Last month I presented a roundtable on blogger legal issues at the ALT Design Summit, a conference for design-oriented bloggers. It was a great event and the legal roundtable generated a lot of interest and questions. I though I should post the handout that I provided to the bloggers at the conference. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, but it should give bloggers an idea of some issues they need to be aware of.
- Copyright Use. Remember that “online” does not mean “public domain.” You wouldn’t want someone to use your material without permission—extend the same courtesy to others. Ask for permission, give credit and/or link back, and pay a royalty when required. This applies to articles, photos, long quotes, etc.
- Copyright Infringement. When someone uses your materials without permission, start with a call or email. Ask them to take it down or ask for a small payment. Be courteous. If that doesn’t work, use a DMCA takedown notice. Involve their ISP. If you’re not getting anywhere, consider involving a lawyer. Register the copyright to your key materials (photos, articles, entire website).
- Contracts. Use written agreements with sponsors and with contributors to your site, so that you know and they know what is expected and what is required. You can start simple, but write down the key points and treat it like a contract.
- Employment Law. Be careful how you use paid help. Use written agreements so everyone understands the relationship, so you can maintain ownership of copyrighted material, and so you can avoid problems with competition, disclosure of confidential information, etc. File all tax documents (there are many). And remember, the IRS looks at the facts on the ground, not what you decide to call things.
- Corporate Law. The bigger you get, the less you can run things haphazardly. Plan ahead. Create standardized procedures and documents (for staff, sponsors, contributors, etc.) Form a corporation or LLC for your blog/website business. Consider commercial liability insurance (sponsors may require it). Talk to a lawyer before you desperately need one.
- Giveaways. Be extremely careful about how you run giveaways or you risk violating state laws against private lotteries. Your Official Rules need to be easily available and have specific language required by statute.
- If you use a particular logo, design, word, or phrase to brand your site, register it as a federal trademark. This protects your business and gives you a clearly defined legal asset that can be licensed or sold.
- Use others’ brands correctly and give appropriate credit. You don’t need permission to refer to someone else’s trademark, but you do need permission to use others’ logos.
- Disclose when you have received something of value in exchange for a product review or other action. The disclosure needn’t be obnoxious. Just let people know so they can fairly evaluate what you’ve written.
- When doing a review, if you don’t believe it, don’t say it, and if something isn’t a “typical” result, don’t pretend that it is.
- Don’t use the names or images of other people without their permission.
Get on the right side of these legal issues. Do some research, think through the points above, plan ahead, find professional advisers you’re comfortable working with (law, tax, insurance) and engage them in your success.