Online publishing has made it so easy for anyone to express his thoughts and opinions online, as well as share experiences and expertise. With online publishing being relatively new, some people who are only starting in the niche may not be aware that there are laws that do apply online.
Print publications have traditionally been regulated by the government, but depending on where you are based, online publishers may get into legal trouble on various counts. Lawyer Daniel Perlman advises that online publishers should know the specific laws governing online publications in your particular area, but in general, here are things you need to know to avoid legal trouble.
Copyright legal issues
Copyright laws have been set in place to protect material created by entities. This includes written work, images, video, and audio. Plagiarism falls under copyright laws in that if you use another person’s blog post, for example, and claim it as your own, you are held liable.
There are different copyright licenses, ranging from you having to ask permission from the owner before you can use his material to using material without permission as long as you link to the source.
Before you use any images, videos, etc., make sure you know their copyright license.
Protip: Always go for Creative Commons license or royalty-free license.
Trademark legal issues
Isn’t trademark the same as copyright? Nope!
Trademarks are the realm of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which protects brands, names, and logos from being used by unauthorized entities. Once you have registered your trademark, you can sue others who use it. The reverse applies. If you use someone’s trademarked name/logo/etc., then you will be held liable.
The important thing to remember about trademarks to avoid legal trouble is that you should not use trademarked brand names or logos to mislead readers into thinking you are affiliated with that particular brand. Otherwise, if you’re just using the brand as part of your opinion piece, for example, that should be okay.
Privacy legal issues
Basically, if you collect any data – email addresses for newsletters, for example – make sure that you have a policy set in place that will protect that and that you let your readers know.
Tortious interference issues
Tortious interference sounds so legally scary, doesn’t it? It is defined as:
encouraging a breach, infringing on another’s agreement, interfering with contract, interfering with contractual commitments, interfering with contractual obligation, interfering with contractual rights, intermeddling, intermeddling with business activities, obstruction, work against anothers contractual relationship, wrongful interference with business relationships, wrongful interference with contractual relationships
In short, tortious interference means that, because of your blog post, you hamper the ability of another party to do business, or if you encourage someone to break a contract.
This can easily happen when you’ve been ripped off by a seller online, for example, and you write about it. If your post is a call to arms to your readers to boycott the seller, the seller might have a legal case against you.
What you can do to avoid falling into this trap: word your post very carefully so as to avoid coming across as actively inciting readers not to patronize an establishment.
For example, instead of saying “Don’t ever buy from this deals site because they sell fake products!”, say, “I wish I hadn’t bought from this deals site because it seems that the product I receive is not genuine.”
Knowing the above can save you from legal trouble in the future, so make sure that you take them in consideration as you write your next post.