How to blog without breaking the law
You may just be sharing recipes, writing reviews, or commenting on politics, and your blog may only be read by a small group of friends, but media law still applies – and things can get pretty nasty if you break it.
Cases of defamation, libel, contempt of court, copyright infringement and plagiarism are rare, but they are a risk for bloggers. Here, experts share their tips on what to be aware of before publishing:
An angry blog post can reach a lot of people
“You may only be intending to write for an audience of four or five of your friends, but you are still subject to the when writing online,” says Tom Felle, acting director of interactive and newspaper journalism at City University.
Defaming someone, or libelling them, means to damage their name and reputation. The law in the UK is fairly tough – the burden of proof lies with the defendant, who has to prove that their supposedly defamatory statements were true, rather than with the plaintiff.
So, if you have a tendency to let your words run away from you online, this is an area of law you need to keep in mind. There have been a few famous defamation cases against bloggers: a British gaming blogger in 2009 by a US company, but under Australian law, using the argument that the offending post could be read there.
The case was during the trial, but it set a precedent about how large an online audience could be judged to be and which jurisdiction cases can be brought in.
Opinion and fact need to be distinct
You have the right to argue that your opinion is fair comment in many cases. But before it gets to that, pay careful attention to the tone and accuracy of your writing.
Claire de Than, a senior lecturer at City University’s law school and an expert in media law explains: “The chances of a blog with a small audience being sued successfully for defamation are small, and bloggers often have the defence of honest opinion, but they need to make it clear that it is an opinion. Even a typo or a misplaced quotation mark can lead to a libel allegation.”
It’s better to be right than to be first
It is particularly important for budding writers and journalists to take care over their online scribblings. Alex Veeneman, a managing editor of , a site that publishes many student writers, says he would encourage any student writer to take care over getting their facts straight.
“It is better to be right than to be first when publishing anything online,” he says. “If you are serious about getting into journalism, or growing the popularity of your blog, then it’s all about building trust with your audience. That comes from caring about accuracy, which has the added benefit of avoiding a lawsuit. Don’t approach your article with a sense of malice.”
Don’t steal photos... or ideas
It seems that everyone on the internet steals photos, says Felle, but he recommends making an effort not to join in. Copyright law can sneak up. was slapped with a $2.1m (£1.6) claim in 2013 for copyright infringement after he used 14 photos taken by a New York Times photographer (and then tried to pass them off as his own).
Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise, recommends dating blogger Roni Loren, who was .
Felles adds: “It’s about being professional with your work. You don’t need to steal a photo when there is a wealth of available, so check the usage rights before using a picture. Or ask the photographer first – they’ll appreciate it.”
Apart from anything else, copying other people, whether it’s their words or photos, takes all the creativity out of blogging. Chloe Borderick, a recent graduate and the writer behind the lifestyle blog , says that she keeps all of her content original.
“I don’t take recipes from other sites, all images are my own or credited with permission,” she says. “I have had my own images taken from my site and used without credit or permission, so I know how frustrating this is.”
You can keep up with the in the Guardian, and there’s more useful information available at the and the .
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