freedom-of-speech-for-bloggers

When we start blogging, we often ask questions such as, “As a blogger, what are my rights?’ “Can I published anything I want?” ” How can I safely blog anonymously?” and/or “With my freedom of speech, can I tell the world the truth about so-in-so?”

Although searches for these topics may lead us to other bloggers that give us a resounding “Yes” or “No’, their answers may not be correct.

If fact, if we listen to what some bloggers say, we could find ourselves faced with a defamation suit or even have our blog taken down.

So, what’s a blogger to do?

Today’s Lesson

In my travels through blogosphere, I landed on “Electronic Frontier Foundation” (EFF). There in the pages of their site is a section named, Bloggers Rights with a link to another area titled: Bloggers Legal Guide

To repeat what this site is saying is important.

To be clear, this guide isn’t a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice. Only an attorney who knows the details of your particular situation can provide the kind of advice you need if you’re being threatened with a lawsuit. The goal here is to give you a basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.

Okay, now that we know this site is “not a substitute for, nor does it constitute legal advice”, let’s get down to what they do offer.

In one section, the EFF discusses, “What Legal Issues Can Arise From My Blog?”

To quote them,

Generally, you face the same liability issues as anyone making a publication available to the public, and receive the same freedom of speech and press protections. The main legal liability issues include:

* Defamation
* Intellectual Property (Copyright/Trademark)
* Trade Secret
* Right of Publicity
* Publication of Private Facts
* Intrusion into Seclusion

Other great questions and answers are discussed on this site, as well.

Examples are:

  1. What should I do if I get sued for what I blogged?
  2. What legal liability issues can arise from my blog?
  3. I found something interesting on someone else’s blog. May I quote it?
  4. I want to complain about a company. Can I use their name and logo?
  5. Do blogs have the same constitutional protections as mainstream media?
  6. Can my employer monitor my blog if I use work computers or the company network?

Below is an example of one of the questions including the answer.

I’m a podcaster — can I record my interviews?

Yes — but you may need to get consent from the people you interview. Many states require all parties to consent for recording audio. Some states also prohibit hidden cameras. See the RCFP’s Tape-Recording Laws at a Glance.

As a footnote: This site reports information for bloggers who live in the United States. For those of you who reside elsewhere, please check to see which rules apply to you.

Today’s Assignment

Have you ever questioned whether what you’ve done on your blog or on a social networking site is legal?

Or does the legality of what you do online even enter your mind?

Raise you hand and share your thoughts.

signature for blog post.

P.S. The EFF site has a badge we can put on our blogs. I have added one to my sidebar to make it easier for all of you to find this site in the future.

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Look Who's Talking
  1. Brad ShorrNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara, Lately I’ve had lots of issues regarding use and attribution of images. For instance, I just installed Apture – an image downloading app – on my blog. Many of the images it retrieves are designated, “license unknown.” Are those OK to use? I’ll probably as Apture, but if anybody knows of articles/sites that clearly explain image licensing, that would be helpful.
    .-= Check out Brad Shorr´s awesome post: 10 Great Twitter Follows =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Brad,

      I’m not familiar with Apture. I can see how it would be confusing if it says “license unknown”. It makes me wonder where they got the photos from and if they are passing on something they shouldn’t be. (??)

      I’ve been using Flickr and always check to make sure they are licensed so I can use them. I have also been doing my own creations lately. By doing that, I don’t have to worry about getting myself in trouble.

  2. Hi Barbara – Like Brad, I’m using Apture. It’s comprehensive, time-saving, all and all pretty awesome. Since it hyperlinks its embeds, I decided to put a notation regarding credits at the bottom of each post, indicating either “per hyperlink” if it’s an Apture embed, or from family collection, or Pete’s work, whatever. This seems reasonable.

    Interestingly, on Facebook I recently linked to a blog post that was stridently critical of an elected official (imagine me doing that LOL). I got a private message from the husband of one of my FB friends, who was inexplicably using his wife’s account to snarkily comment, indicating he was “morally indignant” about what I posted. Presumably this was the blogger’s characterization in my link. Furthermore he had no intention of continuing “this dialogue,” which as far as I could tell consisted of me commenting in a measured tone with factual backup to his first snarky comment. So in essence what passes for communication with this guy is really a couple of drive-by potshots under cover of his wife’s identity and then he gets p.o.’d when you respond in a reasonable, factual way.

