Last Updated on February 2, 2022 by Anastasios Antoniadis
Whether you’re posting for a personal site or are running a more commercially-oriented blog, many bloggers are surprised by the potential legal implications of the material they produce. The truth is, publishing has always been highly regulated by the law to protect both individuals and companies alike and any time you write and post content, you could potentially be leaving yourself (or your company) wide open to legal action.
The onus lies with you as a publisher
While the laws have been relaxed to a degree in recent years (mostly due to the proliferation of publishing sites and social media platforms), there are still legal precedents that cover all forms of publishing and the onus lies squarely with you, as the publisher, to make sure you stick to the law.
The importance of truth
The legal implications of publishing range far and wide however, just as a basic general rule, it is incumbent upon you as a writer to ensure you fact-check everything you write – and to be prepared to stand up and defend your text. Again, just as a blanket rule, you should avoid publishing anything that might be considered defamatory or that you can’t fully defend and back up with proven facts and/or witnesses.
Blogging is, in effect, publishing
While many people consider blogging relatively innocuous, in the eyes of the law, when you post content to your pages, you automatically become a content provider – and are therefore bound by the same laws that apply to much larger, much richer organizations.
Again – to repeat the outline rule above – before publishing any material, you should be 100% sure it is factually accurate and correct. As a rule of thumb, unless you can prove without doubt the accuracy of potentially offensive or inflammatory content, you’re better to avoid posting it. While you might consider your blog to be too insignificant or your audience too small to attract attention, all it takes is one disgruntled company or individual to spark a potentially costly legal case against you, your blog or your company.
As the old saying goes, “The only thing better than winning a lawsuit is avoiding one in the first place”, so try to avoid possible points of confrontation or areas where you might cause offense. Sure, mediation will often be a possible route out of potentially costly or damaging legal action – but you’re far better not going there in the first place if at all possible.
As a blogger, you are both a content publisher and a content provider
Most blogs encourage interaction from their users so, while you are first and foremost a publisher, your blog pages will also take on the role of content provider if you allow comments and feedback from your site visitors (as most blogs do). However, in the eyes of the law, there is an important distinction between the two:
Content publisher: As a content creator (a publisher), you are always responsible for the material you produce and post online.
Content provider: Content providers do not necessarily assume responsibility for the content they supply. For example, YouTube is legally considered a content provider – yet the platform is not legally responsible for everything it broadcasts. Rather, content producers who upload video content to its platform may face legal action whereas YouTube itself may, in many cases, avoid a lawsuit if it agrees to remove the offending material.
Basic tips to stay within the law as a content provider
It’s important to note that legal systems around the world can differ massively from one another so you should check applicable laws in your state or country and take guidance from an expert. However, some general rules can help you avoid problems in terms of content provision.
Be careful how much you edit: As a content provider, you do not necessarily assume responsibilities for the comments of others – rather, as noted above, you are seen merely as the provider of the views of your users. As soon as you start over-editing comments, you will open a legal minefield which increases your liability (since you’ll be using your own judgment on what is and isn’t suitable). No matter how defamatory or inflammatory the comments, you should be wary about stepping in as editor – all you’ll effectively do is increase your overall liability. Your greatest responsibility is to set down site rules from the start so that your users are clear on what you consider acceptable and so they’re aware of their individual responsibilities.
Don’t stress too much about the language used: If you’ve set down clear rules for site users, there should be less likelihood of commenters using bad language – but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. That all-important rule about being provider rather than originator should be your guiding light when it comes to bad language – but remember you will mostly be automatically excluded from liability.
General guidelines to avoid legal action as a content producer
Unlike your role as a provider, content producers are 100% liable for the material they produce. However, the good news is, in many ways, this can make the legal implications of publishing clearer – of course, this all presumes you know the rules from the outset (of which there are many).
There simply isn’t space here to detail every aspect of being a content producer but many rules are relatively common sense. If you’re in any doubt, you should seek legal advice before publishing but, where that isn’t practical, the following guidelines may help:
Quotes and links: If you quote someone, credit them. Pure and simple. Links are also ok as they will drive credit to the originator.
Riding on the fame of others: You cannot simply associate your product or site with famous people as if they in some way endorse you, your views, or your content.
Copyrighted images: Just because an image appears on internet searches, don’t presume it isn’t copyrighted. You can only legally post images you own, created, or bought a license to use.
Avoid defamation: It can be incredibly easy to unwittingly stray into the territory of defamation. As a general rule and to stay on the safe side, avoid posting rumors, malicious or otherwise, or negative comments about companies or individuals.
Cite sources: If the information you have comes from a credible source, cite it – otherwise, it might be wise to avoid publishing it in the first place
Be wary of trademarks and copyrights: In most cases, it’s ok to discuss trademarked companies (avoiding possible defamation) but you should in no way to try make an association between your site and trademarked or copyrighted firms unless you have express permission from the owners to do so.