There are an estimated 11 million blogs – or web logs – drawing visitors on the internet every day, and at least two new blogs are created every single second. More and more of these blogs belong to businesses eager to reach an increasingly tech-savvy consumer audience. But at what risk is this audience reached?
The legal ramifications lurking inside the blogging world are serious yet unknown to many bloggers. Countless business blogs are at risk for copyright and trademark infringement liability, among other things, simply because risk management departments don’t realize the rules that apply in the cyber world.
Yet there are a number of rules and laws involved in using the internet as an online diary for opinions, products, promotions, pictures, and thoughts. Such as what is the right and wrong way to hyperlink to other blogs? Or the meaning of a Creative Commons license? What are the fair use guidelines that apply to bloggers? Accurate answers to these questions are often difficult to find, but the lack of readily accessible information doesn’t mean bloggers aren’t held accountable.
The Media Bloggers Association reports that an increasing number of lawsuits have been filed concerning blogging issues. Though no clear legal precedents have come from these cases yet, companies with blogs do not have the luxury of waiting for those decisions to learn what rules apply to their blog.
There are some simple do’s and don’ts when it comes to avoiding blogging blunders. Below is a list of some of the topics and issues bloggers should pay close attention to:
- Use of images – Most marketing departments realize that they can not use another person’s image on their advertising materials without the owner’s permission. However, this rule also applies to images used in blogs, even if the blog is merely for informational (non-advertising) purposes. (There are certain “fair use” exceptions, however erring on the side of caution and obtaining permission is never a bad idea).
- Creative commons licensing – The rules against using images becomes somewhat murkier when Creative Commons licenses are taken into consideration. Some authors and photographers who publish their work on the internet are willing to allow use of their work for particular purposes. These people will mark their works with Creative Commons licenses, and anyone wishing to use the work must abide by the type of license indicated. These licenses will generally allow use of the work so long as the original creator is given credit, or so long as the use isn’t commercial (something most business bloggers would not be able to claim). These licensors also often require that any user of their work must allow others to use the work in the same manner. Whichever type of Creative Commons license you run into, be sure you understand the limitations it imposes. (Good information on Creative Commons licenses can be found on Creative Commons’ official website.)
- Proper use of trademarks – Ever wonder how competitors can use each other’s names in advertising without facing trademark infringement claims? So long as the user indicates who the mark owner is and uses the ® or ™ symbol, there is generally no possible claim, unless the user makes a false statement about the competitor or their product. This rule applies to blogs as well as traditional advertising, and to any use of another person or company’s trademark. Even if you think the use is complimentary, be sure to use the appropriate symbol and indicate the owner of the mark.
The legal issues associated with blogging and the risks to businesses embracing this new advertising stream are real. The best way to avoid these issues and fully benefit from the very real marketing potential of blogs is to know the rules that apply and follow them. If someone else in your company handles your blog, be sure they are familiar with these rules, and add them to any employee training materials for those who may blog on your company’s behalf.