Quick Guide to Legal Basics for Bloggers–You NEED to Know These 3 Things

QuickLegalBasics

First, BIG disclaimer.  I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV or the internet.  ;) 

This is not legal advice but just a few things I’ve picked up along the way that are accurate to the best of my knowledge. 

I’m sharing because I get asked these questions SO often!  But for more info please check out the resources I’ve linked to throughout this post.

Is Your Content Copyrighted?  Are Other Blogs?

As soon you as publish/write your content, it IS copyrighted to you and you own the rights to that tangible expression of your ideas so no one may legally copy it without your permission.

This applies to everyone else, too.  It’s NOT okay to copy a post from another blog, an article from a website, or retype something you found offline and post it to your blog–unless you’ve got explicit permission from the original author.  This permission may be included with the article or post (as in, a note at the end that says “Feel free to republish this article if you include…”) or you may need to write or email and request permission.  If you don’t have that permission, assume it’s not okay to copy.

If you want to know how copying content from other bloggers hurts everyone involved and why it’s just not cool, legal or not, then please take a few minutes to read this blog post.

And, even though your content is owned by you, it’s still a good idea to include on every page “(c) 2013 – Your Name. All Rights Reserved.” or similar language to notify people that it’s YOUR content and NOT okay to copy.

So what do you do if someone steals your content?  Here are some tips… and how strongly you react is up to you and your comfort level with confronting them.  This is where a law called DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) comes into play to help you protect your content.

What’s the Deal with Disclaimers?

If you’ve read one of my sponsored posts or are subscribed to my ezine you’ve likely noticed I’ve got disclaimers all over (there’s one in the sidebar on this page, too).

So what’s the big deal?  It’s about being up front and transparent.

First, it’s just the right thing to do to let your readers know if you’ve got a relationship with the person or product you’re blogging about or sharing, or if you stand to profit in some way from sharing it.

Second, it’s legally required and the FTC isn’t who you want to end up in trouble with.  It’s like taxes.  No one loves paying them, but we don’t want the IRS after us!

Here are some of the things you need to disclose (just mention it!):

  • If you’ve been paid to write a post
  • If you’ve received something free (like access to an ebook, course, etc) for a review
  • If you have a personal or business relationship with the person/business you’re writing about
  • If you’re an affiliate and stand to make a commission
  • If you own stock or shares in a company you’re writing about
  • And things like that…

Here’s a resource for disclosure statements: http://www.freenetlaw.com/

And here’s a helpful disclosure policy generator you can use: http://disclosurepolicy.org/

I chose to just put a disclosure in a widget so it’d be automatically included in the sidebar of every blog post I write, and I also try to note clearly when I’m promoting something as an affiliate or for a friend.

Are You Protected Legally?

Since blogging is just sharing our thoughts, opinions, ideas… it’s easy to forget that there are disclaimers and notices we need to post to protect ourselves.

At the bottom of all my pages you can see I’ve got a bunch of “legalese” and it’s not because I like that kind of thing but because it’s important to include!

Affiliate Agreement · Anti-Spam Policy · DMCA Notice · Earnings Disclaimer ·
External Links Policy · Privacy Policy · Terms & Conditions of Use
Michelle Shaeffer · 3110A East 40th Ave · Anchorage, AK · 99508
Copyright © 2005-2013 Michelle Shaeffer · All Rights Reserved

My legal documents are licensed from Legal Forms Generator which makes it easy to add these documents from a lawyer (and it also means I cannot give you permission to copy and paste them, so don’t ask, k?).  If you’re a business blogger, look into them and protect yourself.

You can also find free document generators for privacy policies, terms and conditions, etc.  Just Google for them.  But be sure they’re written by actual lawyers and that they do allow you permission to copy/use them.

For More Information About Legal Issues for Bloggers

Here’s a more in depth legal guide for bloggers, which I highly, highly recommend reading through: https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal

And this is my favorite resource for legal advice for bloggers/internet entrepreneurs: http://www.amazon.com/Internet-Laws-Protect-Business-Website/dp/1460942094

Whew!  Enough of THAT. 

Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences with any of this in the comments.  I’d love to know what resources you rely on for staying compliant with legalities.

Comments

  1. Flora Morris Brown
    Twitter:

    Twitter: florabrown
    says:

    Blogging may have begun as a type of online journaling, but it has become much more than that. For this reason, this post is essential to help us steer clear of copyright and other violations.

    Thanks for sharing how you protect yourself, and for listing the resources whereby we can do the same.
    Flora Morris Brown recently posted… 9 Ways to Avoid Lame Book TitlesMy Profile

  2. Debra Jason
    Twitter:

    Twitter: mktgcopywriter
    says:

    Fabulous tips Michelle. Another good resource regarding Copyrights (not copywriting) is the U.S. Copyright Office which can be found online at http://www.copyright.gov/
    With regard to copywriting, I’ve written some posts related to copyrights too. Here’s one of them.
    http://www.writedirection.com/whose-righ
    Thanks for the legal documents resources.

    ~Debra
    Debra Jason recently posted… How To Awaken The Copywriter Within YouMy Profile

  3. So many people think that because it’s on the internet – it’s there for the taking!
    And so many people have no idea that all this legal stuff is necessary.
    I had no idea until I took your blog class- Whoa- got a lot of goodies out of that class- thank you!
    denys Kelley recently posted… Creating a new Genesis responsive theme.My Profile

    • Michelle Shaeffer
      Twitter:

      Twitter: Michelleshaeffr
      says:

      I shared this post for those two reasons exactly, Denys. So many people think if it’s online and they CAN copy and paste or save it, then it’s OKAY to do so. And they don’t realize the liability they’re risking for their business when they do it.

