There was a time when the blog was nothing more than a fun diary to keep on and go viral throughout cyberspace. Long have the days been gone where you maintain your thoughts under lock and key beneath your bed. The demographic has changed: we adore putting our words on the digital page for everyone to see —
That’s so the truth to the point that even companies do it! Blogs have gone corporate, yes. Bear in mind this one important fact, though: there are now copyright laws to FTC regulations you must abide by when it comes to your blog. Therefore, pay close attention to how you’re maintaining your steady stream of content marketing and social media — you just might be overstepping your legal boundaries.
How Copyright Law Fits Into the Blogosphere
The thing about copyrights is that it revolves around intellectual property, ideas, works of art, that sort of thing. Authors, too, have copyright law right in their pocket, and guess what — so do bloggers. They are, in effect, authors. Therefore, what content they write online is their property. The same rules apply here. No one can poach that content for any reason.
The opposite is also true: just as authors can’t steal ideas, other books and specific content to use in their own works, bloggers can’t pull from other bloggers or sources as well. That even includes imagery, unless the pictures are creative common items or royalty free. Those types of images simply mean that they’re open for use by the public in any way, shape or form.
Be sure to evaluate the specific ‘rights’ associated with the content and/or image, too. You might require permission to use the content. Others are free to use so long as you don’t alter the content or imagery. Still others are completely free, open source and able to be modified to your heart’s content. Typically the rules of the content can be filtered in a Google search, so be sure to keep tabs on that and ensure that you’ve got content you can use right in front of you.
The Thing About Testimonials….
Watch yourself on this one. Sure, many customers wouldn’t have a problem with you using their names on testimonial pages or whatnot, but believe it or not, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) applies certain restrictions as to how you can use customer names.
These regulations are justified, though, in that there are rather shoddy companies out there taking what’s said by their customers and ‘rewording’ them just enough to suit their fancy. In a way, you can say it’s a misrepresentation, even a violation of truth. Hence, the government wanted to pay very close attention to how we cite customers as testimonials.
Here’s a quick rundown on what those regulations are:
- Always Get Permission to Use the Customer’s Name and Words
- Don’t “Creatively Crop” Any Sentences
- Full Disclosure as to Your Relationship With the Customer Is Necessary, Especially If You’ve Compensated the Person for the Testimonial
This ensures your back is legally covered, even if the person who provided the testimonial doesn’t seem to care that you’ve went ahead and put his or her name on your blog.
What Is Libel?
It’s a legal term, and one you should pay close attention to. Everyone loves to trash talk on the basketball court, and we’ve seen Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James do it many, many times.
But corporate America is not a basketball court. Trash talking your competition is not good form, hence why libel has seen the courtroom often. Sure, free speech is key — but when your words start infringing on the rights of others — such as constant berating of a person’s services, products and reputation — you could be putting yourself in a shady spot.
Here’s your basic rule of thumb when avoiding libel lawsuits: be factual. You might see the inside of a courtroom, because the competition won’t like what you’re saying, but ultimately if what you’re saying is the truth, you should come out unscathed.
Follow the Rules With Third-Party Blogging Software
Yes, we all love Blogger.com and WordPress.com, and they’ve definitely made blogging loads easier, but pay close attention to the fact that if you’re not hosting your own blog or creating an in-house blogging platform of your own, you’re subject to certain guidelines, such as not using adult material of any kind — with maybe only one permission to use an “age gate” where the reader has to enter a birthdate.
Some platforms don’t let you use any ad-based revenue platforms either, so be careful about that one. Moreover, you might have certain platforms wanting their ads on your pages for the purpose of making their own money, piggybacking off of your content. Third-party platforms typically don’t like that, and neither should you. Even worse, if you have that on your blog, you might see the entire blog dissolve due to violation of the third-party regulations. Say goodbye to all your hard work.
How the Cult of Personality Plays a Part in Blogging
We get into tumultuous waters, too, when we play with the entertainment sector of business, namely the cult of personality with TV and movie celebrities, fashion gurus and high-paid athletes. It’s called the right of publicity, allowing such individuals the ability to sue you for simply using their likeness without their permission.
In other words, if you want to use a particular photo you’ve taken of Miley Cyrus without her even knowing it, and you put it on your blog, you might be facing certain copyright infringement issues very soon.
Watch How You Get Your Information
It’s basic journalism 101. Lois Lane might get away with climbing over a privacy fence in a gated community to spy on Bruce Wayne and his latest million-dollar endeavor, but in the real world, you’re probably breaking the law.
It’s the same as with blogging. Company blogs, though, don’t necessarily have to worry too much about this, although if you think you can spy on your competition, sneak through private files somehow and get some inside scoop information, know that you’re definitely breaking the law. If it’s secret, secluded and in solitude, that generally means you’re not allowed to be privy to it.
Once Again: a Blog Isn’t Just a Diary
Think of it this way — your diary, no one reads, but your blog, everyone gets to read. Pay close attention to what you put on that blog, because it can make or break your business. As always, consult with your qualified business lawyer about what you need to do and look out for when it comes to a corporate blog.
About the Author: Matt Faustman is the CEO at UpCounsel. You can follow his business insights on Twitter at @upcounsel.
Photo credit: Wesley Fryer