    I did respond to his private message in a measured tone with facts and expressed appreciation for his point of view, yet true to his word, I received no response. Pete was of the opinion that was because he could have none (LOL whatever). But one of his remarks was that the blogger’s characterization in the link could be libelous…

    As I understand libel law as it pertains to public figures, there is a high threshold that needs to be met. Essentially, because people are in the public arena, it appears that the law holds they must put up with greater amounts of harassment or mischaracterizations, etc. than the rest of us mere mortals. So, it would appear that most of what is blogged is protected First Amendment speech, those who are morally indignant notwithstanding.

    What has me more concerned is the recent recommendation from a government official (Linda Douglass, I believe) that citizens identify the sources of and send in “fishy-sounding” criticism to them so that a presumptive list could be compiled and responses drafted. Uhhhh, pardon me?
    .-= Check out Betsy Wuebker´s awesome post: LAKE MINNETONKA – THE LURE AND THE LORE =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Betsy,

      Yes, imagine you, replying to a political based comment, LOL. I know you’re outspoken with your views, and I admire you for that.

      I believe you are correct. In the Bloggers’s Guide they cover elected officials and how comments about them are handled differently because they are in the public eye. I didn’t see anything about the family members of the officials though. Having been on some of the political blogs, I have often wondered how “they” can get away with what is said. Realizing the internet would be difficult to monitor, many may become careless only to be reprimanded later.

      I also heard the story of the “fishy sounding” criticism. That didn’t sit right with me either.

  3. Avani MehtaNo Gravatar says:

    Two places where I have questions about legality:

    1. While writing book reviews or excerpts, how much is ok. And when can the publishers sue you for copyright infringement. Although I read lot of books, and had planned on writing book reviews, I quit the idea because of this constant worry – it took fun out of the whole thing.

    2. When image owners say that this image can’t be used for commercial purpose, does that mean that if I earn even a penny from my site, I can’t use them. Or does it mean that I cannot in anyway earn money from the picture – by selling/licensing it in any form.

    At present I use only those images which can be used for commercial purpose.
    .-= Check out Avani Mehta´s awesome post: Isn’t The Joy Of Doing Enough? =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Avani,

      That’s a great question. I just quoted part of a book in a recent post, but it was from the first chapter which is available for free on Amazon.

      You could continue to do them by putting what the book is about in your own words. I know sometimes that doesn’t work well, as the authors are so prolific, but it’s an option.

      Re: the images. Some of the terms of use for images are very confusing. I’ve seen some where it says the image cannot be sold, however, that issue isn’t addressed on every one.

      The “commercial site” issue confuses me, too. If we use ads of any kind, are our blogs considered commercial? Seems like I read something about that in the Bloggers Guide and whatever they were talking about they said in that case it would be best if a blog was ad free. I’m sorry but I can’t remember the topic though.

  4. Thank you so much for writing about this! I hadn’t really considered it much, but it’s definitely imporant and you’ve provided so many great pieces of info here. Thanks!
    .-= Check out Positively Present´s awesome post: turn the dial and tune in to happiness =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Dani,

      We often don’t think about the legal side of blogging, so when I found this guide I wanted to share it. Although many of us don’t have anything to worry about, it’s important to be aware we can get ourselves in trouble if we’re not careful.

  5. I had not really thought about this types of legal issues. Thank you for the great resource. I have put the EFF badge on my blog.
    .-= Check out ‘Ana-The Writer Today´s awesome post: Your Sign And Your Writing =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Ana,

      I’ll come by your blog and check out the badge. I believe it’s a good resource for all of us. The more people who spread the word, the better.

  6. DavinaNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara. I haven’t questioned whether what I’ve done on my blog is legal. About 90% of what I write is original. Once in a while I will share a quote or an excerpt from a book that includes a link or reference to the source. And, I use images from the Creative Commons Attribution License on Flickr. Thanks for highlighting this reference. It’s bound to come in handy in the future.
    .-= Check out Davina´s awesome post: Morning Muse: Writer’s Block, Pass the Windex =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Davina,

      Like you, I also use Creative Commons Flickr photos. I like how they have each section listed with the separate licenses.

