You can't go anywhere these days without hearing about or reading a blog. Friends and family may be pestering to you read their blog, and even your Google searches are coming back with hits from blogs. Perhaps you've even been kicking around the idea of starting your own blog about your cats.
To some, blogs are a waste of time, similar to amateurish high school newspapers, and years ago they might have been correct. Now, blogs have joined the mainstream. Google indexes them. Presidential candidates are courting the members of the "blogosphere" and setting up their own campaign blogs. Entire industries read leading blogs daily to monitor breaking news and their competitors.
So if you decide that the time is right to start a blog, or you've been blogging for some time, let's take a moment to consider some of the legal problems you face publishing your personal blog.
For the uninitiated, the word "blog" is a shortened version of "web log." They're online personal journals or diaries resembling web pages consisting of text and images that people write on every topic imaginable and post online. And when I say that there are blogs on nearly everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Thanks to a variety of free software tools, blogs are simple to set up and publish to the Internet. Thousands of blogs are born every day, and while most of them die a quick and quiet death, others grow and develop a powerful online presence.
This article is the first in a series on the risks of blogging. I can't cover everything in this series, but I will cover most of the bigger issues.
I'll leave the mechanics of setting up a blog to the many hosting companies out there who are happy to help you set up your blog, for a fee. I'm also not going to recommend a particular blogging platform or piece of software beyond suggesting that you start out with one of the free choices. Take the time to do a little research and find what works best for you.
The good news is that if you have your own blog, you have control over whatis published. The bad news is that there is a real chance somebody is going to be unhappy with the information you post. As a blogger, you're going to face many of the same liability issues associated with your blog's content as anyone else making a publication available to the public.
Remember that once you publish something, it's out there on the Internet and you have lost control over that information. While you may be able to delete a particular posting on your blog, odds are that Google and other search engines have already indexed your site. There's also the chance that other bloggers read your post and have copied some or all of the text to their own blogs. Like email, once you hit that publish button you should consider the information you post irretrievable.
At the head of the list of potential problems is defamation. State defamation standards vary, but generally defamation is a false statement of fact that is harmful to someone's reputation. Standards differ when the aggrieved party is a private or public individual, but I don't want to turn this article into a primer on defamation. So, let's leave it as defamation is a very complicated tort and litigating a defamation case is extremely expensive. Please understand the defamation standards in your state and know that you don't have unlimited power on publishing anything about others in your blog.
Another major problem that you face as a blogger is violating other people's copyrights. In a perfect world, every word and picture on your blog would be your original work, but we know that's not how things work.
Blogging software seems to have copyright infringement in mind. The software makes it easy to copy and paste into your blog. While short quotations and the use of thumbnails of pictures probably qualify as fair use, I suggest you always provide the proper attribution to the source or author. Don't fall into this trap of using other people's content without giving them credit for their work. In other words, listen to your mother and don't steal. Provide a conspicuous link back to the source site so your reader understands where your content comes from and always credit your source.
Don't violate anyone's privacy by posting private information online. We have enough problems with stalking and identity theft without you posting your neighbor's social security number online. I don't care how much his barking dog bothers you; don't post his personal information online.
Finally, there's always a chance you could face a lawsuit from a very unhappy reader. Each lawsuit is unique and limited only by the creativity of the opposing litigator so I can't possible address every potential lawsuit here. However, here's a quick list off the top of my head of potential causes of action an angry party could bring against you: invasion of privacy, trespass, nuisance, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with contract or economic advantage. This list is just a start--as always, have an attorney immediately review any lawsuit.
This list only hits the highlights of potential risks you face as a blogger. I don't want to scare you away from blogging about your cats. You just need to be aware that everything you do online, including blogging, comes with risks. This article is not a substitute for legal advice and cannot address all of the potential blogging risks. You should always discuss your unique situation with your technology attorney.
Next time we're going to address the risks associated with your personal blog and your job.