,

    Great post. These tips shall be helpful. I must take care of the given tips for next time.
    Thank you for spreading awareness about these legal trouble tips…. :)
    Nikhil Waghdhare recently posted..11 Amazing Steve Jobs Quotes To Transform Your Blogging CompletelyMy Profile

  6. Hi Joe,
    I especially have to agree with your tip not to use unlicensed images. Most stock photo services are not free and if you’re on a budget, you can use Flicker Creative Commons, which is free(as you pointed out on your post). I recently came across it and that’s what I use now.

  7. Deepak Soni says:

    hi JOE,
    What you think about article spinning softwares. Google may caught spinned articels. Waiting for your reply


  8. Twitter:
    Hi Joe.

    Good points here. Karma catches up to you sooner than later in some cases. Be honest, up front and transparent in all that you do, blogging-wise, to free yourself from any potential legal situations.

    As for images I use my own or simply use free ones from communal sharing sites. Keeps me on the up and up.

    As for content, I’ve had a few folks copy mine word for word. I let go on it. Force negates, and power attracts. I used to send a message but since I’d rather not fight anybody, I just let them go. On the other side of things all of my content is created from scratch.

    Much of this is really common sense stuff that greedy, fearful, desperate, or downright ignorant bloggers overlook and this causes them to get in hot water.

    Your conscience will always guide you in the right direction. Listen in to it, pay attention and if you hear that clear inner voice telling you what to do, just listen to it. Save yourself stress, money and a load of legal troubles. Be transparent, tell of any compensation for reviews or affiliate relationships and you’ll be golden.

    Thanks for the smart share Joe.

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted..10 Reasons Why Fijian Fruit Bats Would Be Absurdly Successful BloggersMy Profile


  9. Twitter:
    Images can be a major issue when it comes to blogging, a lot of my images are either from Flickr, with consent or allowed to be distributed, or my own photography and even photos/film stills sent direct to me via the film companies as part of the screeners etc that I may have recieved.

    But there are still times when you have to be so sure that the images you are using are OK, just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean that it is free to grab, give credit where credit is due!
    Karen Woodham recently posted..Gloworm Gives The Blazing Minds News Team a Taste TesterMy Profile


  10. Twitter:
    Hi Joe,

    What an important advice you have shared with us here. Being away from legal problem is always crucial especially if we are serious in blogging business.

    Thanks for the post. Wish you have a great weekend
    Okto recently posted..How to Write 500 Words Blog Post in 5 MinutesMy Profile


  11. Twitter:
    An apt summary of the legal implications of the many of the things bloggers take for granted. However, looking at it critically, isn’t it not best to avoid legal problems at all cost? They have a way of never ending and draining one’s creative force.

    Which serious blogger wants that?

    Always,
    Terungwa
    Akaahan Terungwa recently posted..HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE (INFOGRAPHIC)My Profile


  12. Twitter:
    I am a beauty and lifestyle blogger (no judgement please, lol) and it shocks me to see the amount of people that blatantly use images for other sites or brand/company sites. They may have permission in some cases but I think not all. :-)
    Kimmy recently posted..It’s a Party on my Nails: Formula X DemolitionMy Profile

  13. After Reading this article, i noticed i have been blogging in the wrong part, I love what i saw here. Big Thanks to the author.


  14. Twitter:
    Whenever I am registering a domain, I always check for other domains with the same name especially when I am not getting a .com. On images, one can always buy generic images for blogging online instead of getting into license issues.
    Arun Chandran recently posted..Tips to Make Money OnlineMy Profile


  15. Twitter:
    I never thought about the legal aspects of blogging. We should take care of these things too, this will be good to use licensed images. Thanks for this nice post.
    Lalita Bisht recently posted..Whatsapp Status FunnyMy Profile


  16. Twitter:
    Great advise now i have a doubt, is there any problem if I write posts to promote sponsors. Thanks for sharing. Please replay, thanks again.
    Sreeraj M Ajay recently posted..How To Build Edu and Gov BacklinksMy Profile


  17. Twitter:
    Joe, this information is badly needed for bloggers to read these days. I myself was just victim of a few image thieves.
    The thing is, if some of these folks had of just contacted me through my easy to find contact form on my website I would of been glad to give rights of use provided attribution, but people just take whatever they like without any concern of the owner.
    So I had to go tracking people down through sites that had no form of contact displayed on their sites and ask that they remove the image. Some have already complied while others I am still dealing with.
    I’ve always taken such care to ensure I use nothing but CC or royalty free images with the proper attribution in the caption field, and it’s really not that hard. In fact I’ve found some great images that fit perfectly with my posts without having to steal something form someone else.

    I do understand that more times than not people don’t realize they are doing anything wrong. Many believe that what ever is on the internet if free domain and take things without knowing any better. But some people do know they’re in the wrong and do it anyway thinking they won’t get caught. But how do you know who is who? So I certainly give someone a chance to remove something before pursuing legal action.

    Anyway, off my soap box, but I appreciate you posting this, great job on outlining the faults and consequences!
    Robert Tuttle recently posted..Lucky Charms, Horseshoes and their SuperstitionsMy Profile


  18. Twitter:
    I never knew I have to let people know I will make money if they buy something through my link. Good to know. Thank you
    Adam recently posted..I was wrong about FacebookMy Profile

  19. hi joe… I especially have to agree with your tip not to use unlicensed images. Most stock photo services are not free and if you’re on a budget, you can use Flicker Creative Commons, which is free(as you pointed out on your post). I recently came across it and that’s what I use now.
    lalina recently posted..KiK Messenger for PC Free Download (Windows 7/8)My Profile

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