      The website appears to be an exceptional source for bloggers who question the legal issues.

  7. Blogging does open up a whole new can of life worms, does it not?

    I pretty-much think I’ve been legal according to the above.

    I was not familiar with Apture. Am not sure if the way I use Google Images (always linking to the source, or what I hope is the source, of course) of pictures is okay or not. But I figure if someone were to ever kick up a fuss, I’d take the photo down pronto.

    Free speech is one thing but folks say down-right mean things about others in cyberspace and it’s considered fine by some — but far from fine with Jannie. We can’t legislate kindness unfortunately. Defamation runs rampant, and usually among that exact-same group that believes in free speech — as long as everyone agrees with their opinons.

    (In other thoughts on legality, I do tend to run around naked on peoples’ blogs and not sure if that’s legal or not, but no one’s caught me yet.) 😉
    .-= Check out Jannie Funster´s awesome post: 46 Blogging Observations So Far =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Jannie,

      I agree. It is sad to read some of what is written online. Some of it is so mean it makes me wonder what the other person did to tick them off.

      Linking to the source on photos is the best way to protect ourselves. Like you said, if someone has a problem, it’s easy for us to take the photo down. But on the other hand, provided all of the credits are correct, it’s also a great way for a photographer to get their work “out there”.

      Naked blogging? Now the truth comes out; It’s not just bras you’re flinging. 😆

  8. Reading what Brad has to say about Apture makes my blood run cold. “License unknown”… EEK!!!

    I personally license each image I use on my blog… because I’ve had clients who have gotten the ugly Masterfile extortion letter – demanding BIG money because either they or their previous web developer didn’t understand the importance of LEGALLY obtaining images.

    One client purchased a template from a WELL known service – that was using overseas developers to create the templates – and SHE got the ugly Masterfile extortion letter as well!!! She purchased the template -but the source didn’t LICENSE the image so they could resell it. Because my CLIENT was the one displaying the image, she’s the one going to court.

    That’s why using an image with “license unknown” would scare the pants off me!!! Because it’s not Apture that will get the letter – it’s the blog owner!!!

    I was reading at 99designs yesterday where they are warning designers about obtaining the proper licensing for their images. ACK!!! I may have paid $400 for a pirated image in my last “crowd sourced design” and I’m the one who’s on the hook – not the designer.

    SCARY stuff…
    .-= Check out Kathy | Virtual Impax´s awesome post: When “work” is fun – more “work” gets done. =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Yes Kathy, it can be scary.

      Thank you for sharing your first hand knowledge of what can and does happen when clients are the ones paying for someone elses mistake.

      You mentioned how your license each image on your blog. How do you do that? By using a creative commons license on your blog? Or are you using a different procedure?

      I like that 99designs is putting the word out about images. I’ll have to go by and check out their post (that’s a new blog to me)

  9. Hi-

    This is a great subject. My writing is my own. What I find is when I post pictures having to be very careful. I usually write an email and have that as documentation permitting me to use photos.
    I have learned if the photo is 75+ years past the death of the person and doesn’t have a copy-write, it can be used.
    What Kathy is stating above is scary.

    I have started writing an article and YOU guessed it. this topic fits in.

    I feel I should have a sign to this blog on the home page of mine.
    .-= Check out Bunnygot blog´s awesome post: I Kicked This Guy In The Bots =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Bunny,

      Having an email as proof you got permission is a great idea. And the note about 75+ years after someone’s death. I didn’t know that. So, thank you.

      Yes. You and I are often on the same page with regard to blogging topics. I was just on your blog a little while ago and the photo you posted is priceless. I love your originality. :)

  10. Barbara,
    This Post is very informative..but a little scary as well. I mean since i am new to blogging…i never thought about this…atleast i know my writings are my own..but as most of the comments here have mentioned its the pictures that are the problem.
    If there are any sites where we can get picture that are free of copyright i would appreciate a link or two.
    I cant imagine getting legally liable for something i love to do. Better to be safe than sorry.
    .-= Check out Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s awesome post: Want to be healthier?Learn To ENJOY more. =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Zeenat,

      Yes. It is scary what can and does happen when bloggers or webmasters aren’t careful with what they publish. I don’t think any of us have a problem with regard to our writings, but when we post photos, we do have to be careful.

