Blogger Beware: The legal risks of blogging

A corporate blog can certainly help your company “get the word out” in an effective and efficient manner. But that valuable online presence may carry with it substantial legal risks.

Let’s first define what we mean by a corporate blog. It’s a blog that’s written, published and maintained by or at the direction of a company — by company employees working within the scope of their employment or by an outside contractor/ vendor, or some combination thereof.

Increasing your sensitivity to potential claims can help reduce your company’s liability exposure. Here are some guidelines.

1. Consider whether your content may defame a person, business or product. Generally, a defamatory statement is a false and disparaging assertion about another that causes injury to reputation. A few things to keep in mind:

? Statements may be protected if they are truly opinions and are not capable of being proved either true or false.

? The fair-reports privilege protects fair and accurate reports of governmental proceedings and records.

? Truth is a complete defense to a defamation claim, but it’s still a good idea to reduce risks by incorporating less-than-absolute words like “may” or “might” or terms like “alleged” or “reported.”

If you determine that a defamatory statement was posted on your blog, a prompt removal and correction or clarification should help reduce potential damages.

2. Don’t use another party’s copyrighted material without permission. Be sure you incorporate only material that you own or that you have permission or the right to use. There is one exception: “Fair use” allows other parties besides the copyright owner to use copyrighted material in a reasonable manner without the owner’s consent in certain circumstances. Common examples include parody, criticism, commentary and news reporting. But you should credit the author.

3. Be careful when using the trademarks of others. Make sure that you have permission to use any other individual’s or company’s brand names or trademarks that you display. Trademark issues can also include the registration of domain names that allegedly infringe on existing trademarks and the use of trademarks of others in metatags. An example of the latter: Company A inserts the trademarked name of Company B in Company A’s metatags. This is a no-no because it might confuse people who are looking for Company B’s blog but are directed by a search engine to Company A’s blog.

4. Watch out for potential invasions of privacy. Statements that invade the privacy of others can provide the basis for a legal claim. With increasing federal and state legislation regarding Internet privacy, many bloggers post (and many readers expect to see) privacy statements promising to protect the confidentiality of personal information that may be provided or collected, such as that transmitted in the course of blog registration/log-in by those seeking to post comments. Blog hosts must comply with their own established policies.

5. Keep applicable advertising laws and regulations in mind. Certain blogs may be viewed in whole or part as advertisements.

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