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Legal Issues for Bloggers by Donald R. Simon, J.D/LL.M.


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Bloggers face a lot of legal issues. More and more citizen journalists are facing defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits. The presentation will discuss some of the legal issues confronting bloggers, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to ensure legitimate speech is protected.

This presentation was presented by Donald R. Simon, J.D./LL.M. at the SMCKC March'2011 Breakfast. Donald is a former intellectual property attorney and now business consultant. His firm concentrates in assisting media- and arts-based entrepreneurs.
Twitter: @simonbizconsult

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Legal Issues for Bloggers by Donald R. Simon, J.D/LL.M.

  1. 1. Legal Issues for Bloggers by Donald R. Simon, J.D./LL.M .
  2. 2. Me: <ul><li>7 years of legal experience concentrating in the areas of entertainment and IP. </li></ul><ul><li>6 years of experience teaching legal and business issues to aspiring artists. </li></ul><ul><li>Prior to becoming an attorney, worked in broadcasting for seven years in various production, programming, and management roles. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Me: <ul><li>Currently teaching “Speech,” “Critical Thinking,” “Ethics,” and “Media Business Law” at The Art Institutes International - Kansas City. </li></ul><ul><li>Owner, Simon Business Consulting, Inc. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Introduction: <ul><li>More and more stories are popping up about bloggers getting in trouble for what they post. </li></ul><ul><li>Like all journalists and publishers, bloggers sometimes publish information that other people don’t want published. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Introduction: <ul><li>Unlike a reporter at a local newspaper, you may not have the benefit of training or resources to determine whether what you’re doing is legal. </li></ul><ul><li>In addition, sometimes knowing the law doesn’t help: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Laws written for traditional journalists, or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Courts haven’t yet decided how it applies to bloggers. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Legal Liabilities: <ul><li>Generally, bloggers face the same legal liabilities and receive the same legal protections as anyone making a publication. </li></ul><ul><li>Legal liability issues include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Defamation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Privacy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Intellectual Property/Trade Secret </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Defamation: <ul><li>A false allegation of fact that is disseminated about a person and tends to injure that person’s reputation. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Libel : written defamation. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Slander : spoken defamation. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim, but the truth may be difficult and expensive to prove. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Defamation: <ul><li>Typically, one’s opinion is not defamatory. </li></ul><ul><li>But merely labeling a statement as your “opinion” does not make it so. </li></ul><ul><li>Courts look at whether a reasonable reader or listener could understand the statement as asserting a statement of verifiable fact. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Defamation: <ul><li>Context is critical! </li></ul><ul><li>For a blog, a court would likely start with the general tenor, setting, and format of the blog. </li></ul><ul><li>Next, the court would look at the specific context and content of the blog entry, analyzing the extent of figurative or hyperbolic language used. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Defamation: <ul><li>Avoid the pitfalls by: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not relying on information from anonymous sources. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Seeking out both sides of a story. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Providing the targets of defamatory allegations an opportunity to respond. </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Privacy: <ul><li>Legal issues surrounding the privacy rights of people you blog about. </li></ul><ul><li>Private facts are personal details about someone that have not been disclosed to the public. </li></ul><ul><li>Factual, but non-newsworthy. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Privacy: <ul><ul><ul><li>Public disclosure of non-newsworthy, embarrassing private facts that would be offensive to a reasonable person. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Involves the dissemination of accurate information, so truth is not a defense . </li></ul><ul><li>Information must be truly private, not further publicity of information that is already generally available. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Privacy: <ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid the pitfalls by asking: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Has publicity been given to the private affairs of another’s life? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Is the disclosed information of no legitimate public interest? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Would the publicity be highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Copyright Fair Use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>One of the key questions for bloggers in the intellectual property context is to what extent may one legally use material created by others. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>There are no hard and fast rules for fair use. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No such thing as a set number of words or percentage of a work is “fair.” </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Copyright Fair Use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Copyright Act says that “fair use...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>So if you are commenting on or criticizing an item someone else has posted, you have a fair use right to quote. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Copyright Fair Use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Short quotations from another’s blog will usually be fair use, not copyright infringement. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The blog’s author might also have granted you even more generous rights through a Creative Commons license, so you should check for that as well. </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Copyright Fair Use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Parody is recognized as a type of fair use, like other commentary and criticism, and courts recognize that a parody must often take recognizable elements from the work it comments upon. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Courts distinguish parody from satire . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Parody copies from the object it mocks. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Satire uses recognizable elements from the original work to mock something else. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Trademarks: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Trademark law prevents you from using someone else’s trademark to sell your competing products (e.g., you can’t name your blog “Newsweek”). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It doesn’t stop you from using another’s trademark to refer to the trademark owner or its products (e.g., criticizing Newsweek’s editorial decisions). </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Intellectual Property: <ul><li>Trademarks: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t use the mark to suggest the company endorses you. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This means you can use the company name in a review so people know which company or product you’re complaining about. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You can even use the trademark in a domain name (like ), so long as it’s clear that you’re not claiming to be or speak for the company. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Other Areas: <ul><li>Media Ethics </li></ul><ul><li>Report’s Privilege </li></ul><ul><li>Media Access </li></ul><ul><li>Freedom of Information Act </li></ul><ul><li>§230 Protections </li></ul><ul><li>Rights of Publicity </li></ul>
  21. 21. Conclusion: <ul><li>None of these concerns should stop you from blogging. </li></ul><ul><li>Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Internet bullies shouldn’t use the law to stifle legitimate free expression. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Contact Me: <ul><li>Email : [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Twitter : @simonbizconsult </li></ul><ul><li>Web : </li></ul><ul><li>Blog : </li></ul>