      Like many others, I signed up for an account with Flickr. They show photos by groups and for each group they show which license they are licensed under. If you have any questions after you sign up for Flickr, just let me know and I’ll do the best to answer them.

  11. janiceNo Gravatar says:

    Concern about copyright is one reason it took me so long to even consider using images. At the moment I only use my own, those I’ve been given permission to use or the unscary-OK ones from Flickr.

    Quotes are another problem. I usually keep them short so they’re quotes not excerpts, and if I’m doing a book review, I get permission if I can. Otherwise, I trust that the author will see it as a win/win.

    I’m anxious by nature, but my antidote is to write original pieces, attribute and link wherever possible and try to avoid ranting or hurling insults of any kind. Life’s too short. If I worried any more than I already do, I’d have to give up blogging.

    Thanks Barbara; this was a thought provoking one.
    .-= Check out janice´s awesome post: Alfonsina and the Sea =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Janice,

      Like you, I see book reviews as a win-win. Loyal readers trust what we say, therefore, they’re more apt to buy the book based on our recommendations. Short quotes not only add intrigue to our blog posts, but will often inspire readers to buy the book, as well.

      I have seen some book reviews where the whole book is “disclosed” in the review. Those, I think, go too far.

  12. I’m really glad you touched on this topic, or else it would have never crosse my mind. Some bloggers do not realize that the same laws apply to them, even though it is their own blog. I’ve heard of countless individuals being arrested simply because of what they said on their blog.
    .-= Check out The Gooroo @ iBlogPlanet.com´s awesome post: My Trip To Los Angeles – Summer 2009 =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Gooroo,

      Although I’ve never heard of anyone being arrested for what they write on their blog, I can see how it could happen. Some people forget that “freedom of speech” has it’s limitations, too.

  13. Hi Barbara,
    This is something that concerns me and I think about it quite often. One of the tenets of my blog is sharing information out there about JOY–which often involves quotes and excerpts from the myriad of books I’ve read. The point is to spread the enthusiasm and make information known that people might not otherwise take the time to explore. I figure it’s a win/win for the book authors I quote but the legality of it is always in the back of my mind. It was interesting to read your link about quoting other bloggers. I hope the same applies to quoting book authors…
    .-= Check out Jodi at Joy Discovered´s awesome post: Announcements =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Jodi,

      Like Janice said, doing short quotes produces a win-win for you and the author of the book. And, if you’re ever in doubt, you could email the author or publishing house and confirm your posts are in compliance.

  14. […] Without a Blog has a post up about The Legal Side of Blogging – this’ll keep you […]

  15. TumblemooseNo Gravatar says:

    Barbara,

    My parole officer says mine is good to go.
    Seriously, I don’t think many blogger pay much attention to this aspect of blogging. I mean after all, we’re darned near anonymous, right? And blogging isn’t real. No one takes it serious… Hoo, boy.

    George
    .-= Check out Tumblemoose´s awesome post: Book ‘em, Dano – Ten fully arrest-able query gaffs =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You make me laugh, George,

      You may be right. Many bloggers don’t pay attention to the legal aspects of blogging, however it is something we need to consider. Much like cyber bullying and death threats that happen to others, putting our blinders on doesn’t make it go away.

  16. CirklagirlNo Gravatar says:

    The image of someone streaking through someone else’s blog really cracked me up (Jannie Funster)! So funny! I also use Flickr to get my creative commons photos. I am so grateful for that resource! (Thank you, Flickr!)

    My fiance came across a company the other day that was making videos to promote a company without their permission and, even though it seemed like it was done as a benefit, the owner of the company had expressly said that he did NOT want to do business with them and was thinking of suing. I don’t blame him. I think that we do need to be careful about what we create and distribute.

