Is Your Blog Breaking the Law?

Kay / 29th April 2013 / Comment

Author’s note: this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not offering legal advice or counsel.

Is your blog breaking the law?

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Is Your Blog Breaking the Law?

The Internet’s rapid expansion has left lawmakers playing catch-up, particularly where intellectual property is concerned. Though most of us use the Internet regularly, few of us understand the evolving legal repercussions of our online actions. While it’s true that any small breach of law on the Internet is likely to go unnoticed, bloggers and webmasters should nonetheless take heed—Internet law is more restrictive than you might think.

Keep an Eye on Your Comments
If someone posts copyrighted content in a comment on your site, who’s to blame? You, unfortunately. As the proprietor of your website, you are responsible for all of its content, whether or not you submitted it. As the So Cal Internet Lawyer explains, the only foolproof ways to remove this liability are to close visitor comments or attain DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) certification for your site. Sadly, both of these strategies are unappealing, the former because it prevents users from interacting with your site and the latter because the process is quite time consuming. The fact is, thousands of sites allow visitor comments and few of them will ever see a lawsuit for copyrighted content. Nonetheless, the legal liability exists, so be wary of posting anything that might encourage comments with copyrighted content, and, as always, keep track of what your visitors are saying.

Government Content is Not Always Free to Copy
It’s a common belief that all content found on government webpages is in the public domain and therefore free to be reposted. While this is generally true, some government websites have content produced by third parties, which is copyrighted. So, before you forge ahead with your reposting, make sure to check the image or text for copyright notices—if it wasn’t created by an employee of the government agency, this will be indicated somewhere on the page (usually at the bottom).

Gossip Blogs Beware
Slander laws apply on the Internet as they do elsewhere, so refrain from making statements about others that are a) damaging to their reputation and b) factually inaccurate. A lesser-known legal infringement is the publishing of “private facts”—i.e. a “personal detail about a specific person that has not been made public.” Technically, voicing a negative opinion about someone else can’t get you into legal trouble, but it’s wise to remember the old adage: “if you can’t say anything nice….”

For more information on legal issues relevant to bloggers, webmasters, and Internet users alike, check out the So Cal Internet Lawyer or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

By Kay