As we’ve discussed previously on this site, being a blogger can be very risky legally. With a slew of potential legal issues including copyright, defamation, trademark, privacy and much more, there are many ways a well-meaning blogger can find themselves being sued.
To make matters worse, there’s a great deal of conflicting and confusing information on the Web and what good information there is, generally, is scattered across multiple pages and sites. This makes learning about the law difficult and means you can spend a great deal of time just trying to keep yourself out of court.
Fortunately, several bloggers and blogging-related organizations have worked hard to produce legal guides that give you a good breadth of information in a simple, single work that you can easily read or search through.
With that in mind, here are five of the best of those guides, what’s in them and how they can be useful in helping you protect yourself and your rights.
1. EFF Legal Guide for Bloggers
The EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers is probably the best known and the most-widely linked-to legal blogging guide.
Focusing on legal liability issues, the EFF’s guide goes into intellectual property, defamation (including section 230) and privacy among other issues. The guide uses easy-to-understand language that makes it easy to read as well as a Q&A format that makes it very skimmable and easy to locate the information you want.
The best thing about this guide is that it comes from an organization on the front lines in defending bloggers’ rights and a group that has been very active in the courts regarding them. This has helped keep the guide relevant and up to date even as the law has changed.
All in all, it’s a solid legal guide that, while U.S.-centric (as with pretty much all of these guides), is also fairly complete and applies to just about everyone.
2. Citizen Media Law Project Legal Guide
The Citizen Media Law Project has a great legal guide for all online publishers that goes well above and beyond in terms of completeness.
The guide actually has two parts. The first is a general guide aimed at legal issues that apply equally across the U.S. This covers issues such as copyright, privacy and general advice on how to get legal help. On the other side, they have a state-by-state breakdown of various rules that might apply more on the state level, such as forming corporations, accessing public records, open access to meetings, etc.
Without a doubt, this is the most complete and robust legal guide for bloggers. However, it’s so complete that a lot of the information may not apply to you and, sadly, many states don’t yet have guides written for them.
Still, if you have a legal question about blogging, this guide is a great place to get it answered.
3. 12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know
Where the Citizen Media Law Project’s guide is robust and, possibly excessively, complete. The Aviva Directory’s guide is much more streamlined and is actually a very short read. Entitled “12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know”, the guide takes a look at 12 of them most common legal questions a blogger might have and what the law says about them.
Short, sweet and very much to the point, this guide is a great starting point for anyone who wants a very brief overview of the many legal issues that can impact bloggers and where the law sites on them right now.
4. A Quick & Dirty Legal Guide For Bloggers
In the same vein as Aviva Directory’s guide, Outspoken Media has a “quick and dirty” guide for blogging and the law. The guide is basically a series of debunked myths dealing with the law and blogging. It targets issues of intellectual property, defamation and, perhaps most unique, anonymity.
Though the guide itself is very brief and leaves a lot of gaps (only limited discussion on each topic and many potential legal issues omitted), it does a great job debunking many of the more common misunderstandings bloggers have about the law and it provides a very quick, easy read for anyone interested in legal issues with blogging.
5. Podcasting Legal Guide
Finally, for bloggers who are doing more than just writing and are also doing podcating or other multimedia work, Creative Commons’ Podcasting Legal Guide is a must-read.
Though it covers much of the same ground as the other guides, it targets itself almost solely at podcasting and the slew of new issues it raises including music licensing, distribution of a podcast and much more.
Since the guide is by Creative Commons, it focuses mainly on copyright and other intellectual property issues but it keeps the focus squarely on audio and also includes a good guide for using CC-licensed audio in your podcast.
While all of these guides are great, it’s important to remember that the legal climate online is both exceptionally complex and ever-changing. Any questions you have are, in the end, best answered by an attorney.
However, since that isn’t always practical, these guides and others like them are great tools for getting a general lay of the land and a basic understanding for how the law applies online.
Still, bear in mind that these guides are far from complete, do not provide advice specific to your situation and, over time, will likely become dated and less useful overall.
If you can keep those elements in mind, these guides are all more than worth the read or to at least bookmark as a good reference.
After all, you never know when you might need a quick piece of legal information, which is what these guides are best for.
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private (However, please mention that it is a suggestion for The Blog Herald. This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.