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


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.

What You Absolutely Must Know to Use Pinterest Safely

Yes, it’s all the buzz.

But did you catch the recent article in Boston Business Journal about how you could get sued for using Pinterest?

Or this one from ReadWriteWeb about just exactly how it is that Pinterest doesn’t get in trouble for copyright violations when they allow users to share your content?

Want to know how creative bloggers feel about you pinning their stuff?  Here’s a blogger’s perspective from Amy of LivingLocurto.com.

Here, photographer Sean Locke discusses exactly what part of Pinterest violates a photographer’s copyright and how it’s different from Google image search (which has been ruled legal in court battles).

On the other side, here’s an amazing argument from Trey of StuckInCustoms.com not for why violating copyright on Pinterest is okay, but for why photographers (and other creatives) should embrace sharing their images.

So what are those of us who want to use Pinterest, but don’t want to violate copyrights, to do?

I am NOT a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet.  So do your own research and if you’ve got questions you may want to seek real legal advice.  But here’s the rules I’m going to play by to keep myself as safe as possible.

1.  Only upload images you have the rights to.

If you don’t own it or have permission to share it on Pinterest, don’t upload it.  Period.  This is part of the Pinterest Terms of Service you agreed to when you created your account.

For graphics designers, if we create something for a client and the rights transferred to them (like logos) then we need their permission before we upload those images to share.  Since Pinterest takes the rights to share and even sell what we upload it’s not the same to feature it in your own website portfolio as it is to upload it to a Pinterest board you’re using as a portfolio.  (Note: Since the original date I posted this blog, Pinterest has updated it terms and this no longer applies. Yay!  But it’s still important to get permission before you share something you’ve created for someone else.)

It’s really the same as your blog or any other website.  You can only upload content that’s yours or that you have permission to use.

2.  Make sure all images I upload link to their source.

If I’m sharing something I’ve created it, it links back to me, of course!  This is how we can generate traffic from Pinterest.

If I’m sharing something I got permission to share from someone else, then I’ll make sure they’re listed and linked as the source.

3.  Check the source links when re-pinning.

Check that link and make sure it’s not from a Google images search but that it’s linking to the original owner.   If I’m re-pinning, I didn’t upload it originally, but it’s just being a good netizen to check for that credit link.

4.  Report infringement and violations when I see them.

If you see an image you know is copyrighted and not okay to use on Pinterest, report it.  If you see something hateful or obscene, it’s against Pinterest terms, so please report it.

5.  Don’t use Pinterest solely to self-promote.

It’s not what Pinterest is for.  Share awesome stuff.  But don’t pin only images of your products, links to your blog posts or ebooks, etc.

There are ways you can use it to build your credibility and make personal connections with people.  Do that.

Do you want real legal advice?

Oh, and if you want advice from a real lawyer, please take time to read this post from Sara of SavingForSomeday.com who IS a real lawyer with a legal degree and everything.  ;)  It has great tips on how to stay safe on Pinterest as a user.

Within the next few weeks I’ll be doing more research on how Pinterest affects us not as users but as bloggers and what we need to do to stay safe when it’s super easy for others to share our content.

And now, pardon me while I go re-check everything I’ve pinned, since I’ve got rules for myself after all this research.