Legal Issues Bloggers Face

Be aware of legal concerns and stay on the right side of the law

Blogger using a computer and phone.

 Mascot / Getty Images

Blogging is a popular, creative, and even lucrative tool for expressing opinions, marketing a product or service, or establishing yourself as an expert in your field. There are very few downsides to starting and running a successful blog, but regardless of the type of blog you write or the size of your audience, it's important to understand the legal issues that come with expressing thoughts for all the world to see. Here's a look at the top legal issues bloggers face.

In addition to understanding the legalities, it's important to follow blogging best practices, such as citing sources, disclosing paid endorsements, correcting errors, and publishing a privacy policy.

Copyright Issues

Copyright laws protect the original creator of a work, such as written text, an image, a video, or an audio clip, from having that work stolen or misused. For example, you can't republish another person's blog post or article on your blog and claim it as your own. That's plagiarism and a copyright violation.

You also can't use an image on your blog unless you created it, have permission to use it from the creator, or the image has been copyrighted by the owner with a license that allows you to use it.

There are a variety of copyright licenses with different restrictions on how, where, and when you can use images and other copyrighted materials on your blog. Familiarize yourself with copyright licenses and fair use issues so you don't unknowingly misuse someone else's work.

There is a plethora of content on the web that is free and legal to use. When finding images, videos, and audio content for your blog, use sources that provide royalty-free licensed works or works with Creative Commons licenses.

Even if a document or image on the web does not have a copyright notice, it is still protected by copyright laws. 

Trademark Legal Issues

Trademarks are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and are used to protect intellectual property in commerce. For example, company names, product names, brand names, and logos are usually trademarked to ensure competitors in the same industry don't use the same names or logos, which could confuse and mislead consumers.

Business communications typically use the copyright registration symbol (©) or the Service Mark or Trademark symbol (a superscript SM or TM) following the trademarked name or logo the first time it's mentioned. When other companies refer to competitors or other brands in their business communications, they're expected to include the appropriate copyright symbol (depending on the status of the trademark owner's trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), as well as a disclaimer stating that the name or symbol is a registered as a trademark of that company.

But trademarks are tools of commerce, so their use isn't required in most blogs. While corporations and media organizations might opt to use them, it's unlikely that the typical blog would need to do so. Even if your blog is related to a business topic, if you're simply referring to trademarked names to support your opinions, you don't have to include the copyright symbols within your blog post text.

If you use a trademarked brand name or logo in any way to mislead visitors to your blog into thinking you're affiliated with the trademark owner, or represent the owner in any way, you'll be in trouble, even if you use a trademark symbol.

Libel Issues

On your public blog, you can't publish false information about anyone or anything that could negatively affect that person or entity's reputation. It doesn't matter if your blog has poor traffic. If you publish something false and damaging, you've committed libel and could be in big trouble.

If you can't prove that any negative and potentially harmful information you publish on your public blog is true, don't publish it at all.

Sometimes bloggers republish excerpts of someone else's content. If that republished information defames another person or entity, you're still responsible for those statements because you decided to publish them on your blog.

Privacy Issues

Privacy is a hot topic online these days. In the most basic terms, you can't capture private information about visitors to your blog and share or sell that information to a third party without permission from each person. If you do collect data about visitors in any way, you need to disclose it. Most bloggers provide a privacy policy on their blogs to explain how data is used.

Privacy laws extend to activities away from your blog, as well. For example, if you collect email addresses from your blog visitors via a contact form or any other way, you can't simply start sending mass emails to them. While you might think it's a nice idea to send a separate weekly newsletter or special offers to those people, it's a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act to email those people without first giving them a way to opt-in to receive those emails.

If you think you might want to send mass emails in the future, add an email opt-in checkbox to your contact form and anywhere else you collect email addresses. With that email opt-in checkbox, you need to also explain what you plan to do with email addresses, such as send weekly newsletters.

Finally, when you do send mass email messages, include a way for people to opt-out of receiving future email messages from you.

The content of this article is for information purposes only and is not meant as legal advice. If you have specific questions about blogging legalities, talk to a lawyer that specializes in this area.