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Blogs and Best Practice Guidelines

How to keep your Blog content within the law

Nowadays the internet is more important and wide-reaching than ever before.  Blogs started out being seen mostly as a personal way to address friends and the internet at large.  However they are also increasingly being used by companies as a way to interact with their audience as it offers an easy way to self-publish with full control over frequency, release time and content.

However, the ability to self-publish has it’s pitfalls as well as it’s many benefits.  Thus it is increasingly common for companies to have a company blogging and social media policy to protect them from potential legal anguish down the line. Think before you blog!

So what are the risks?  

  • Legal Liability
  • Online Defamation
  • Intellectual Property (Copyright and trademark issues)
  • Hotlinking
  • Privacy
  • Business related issues

I won’t get into defamation and libel – our mothers warned us about saying nasty or untrue things about others and I am no legal expert on the boundaries of these.  If you know you shouldn’t publish something derogatory – don’t!  Negativity is generally something to be avoided anyway, stay positive and happiness is far more likely!

Intellectual Property Theft

We all know this one, someone produces content and they have their work stolen and published without their consent.  Nowadays a huge amount of the cases of this are entirely accidental.  Thanks to Facebook and the likes we have a ‘sharing’ culture, where to post content online for others to see is an entirely normal thing to do.  But where do we draw the line?  What is acceptable sharing and what is content theft?  Lets look at a few of the main points which catch people out.

Quoting

Quoting is generally seen as fair use of content so long as the quote is attributed and linked and is being used for a suitable purpose.  To back up a point in commentary or criticism would be a common example of this and one whereby a more favourable view is generally taken by the legal profession than simple quoting of content.  Not worlds away from using quotes in academic work vs just plain plagiarising.

Using images

Simply put, you cannot just use any image for your website, even if that image shows your product or company.  Somebody took the time to create that image and while many are very happy to have them used by others, some will require accreditation or a fee to do so.  It is easier than ever for copyright holders to reverse search the internet for images to ensure that others are not taking advantage of their work without permission and/or accreditation.  The best way is to either use your own images or use ones with permission from the copyright holder, either by contacting them or purchasing images from a stock photography website.

Linking

As I said, you cannot use images which are not yours, but what many people are not aware of is that ‘hotlinking’ is frowned upon also.  Hotlinking means linking to an image on another blog or website directly.  If you are using an image in an article, that image should not only be one you can use, but should also be self-hosted to avoid ‘bandwidth theft’.  All data on a website needs to be sent from a server to an end user’s device, and website owners pay for not only the storage space but also for the bandwidth – the data transferred.  By linking directly to someone else’s site you are using their resources which they pay for.

Privacy

If you collect email addresses for a mailing list, these should be kept private and not shared.  The exception to the case being if you asked and the user opted to allow you to share their details.  A clear privacy statement if you are collecting your users email addresses is always a good idea and it boosts readers confidence in you, your site and your service.

It is however not just e-mail addresses which people do not wish to become public knowledge.  We all have things we like to keep private, and/or to be able to keep control over the spread of this information.  To publish private information about a person in a public place such as your blog moves that information from the private to public realm and that is something that can cause the person great anguish and could possibly result in legal proceedings.  Think if the information you are publishing is information you would like to have published were it about you, and err on the side of caution.  What has been done cannot always be undone and sometimes an innocent post can really blow up on the author – and not in the good way!

Business Related Issues

Now this is where it gets interesting, and where lawyers can often be found rubbing their hands together in glee.  Personal data leaks and business data leaks can be very closely related, and neither leaves the company in a good light.  The impact on the company, associates and leaker can be drastic and a leak can endanger deals or invite lawsuits.  Blogs are often written in a friendlier, more informal tone than corporate publications, and as a result it is not unknown for people to casually let slip private details about products or projects which are not supposed to be in the public realm – and that’s before we even consider intentional leaks.  Morrisons supermarket had a court action launched against them just the other week as a result of one former employee maliciously leaking the private information of staff via a blog last year.  A leak which, prior to this new action, cost the offender his freedom for 8 years and the company £2m STG.

So please think before you blog, especially if you are blogging under a company name.  Blogging is an amazing way to engage your audience and customers, but remember that not everything should be said online!