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A lot of rules and regulations protect bloggers and their content, but it can be confusing to navigate the waters if you’re new to blogging. This article breaks down online etiquette and laws so you know what you can and can’t do online. 

Disclose Paid Advertisements

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government whose mission is to protect consumers and promote competition. 

In 2006, the FTC noticed that blogs were getting around traditional advertising by posting paid reviews and endorsements without revealing they were advertisements.

The FTC issued a letter recommending that bloggers be honest and open about paid reviews and endorsements. This is important because, as a blogger, you do not want to mislead your readers. However, it can be difficult to understand what exactly falls under honest and open. According to the FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guidelines:

  1. “Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading.
  2. If the advertiser doesn’t have proof that the endorser’s experience represents what consumers will achieve by using the product, the ad must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in the depicted circumstances.
  3. If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.”

If you already follow the above guidelines, then it is likely you are being open and honest. But if you are concealing your relationships with paid advertisers you need to make changes to your blog now to avoid infractions. 

Copyright Infringement

Whether you’re worried about the copyright of your content, or concerned you may be breaking copyright rules by posting another blogger’s content on your blog, understanding copyright infringement will help you blog inside the law.   

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright “is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Your original work is immediately protected by copyright “the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” This means that once you create written content it is your property.

You can post another blogger’s content on your blog as long as it is considered “fair use.” Fair use is determined on an individual basis, but if you follow these guidelines from Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, PC you can stay compliant:

  1. The purpose and character of the use. Non-commercial uses are more likely to be considered fair use.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work. Factual work (as compared to creative work) is more likely to be considered fair use.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole. Copying an entire body of work will be less likely to be considered fair use.
  4. The effect on the market. If your version of the original content is substituted for the original in the market then it’s less likely to be considered fair use.

Even if you use someone else’s work under these fair use guidelines, it is important to understand that you are responsible for crediting or citing any work that is not originally yours.  WP Dev Shed’s article Citing Sources for Your Blog will give you a quick overview on how to responsibly cite sources on your blog.

If you feel someone is infringing on your copyrights and it does not fall under fair use, you can take steps to resolve the situation. Typically, the first step is to send an email to the owner asking them to remove the material because they are violating copyright infringement. If this does not work, it is within your power to pursue legal action.  Read White & Case’s article What You Need to Know Before You File for more information about creating a copyright case. 

Images & Copyright

With the amount of images available on the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to regulate them all. However, this does not mean you can use any image you like on your blog without citing or crediting the original author. 

Images are protected by the same copyright and fair use laws as written content. This means you have to follow the same fair use guidelines to determine whether you’re able to use an image on your blog. Always be sure to link to the original image and give credit to the author. If you’re not sure whether an image falls under fair use, consider using images with a Creative Commons license or purchasing stock photography. Read our article Images and Your Blog for more information about how to add photography to your blog on any budget. 

Protection of Personal Information

It’s safe to say that most people do not want their personal information to become public. You must make clear to your subscribers that they will not receive spam email or any other emails that are not associated with your blog. 

The Internet is a great place to share ideas, stories, information and images, but it’s important to understand the legal ramifications of sharing. Now that you understand what you can and can’t do while blogging, you have the basics to practice your freedom of speech. Let us know what you found most helpful in the comments below! 

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Comment by Jennifer James on March 12, 2015 at 3:06pm

Great post! 

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