Legally Blog: Know Your Rights and Protect Your Content
By: Taylor Davies

Copyright and Content laws bloggers should know
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In our post about Wantering.com, IFB discussed the legal issues and ownership rights that accompany blog images. It sparked a great conversation in our community about not only how outside companies and websites use blogger images, but also about what our rights are as creators of original content.

As a blogger, you are the publisher, author, artist and owner of all the unique content you post. It’s yours, and you have the right to control how it is used, where it is used and who can use it. This applies to your written words as well as your original photography. Most of the time, we internet folk are pretty lax with controlling the spread of our content from site to site (via Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, etc) because it’s usually helpful. Social sharing is the digital form of word-of-mouth, and it helps our traffic and grows our community. However, instances will arise where it’s important to know what your legal rights are, if you find your content in a place it shouldn’t be, being used in a way you don’t approve.

Copyright and Content laws bloggers should know

Below, IFB breaks down 9 legal terms for every blogger that are essential to knowing your rights and protecting your content:

 

Intellectual Property

This is a broad term that encompasses laws that govern “products of the mind,” and what ownership and rights apply to these products. Specific areas that fall under this topic include copyright, trademark, trade secrets and patent law. Most of what you need to know about intellectual property deals with copyright law. See below.

Copyright Law

This law was created both to protect and foster the creation of “original works of authorship.” Examples of this kind of copyrightable work include blog posts, photographs, videos, podcasts, news articles, musical compositions, and computer software. As the creator of copyrighted content, you have the “exclusive right to reproduce the work, distribute it, display or perform it, and to create derivative works from it, as well as the ability to transfer any or all of these rights.” Though many of us are very lax in our control of where and how our images are distributed across the internet, should you feel violated, you’re within your rights to take action!

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

You can read the DMCA in it’s entirety here, but for convenience let’s summarize it a bit. This act was created to protect as the administrator of a website or other service (like a blog), meaning that you will not be held liable for money damages for infringing content posted “at the direction of a user,” onto your site, as long as you didn’t know about it. An example of this might be posting a video you don’t own on YouTube. It’s not just video though, it could be words, pictures or anything that doesn’t belong to the person that is then published to your site (most commonly in the comments or forums).

Privacy and Publicity Rights

According to the Library of Congress, “privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person(s) who may be the subject(s) of the work or intellectual creation.” This means that an advertiser must obtain permission from the subject of a photograph in order to use it commercially, because the subject has retained both privacy and publicity rights in the use of their likeness. For example, a site cannot use your image, wearing Bag X to sell Bag X, unless you give permission.

Fair Use Doctrine

The part of the doctrine that is most likely to apply to bloggers is: Some material protected by copyright may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder if it meets certain qualifications (editorial, educational, etc.) That roughly translates to: if an image is being used in a creative context, to illustrate a point,  show a trend or something you like (and it’s credited) – it’s usually okay. When that image is used for commerce without consent, that’s not Fair Use. Generally, say you republish a photo from another source to comment on it, or someone takes a paragraph from and then comments on it, that’s okay. If you’re not adding anything, – taking a photo from somewhere else and commenting on it it’s usually okay.

Plagiarism

As many of us learned in school, plagiarism is stealing ideas and content and publishing them as your own. Citing your sources is the easiest way to avoid plagiarism, whether it’s quoting someone or giving them credit for an idea you’re discussing. If you think your content has been plagiarized and you want to take action, first consider your goal. If you want this person or publication to stop and take the content down, look to see if whoever is hosting the site has registered a DCMA, and send a “take down notice” to the web host (GoDaddy, Blogger, WordPress, etc.) and they can take it down. You can bypass the actual publisher. Send a cease & desist letter, because it can take about a year to sue someone and go through the whole process. DMCA notice.

Libel and Slander

Libel and slander are both forms of defamation. Libel is written, slander is spoken. So what’s defamation? A false statement about a person to a third party, that damages their reputation. So basically, lying. (This is a state law, so you have to look up the specific details depending on where you live.) It’s important to note that adding the phrase, “In my opinion…” in front of a statement that isn’t true does not protect you. While your blog does give you a platform to speak your mind and express your views, it doesn’t give you permission to lie about others. (We found this interesting to note, given all the recent comments and questions that arose after after our GOMI interview.)

Terms of Use

Your blog’s terms of use should be set up shortly after your site goes live. (Haven’t done it yet? Now’s the time!) This is how you set guidelines and establish your site’s relationship with it’s users. Here is where you let readers and users know what they can use from your site, as well as what your obligations are to them, and what you can do in terms of editing, removing, and changing material (this also applies to commenting). Users own the copyright to their comment, but you’ll want to make your commenters aware that you reserve the right to remove or edit any objectionable content they post, at your own discretion. There are a lot of different rules you may want to lay out for your site’s users; check out this break down of terms of use for a good starting point.

