While the First Amendment certainly protects your right to free speech, you know that it’s really not that simple. Just because you have the right to say what you want, doesn’t mean you can always say what you want, where you want.
The catch is that regardless of where you say something, there are always consequences. If you say something to your spouse that’s laced with sarcasm, you may end up sleeping on the couch. If a child says something inappropriate to their teacher, they may find themselves in the principal’s office. If an athlete talks back to his coach, he’ll likely end up running or sitting on the bench.
In fact, one of the best examples of not being able to say what you want, where you want involved a recent case of not talking at all. Last NFL football season, Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch was fined multiple times for his refusal to speak with the media.
What do all of these examples have in common, and why are they relevant to you as a blogger? They all point to one important fact: Free speech may be allowed, but you must be wary of the consequences. Each of these instances is legal, but they come with significant results.
4 Things Bloggers Can’t Say and Do
“There is a fine line between free speech and serious legal issues like slander and libel,” says Ryan Anderson of Bighorn Law, a firm that’s very familiar with helping clients through challenging legal issues and ordeals. With the hopes of preventing you from getting in trouble with the law – even on your own blog – let’s take a look at some of the legalities surrounding blogging and writing and how you can ensure you’re work doesn’t land you in hot water.
- Failing to disclose paid endorsements. Are you part of an affiliate program or do you accept paid endorsements on your blog? If so, be very meticulous in how you approach these situations. The Federal Trade Commission has some guidelines on what can and cannot be done. Essentially, you must label information clearly, be open about affiliate/paid relationships, and never claim to be objective when you aren’t.
- Defamation and right of publicity. Anytime you’re talking about a person – even a public figure, politician, athlete or celebrity – it’s important to verify the validity of your statements. You can be sued for defamation in certain situations. Furthermore, if an individual wants exclusive rights to their own name, they may be able to sue you under the right of publicity – just for talking about them.
- Product disparagement. While many blogs thrive on offering subjective reviews of products and services, you should tread with caution if you’re preparing to publish a particularly harsh review. There are instances where companies have sued bloggers for product disparagement.
- Plagiarism. While this one is pretty obvious, do remember that plagiarism of any sort can land you in legal trouble. The trick here is to cover all your bases. Most people don’t get in trouble for simply copying and pasting, but failing to properly cite or link the original source.
Now that you understand some of the rules regarding blogging, hopefully you can avoid legal trouble and stay within your rights to express opinions under the First Amendment.