Many people are quick to assume that bloggers aren’t “real” writers. This could have something to do with the fact that literally anyone can start a blog, regardless of credentials or talent. You are not required to obtain a degree, like a journalist, and for this reason some bloggers lack a certain amount of journalistic integrity. Others simply don’t realize that there could be legal ramifications pertaining to the content they post online. But every word you write could land you in court if you’re not aware of potential issues that could arise from a failure to observe laws pertaining to publishing written content. So whether you’re new to the blogging game or you’re simply worried that you don’t know about issues that could affect you, here are a few of the most common legal issues that you could face as a blogger contributing to the online medium.
Plagiarism is hands-down the easiest rule to break. Stealing another writer’s work, no matter how miniscule, is probably the most prevalent issue faced by bloggers. It can be tempting to borrow a phrase here, a line there, or even a whole article that you admire. But when you publish it under your own name without crediting the original source you could quickly find yourself facing a legal battle. Although you might assume that no one will notice with all the white noise on the web, it’s actually surprisingly easy to uncover this sort of theft. Luckily, there are tons of programs that let you check your content to ensure that nothing has been duplicated. And when it doubt, credit all sources.
Another issue that has caused problems for some bloggers is libel, as well as the related problem of defamation. Although many libel laws do not specifically call out the online medium (yet), prosecutors and judges have issued rulings that lump in websites, blogs, and social networking forums with other types of print media. Just look at Andrew Breitbart, the blogger that posted a video clip of Shirley Sherrod that led to her being fired. When the truth came out that the clip was misleading, Sherrod filed a defamation suit against Breitbart. Despite his death during the course of proceedings, the trial will continue and likely set a precedent for future cases. The point is that the no-man’s-land of the internet is quickly coming under the purview of the law, and bloggers can’t just go around saying anything they like without cause or proof to back up their word.
Finally, there is the issue of privacy to consider. Just because something is true doesn’t mean you can broadcast it to the public at large. Privacy is becoming an issue of some contention where the internet is concerned, and when it comes to sharing private information about other people, bloggers could find themselves in legal hot water if they’re not careful. Although what constitutes “private” information can be anyone’s guess, you should definitely stay away from anything related to identity (address, phone number, social security, credit card numbers, etc.). And some states have declared that releasing personal information that is not deemed to be a matter of public record can be grounds for a lawsuit.
While most bloggers are unlikely to face liability issues in the course of their work or come under attack from an LA, NY, or Atlanta injury attorney, it doesn’t mean that they’re immune to the law. Any time you publish content in a public forum (which the internet definitely is) you run the risk of infringing on the rights of others if you’re not careful, and this could lead to lawsuits. But a clear understanding of the laws that affect you (paired with a little common sense) can help you to avoid legal issues and carry on providing informative and entertaining content to your readership.