 

 

*To compile this post, we consulted heavily with two lawyers, Ruth Carter of Carter Law Firm and Quinn Heraty of Heraty Law. We also used an excellent online source for Internet publishers called Citizen Media Law Project. We recommend browsing this site for more detailed information about many of the terms and laws mentioned above.

*Disclaimer: Information in this guide is based on general principles of law and is intended for information purposes only. It is not offered for the purpose of providing individualized legal advice. Use of this guide does not create an attorney-client or any other relationship between the user and IFB or the lawyers consulted.

Comments

  1. Asia Monique says:

    Wonderful summary of the laws we have as bloggers, it is quite helpful.

  2. Simon Martin says:

    Great guidelines… thanks!

  3. Gayatri says:

    Good thing you guys didn’t forget to put in that disclaimer. Its extremely important. The lawyers you consulted with could have been subject to discipline otherwise.

  4. Mandulis says:

    I realise IFB solely focuses on the US but it would be nice from time to time to acknowledge your international readership and swim across the “pond” and assess the major impact that the new EU Cookie Law will have on everybody. We as bloggers need to get permission from any visitor to our site as to whether we can track them, if they say no – well forget affiliate marketing, forget google analytics.

  5. I just attended a Legal seminar for craft bloggers. I wrote a summation on my blog and got a comment from a reader. She said she purchased a pattern from someone, made the item, and posted a picture that she took of HER item made from the patttern (posted on her blog.) The pattern author found out and sent her a cease and desist letter, claiming that she was infringing on copyright and that the copyright to that picture belonged to her, the pattern author. I found this to be a ridiculous request and told my reader that she owned the copyright to her picture and had every right to put it on her blog. What do you think? Was I correct?

    • Cate says:

      You are DEFINITELY correct. The only thing that person could make a claim to was the actual pattern. Provided the reader had said where she got the pattern from, I don’t see any issue.

  6. Kait Hunter says:

    Loved the part about the disclaimer. Where is the normal spot to place this? Do people typically place it on the homepage, an exclusive page or have it placed somewhere on every page?

  7. Cato says:

    Thanks a lot for this article, in my opinion the legal matters often are terribly neglected by bloggers… I just want to add one little thing about that fair use clause: there isn’t such a thing at least in German copyright law. So every German blogger needs an explicit permission by the copy right owner to use pictures in this non-commercial way, as we bloggers do. I’m a German law graduate (not specialised in intellectual property though) I don’t know how it is in other legal systems, but our German rules aren’t adopted to new media like the internet/blogging world which might lead to some serious trouble, almost nobody really cares for that “explicit permission”, moreover it’s hardly feasible for us “small” bloggers. So I think this point maybe should get some notice.

    But don’t get me wrong, please, of course I see that writing a blog post that takes into account all legal systems on this planet is quite impossible…

  8. Kira says:

    This is very helpful! I see people post things on their blogs like “All photos are copyright of me” and I always wonder what sort of legal bearings those statements have – I would love to see recommendations on what bloggers should post in their policies to protect themselves.

    I’m also really interested to learn about FCC laws involving disclosure – I’ve read some conflicting information and I really want to follow the rules on my own blog. Does IFB have an article on this topic? If not, I would love to see it in the future!

  9. This is just what every bloggers should know in protecting their articles from getting plagiarize by some worthless bloggers out there.

  10. Valentine says:

    Thanks for posting this article. I find it very useful as with internet it is quite hard to protect our selves from these kind of abuse. Especially that as blogger sometimes we are not taken seriously enough.

    I do have a question though. What would you advice when a brand use one of your idea, picture or design to reproduce it and sell it in their shop?

    As I had this kind of problem a while ago with Zara that allegedly used one of my design.

    (See it here:http://blog.valentineavoh.com/2011/04/zara-pure-copy-or-simple-coincidence.html)

    What can be done? As At the time I wrote them just to receive a silly answer. So I left it there. Also it’s Zara..! You cannot attack them as they have the best lawyer regarding intellectual property and copy…

    I even spoke with Betty from Le blog de Betty about that as she had one of her photo stolen. But in reality it seams like nothing can be done.

  11. Ana says:

    As I’m planing an art-featuring blog, this post is of great help.

    I’d love for there to be something like heartIFB for art curators, but until then this is great :) .

  12. THIS IS A VERY INFORMATIVE BLOG AS I HAVE JUST STARTED MY BLOG YESTERDAY AND WANT TO BE SURE I AM DOING THINGS CORRECTLY

  13. This is a great post, regardless of it applying to the US, the basic principles are the same for all of us – if you use something without permission that you didn’t create on your blog, then you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences if the owner of the content discovers the use. Thank you for putting this info together.

  14. Johnny Cruz says:

    I am delighted that I came across this post, I am a regular blogger and now I know about my legal rights like the back of my hand. Thanks so much for this post!!

    Commercial Property Law Ireland

  15. jg says:

    Very helpful post and well summarised. Was wondering whether I could ask a question: Do the rights of the original creator of a blog post (so the writer) change if s/he are publishing blog posts on their employer’s blog?

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