blogindianaI recently attended Blog Indiana 2009, a 3-day blogging and social media conference that aimed to promote education, innovation and collaboration among Indiana’s fast-growing blogging community.  The conference was very informative and had an extraordinary turnout.  However, despite all the great information we were getting, it became clear that a lot of legal issues were going unanswered (or un-asked).  Being the only attorney in the packed room, that wasn’t totally surprising.  However, knowing that these issues are important for every blogger to at least consider, I’ve decided to prepare a series of posts dealing specifically with the legal issues that bloggers should be thinking about.

My idea to write these posts was reinforced last week when news came out about a recent case where a court granted a plaintiff’s request to force Google to reveal the e-mail address and IP address of an anonymous blogger who allegedly defamed the plaintiff.  Clearly a big hit against anonymous blogging…more on that in a future post.

EFF-logo-transFirst things first, if you want the ultimate source for information on bloggers’ rights, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (“EFF”) excellent FAQ series.  If you’re a blogger and not yet familiar with EFF, you should be.  After all, they’ve been doing you a world of good for the last two decades.  Quick intro…the Electronic Frontier Foundation is an international non-profit advocacy and legal organization dedicated to preserving the right to freedom of speech in the context of today’s digital age.  I have several friends over at EFF and they’re all top-notch people with top-notch legal minds doing top-notch legal work.  ‘Nuff said about that.  On with the info that you want:

Bloggers’ Legal Issues

Bloggers, while hailing from a variety of political, economic and social backgrounds, all have one thing in common…they’ve got something to say.  From cake recipes to motherhood to Indiana Intellectual Property updates, the constant is that bloggers have something to say, often regardless of the size or stature of their audience.  Blogs have provided a great forum for publishing directly to an interested public.  As such, a blogger needs to consider the same legal issues as anyone making a widely-available publication.  Specifically, the astute blogger will want to at least be familiar with:

  • Intellectual Property (Copyright, Trademark)
  • Defamation (Truth as Defense, Public v. Private Figures)
  • Anonymity (First Amendment Protection, Subpoenas)
  • Privacy (Publication of Private Information, “Newsworthy” Information)

Keep in mind that laws vary from state to state.

While the Constitution and federal laws, such as copyright law, apply nationwide, many laws that affect bloggers vary from state to state. For example, defamation and privacy laws are defined by each state.  This blog series will focus on Indiana’s laws, but bloggers should consider checking the law of their jurisdiction (or ask an attorney to look into it for you.)

What about those crazy comments?

Generally, you have a First Amendment right to publish your blog in the way that you want, which includes the right to choose who may participate in discussions on your blog.  That means you’re able to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.  But always be conscientious when removing someone else’s voice from the dialogue…with great power comes great responsibility.

With that general introduction out of the way, the next post in the series will be: A Legal Primer for Bloggers: Intellectual Property.  The post will help you understand your rights to link to information or graphics from other sources, quote from articles and blogs, or otherwise use someone else’s copyrighted works.  It will also discuss the appropriate use of trademarks in blogs (both yours and 3rd-party marks).

More on EFF – EFF is a donor-funded nonprofit and depends on your support to continue successfully defending your digital rights. Litigation is particularly expensive; two-thirds of EFF’s budget comes from individual donors, so every contribution is critical to helping EFF fight — and win — more cases.  Want to know how EFF has already helped?  EFF has taken action in several ways; it provides or funds legal defense in court, defends individuals and new technologies from the chilling effects of what it considers baseless or misdirected legal threats, provides guidance to the government and courts, organizes political action and mass mailings, supports some new technologies which it believes preserve personal freedoms, maintains a database and web sites of related news and information, monitors and challenges potential legislation that it believes would infringe on personal liberties and fair use, and solicits a list of what it considers patent abuses with intentions to defeat those that it considers without merit.

A Legal Primer for Bloggers


Part 2: Intellectual Property

Part 3: Defamation

Part 4: Anonymity

Part 5: Privacy