    Thanks again for this great resource, Barbara. I always learn something when I come out here.
    .-= Check out Cirklagirl´s awesome post: Happy 40th Birthday, Jenny!! =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Amy, and thank you for your kind words,

      Thank you for sharing the story about the company who was making videos without the permission of the other. I think a lot of people get themselves in trouble because they assume something without checking with the source.

  17. jan geronimoNo Gravatar says:

    Very useful concerns you’ve raised here, Barbara. I’m bookmarking this page as well as the useful links you’ve recommended. Thanks.
    .-= Check out jan geronimo´s awesome post: Avoiding Scams Aimed at Writers =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Jan,

      When you have a chance, check out the link to eff.org. They’re a fabulous resource for bloggers who are concerned about doing things right.

  18. […] Now, if all I did was listen to the news, I would think bloggers are far left/far right wing radicals who trash political figures in the name of “first amendment rights”, with no concern of legal ramifications. […]

  19. […] The Legal Side of Blogging – important legal information for bloggers. […]

  20. mialoveNo Gravatar says:

    This is very useful as right now I have set up a blog which will require visitors to submit a photo and message, so I need a disclaimer and I have been searching for a free simple one for 2 days now.
    I have found a couple of lengthy disclaimers which do not fit in with what I need.

    I simply need a disclaimer which looks something like this: We reserve the right to publish your image and message at our own discretion. You are granting us the right to a royalty-free content.

    Please can you help me find a site where i can simply copy and paste a disclaimer like this onto my blogger blog.

    I would appreciate your help.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Mialove,

      Unfortunately I don’t know of a site that offers short disclaimers. The one I use (see nav bar/header) I got free from Priority Digital.

      What you could do is post part of the disclaimer where you need it to be and then provide a link to the page where the complete disclaimer is. As bloggers we not only need to protect ourselves but protect the rights of our readers, as well. When all parties are completely informed, it reduces the chances for problems later on.

      • SharmilaNo Gravatar says:

        Barbara, I appreciate this post very much!
        I am becoming more serious about blogging ‘right’ and not just blogging! I see it as a business opportunity, and know that I must be very careful – because anonymous can eventually become a more leading blog! 😉 ya just never know! :) dreams do come true! 😀
        My main concern has been *photos.
        Unfortunately, I have an anonymous fairly large photo collection. I have an eye for beauty so I save images which catch my eye to these folders and use it for my online virtual scrapbooking network sites.
        When I have a main hosting site then I know I will especially need to be more careful and find some sort of system for where these photos are coming from! I’d hate to get sued over that – a very bad thing! 😉
        2 scenarios:
        ~Many of my photos can come from leisure creative sites – we all share the photos and don’t know where they originate from… they circulate based on inspiration alone -no one is making money from them! I think many of them are from myspace graphic sites, and of the like.
        ~probably what I need to be more careful of is that I use flickr photos sometimes – but I am not a member. I only use the ones that are available to guests. .jpg / or through cool iris it makes it possible.
        what are your thoughts on this? as far as flickr goes?
        (my main concern rests here)
        what is the proper way should I use a flickr and share whose photo it is?
        I noticed that some on blogspot will post a link under the photo. can they use that photo and link it just like that, or do you have to ask permission for every photo?
        thank you for your feedback!
        ~Jen
        .-= Check out Sharmila´s awesome post: Pause and Imagine ..Be Awakened! =-.

        • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

          Thank you Jen,

          Yes, dreams do come true, and blogs could easily skyrocket to stardom on a moments notice.

          Like you said, we do want to be careful and blog right, not just “blog”.

          With regard to photos, I do know what you’re saying. I often find gorgeous photos online, but won’t republish them unless I know I can. With Flikr, I am a member and only use photos where the “license” gives approval. I also post a link at the bottom of my posts to give attribution to the photographer.

          From what I understand, depending on which license the photos are listed under, some photos do not require written permission, however, a link should be provided.

          Another issue I’ve seen being raised is if photos are being used on a “commercial” site – and blogs with ads may be considered “commercial sites”. Although I haven’t read everything in the “Bloggers Legal Guide”, like you, I want to blog right and make sure I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes.

          My advice would be “better safe than sorry”.

          Hope that helps.