The Internet is the fastest and simplest way to communicate to the rest of the world. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a double edged sword. The statements we make online can destroy our business image if we are reckless.
The consequences for not being careful online may be much more serious than we think. In the United States and many other countries, bloggers are now treated as journalists in some regards and can be sued or even prosecuted based on what they say. This article discusses some of the laws that bloggers need to be aware of.
Keep in mind, these laws may not be enforceable in your home country, but it is wise to follow these guidelines wherever you are.
Violating copyrights is more serious than we think
Plagiarism is a big problem for bloggers and it is taken very seriously. I know a blogger who got almost sued by the New York Times. He made the mistake of including images from the newspaper on his own website, which was dedicated to sharing New York Times articles for free.
He finally got the message and took the site down. Being sued by a fellow blogger for stealing their work is serious enough. Can you imagine making an enemy of one of the larges corporations in the world?
Bloggers may not benefit from journalist shield laws
In the U.S. this topic is still being debated. Journalists have the right to shield their sources, even from law enforcement in most circumstances. However, courts have yet to answer the question as to what role bloggers play in media. There was a case in New Jersey where a blogger was required to turn over information on one of his sources.
Until these laws are clearly defined, you should always assume that any conversations you hold are not legally protected from a government subpoena. Make sure your sources know that as well.
Bloggers can be held for libel charges
Free exchange of information does not guarantee freedom to say what you want without being penalized. If a blogger makes a falsified statement to the entire world that damages a person or business’s reputation, they are liable and may need to pay for it. Lawsuits for libel can be extremely expensive and can possibly ruin most bloggers.
The liabilities bloggers face have not been fully tested in court. However, it is already clear that bloggers cannot assume they are free to do as they will online (or participate in Laissez-faire business practices). You must always be vigilant about what you do online so you don’t end up getting sued or prosecuted like my friend almost did.