      And thanks – so happy to hear the course was valuable for you. I was able to go more in-depth there with these resources. ;)
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… BlogMy Profile

  4. Linda Ursin
    Twitter:

    Twitter: LindaUrsin
    says:

    Are all of those for American bloggers, or do they apply to us over in Europe as well?
    Linda Ursin recently posted… How to get out of overwhelmMy Profile

    • Michelle Shaeffer
      Twitter:

      Twitter: Michelleshaeffr
      says:

      Hey Linda, couple of things to be aware of if you’re international.

      First, on copyright:
      – If your country is a signatory on the Bern Convention then copyrights apply.
      – If you are hosted on a US based server, then US laws like DMCA likely apply.
      – Regardless of “law” the ethics remain… so honoring the spirit of respect for what others create applies to us all, in my view of the world. :)

      Second, on dislcaimers:
      – I don’t know international laws, these are based on US FTC.
      – If you’re reviewing US based products/services or have an audience partially based in the US, I’d definitely make sure you have the disclaimers in place.

      Third, on the legal notices:
      – I truly have no idea if those are required in other countries. This part may be US only. EFF likely has more info on what applies to you there. :)

      Hope this helps. Again, just my two cents and I am not a lawyer so you definitely want to look more into what applies to you specifically. :)
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… BlogMy Profile

  5. Nancy Nuce
    Twitter:

    Twitter: DolphinHbooks
    says:

    It is important to note that the copyright laws also apply to artwork and photos. It is NOT okay to copy and use photos or artwork that someone else created unless you have permission. Even if you buy a photo or a work of art, you may not copy it and distribute it unless you buy the right of distribution. Those of us who are writers, artists and/or photographers work very hard to make a living from our creations and for someone else to take them and use them for free is unfair as well as illegal.

  6. Jaelex
    Twitter:

    Twitter: JaelexCreative
    says:

    Great article. I attended a blogging workshop earlier this week and one of the things that was covered was legalese. One other thing to note about copyright is that of images. It’s good to use pictures in your blog articles. Makes it a bit more appealing than just plain text. However, it’s worth noting that if you search Google on the term “Royalty Free” then it will also include any images that contain the tag, “Not Royalty Free” or something similar, due to the fact that the words “Royalty” and “Free” both appear in the tag. So I think it’s safer not to use images from a Google search. Personally, I purchase my image from Fotolia.co.uk (or you can use .com if you’re in the US) for pennies each. At least that way, I know I have permission to use them and don’t run the risk of infringing any copyright laws for using images I do not have permission to use.
    Jaelex recently posted… How To Keep Your WordPress Website Secure From HackersMy Profile

  7. Jaelex
    Twitter:

    Twitter: JaelexCreative
    says:

    Just incidentally, a great plugin that I’ve used on my WordPress websites to protect my content from content thieves is called WP Content Copy Protection (by RS publishing) it prevents people pressing Ctrl + any other key to copy, print, view your source code, etc. It also disables the menu that normally appears when you right click on your mouse.
    Jaelex recently posted… Performing In Front Of The Mayor and Mayoress of Walsall – 21st March 2013My Profile

    • Michelle Shaeffer
      Twitter:

      Twitter: Michelleshaeffr
      says:

      That’s definitely one option. I’ve chosen not to go that far because anyone really determined to steal content is going to do it anyway, and I figure there are some legit reasons for right-click (I use bookmarking, notation, and coding tools in my right-click menu, as well as other Firefox extensions). But those plugins do make it more difficult for people to swipe content they shouldn’t.
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Quick Guide to Legal Basics for Bloggers–You NEED to Know These 3 ThingsMy Profile

    • Cindy
      Twitter:

      Twitter: cindyclemens
      says:

      Jaelex,

      I agree 100% with the idea behind these types of plugins. People are simply try to protect their content. However as someone who extensively uses their right click option I (as a reader) find these to be very frustrating.

      I use right click to open links in new tabs and to save bookmarks for reviewing content at a later time. I have found that if I try to open a link in a new tab and have the right click options disabled, rather than simply clicking on the link I will leave the blog entirely.

      I tend to have reader ADD so I will have more than one post open on a blog at a time so I don’t loose the links that interested me (I have 4 open right now on Michelle’s blog :) ). This allows me to finish reading what I started reading, while not losing the link that caught my eye.

      If I had to try and remember all of them and even go back 2-3 posts to find them again it would be very time consuming (more so that getting sucked in in the first place is :) )

      So rather than do that I will just leave the blog and go back to what I was doing before I ended up there to begin with.

      Just thought I would give my 2 cents as a reader that legitimately uses the right click function (words for thought) :)

      Cindy
      Cindy recently posted… Crazy Raving Fans – YMU Update August 19th 2013My Profile

  8. Lisa
    Twitter:

    Twitter: wivesonpurpose
    says:

    How do you always find so much great information to share and thank you for always sharing it!
    I have been dreading jumping in with both feet on my blog for years. I really don’t enjoy it because all of the work involved just to share simple helpful information but you keep my mind on the really important things and even how to enjoy them!

    You are still tops in my book!

  9. Gautham Nekkanti
    Twitter:

    Twitter: smashpixels
    says:

    Hi Michelle,

    When i started out as a newbie blogger, I found hard time following all the legal abidements. I constantly violated copyright infringement by using premium images.
    Gautham Nekkanti recently posted… How to Remove Delta Search from Chrome, Mozilla FireFoxMy Profile

  10. khana India
    Twitter:

    Twitter: IndiaFoodTour
    says:

    People copy content so often, that sometimes it seems futile to take any action. Now with emergence of scrapers and other such easy to use copying tools, maintaining copyrights on your content has become a very demanding task.
    khana India recently posted… The best cities in India to sample the true flavors of Indian foodMy Profile

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