Bloggers unclear but unconcerned about legal pitfalls

More than three-quarters of bloggers are unsure about their legal rights and responsibilities, while the majority do not think they should be held to the same standards as journalists, according to new research. The research, conducted by YouGov for global legal services organisation DLA Piper, reveals that only 5% of internet users are clear on their legal rights and responsibilities when posting comment online. There is a widespread lack of clarity and consensus among internet users about the role of the law in relation to blogging and user-generated content. Only a third of regular internet users have read the legal terms and conditions, disclaimers and guidelines for posting comment on the internet forums they use. Despite this, 14% of users have had their comments removed or taken down in the past, rising to more than 28% among bloggers. The research shows that not only are users unaware of the actual legal risks online, they also remain unconvinced that they should be liable for the comments they make. Less than half of all internet users think bloggers should be held to the same legal standards as journalists when publishing opinions, but of those who actually blog themselves only a quarter believe they should be subjected to the same rules. Internet users are equally ambivalent on a potential voluntary code of conduct for bloggers and online commentators. Nearly 46% agree that a code should be established, 15% are unsure and only 4% are firmly opposed. Opinion is also divided among bloggers, with 34% directly opposed to a code of conduct, but about the same number, 32%, in support of it. The research has also revealed that the overall volume of people commenting online is rising. More than half of the people surveyed had posted some form of comment online, whether on a blog, message board or social networking site. The 18- to 24-year-old age group are particularly active, with 84% participating in some form of user-generated content. Duncan Calow, a digital media law specialist and partner at DLA Piper, said: "Blogs and online forums may differ from traditional media in their style and purpose, but their content is still publicly consumed and they have the equivalent potential to cause damage and offence and infringe others' rights. "Far from being immune from the law, UGC is in particular danger of falling foul of it." DLA Piper also offers some useful legal pitfalls relating to user generated content:
  • Defamation: This country has tough libel laws and from the earliest Web 1.0 bulletin boards posters have got into difficulty with defamatory comments -- as have the online services that carry them.
  • Offensive messages: There are a range of laws from the Protection from Harassment Act to specific restrictions in the Telecommunications Act that can be invoked.
  • Incitement: There have been high profile cases relating to terrorism but any encouragement of others to commit unlawful acts can result in prosecution.
  • Intellectual property: There is a copy and paste culture online, but using other people's material (whether it's an article, photograph, logo or even another blog posting) can cause problems.
  • Linking: Bloggers need to think about what is on their own site, but also keep an eye on the links they provide to other pages (eg to offensive or illegal material).
  • Reporting: The law of contempt and other statutory reporting restrictions carry strict penalties if breached.
  • Corporate blogging: The legal pitfalls can be even more pronounced in the case of corporate blogs where additional commercial concerns will apply.

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