How To Keep Your Blog Legal

by | Oct 20, 2017

The legal aspects of blogging are often overlooked by bloggers themselves. Many still think that they are free to pretty much do and say as they like and not bother with the rules the rest of us stick to. Let’s be clear, the internet is not some form of no man’s land where the laws of the land do not apply. Whether that’s stuff you post on your blog, hurling abuse at someone on Twitter or sexual harassment on Snapchat, your legal obligations remain the same as if you were stood out in the street having a conversation with someone.

 

Let’s also be clear on something else. Google is not the Internet police. Nor are they any form of legal body. They are a search engine. Ok, yes they do other stuff as well, but fundamentally they are a search engine. So please stop confusing Google rules and regulations with the actual law. They may be able to delist you from their search engine, take down videos from YouTube and ensure your website does not rank highly. But they can’t do very much to your actual site. Because your site is yours. Not theirs. Yours. You own it. I’m not including those that use services such as Blogger still (because Google does actually own that) or Squarespace or whatever else there is. I’m talking about actual real, self-hosted, proper websites that you own and control.

 

Someone tried telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about a few days ago whilst telling me that you can’t use a do-follow link as it’s the law. I rolled my eyes a lot. Virtually of course. This person didn’t understand the difference between a Google rule and the actual legal requirements of a blog.

 

INTERNET POLICE

I’ll also add at this point, that as yet my application to join the internet police has yet to be acknowledged. I’m beginning to think they don’t exist or there is no actual establishment or vacant position. Just like the blog police, the Twitter police or the Facebook police don’t exist.

 

I’m not a legal expert or professional on this matter. I’ve just worked in this industry for a long time now so there are standards I’ve been around and worked to for some time. There are other things that I’ve been advised on or that are just common sense. As I said earlier, the laws you have to abide by in the real world also apply online. But if you’re ever in doubt about your legal position on something in relation to your blog, seek advice before you hit publish. Better safe than sorry and with a court judgement against you.

 

I’ve previously written about the legal and ethical aspects of live streaming which essentially has many of the same rules and regulations as blogging, just zero room for correction.

** Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. You know how it is, a girls gotta eat. 

TAX

This is the forgotten rule of blogging. Since now many, many bloggers take payment for blogs, adverts, social media posts, sponsorships etc, it’s more commonplace that they will earn some money from their blog. That’s income. And that’s taxable. And subject to National Insurance. Therefore, you have to register as self-employed, do your annual self-assessment and ensure you pay what you owe by the end of January every year. If you’re claiming any benefits, tax credits included, you have to declare this as income. Now don’t forget this also means that you can deduct any expenses in relation to your blog.

 

 

Things like hosting fees, graphics, WordPress themes, cameras are all expenses. Plus many more things that I’m not going to go in to right now. Other than to tell you to keep proper and accurate records and don’t get on the wrong side of HMRC. You won’t win that battle and if you’re claiming benefits think carefully if you’re willing to risk losing them for the sake of your blog. Can your blog replace what income you might lose?

COPYRIGHT

So the police aren’t going to come and arrest you for breach of copyright but you could still find yourself in court and hit with a big fine depending on the size and nature of the infringement. So how can you avoid this happening?

 

Step away from Google images! Seriously! How on earth do you still think it’s ok to just casually Google and download any old image you fancy using? Let’s put this into context for you to understand. Imagine you’ve spent ages working on a blog post. You’ve crafted your art to perfection. Got all the SEO just right. It’s perfect and you’re proud of it. Better still by publishing it, you’re going to get paid for it. Nice. Then some eejit comes along and just casually copies it all, word for word, and posts it everywhere. Like everywhere. Without asking you first. They put it on some terrible sites, turn it into an awful meme and just basically show no respect for all the effort you put into it. It also means that people stop paying you for your piece of work because they can get it for free elsewhere.

 

Annoying right?

 

Now imagine how that photographer feels when you just casually use their images without paying or asking?

 

If, like me, you don’t have the time to take great photos. Or feel that your photos just don’t cut it in our overly visual blogging world, then invest in some good stock graphics accounts. There are plenty of free stock graphics accounts out there but if you want something better and not what everyone else is using then you’re going to need to spend some money.  My favourite go-to is Haute Stock. Just stay away from Google images. And don’t rely on the fair use argument. It’s a grey area and not a sound argument. If you use it, make sure you’ve got a license for it or the express, written permission, of the creator.

 

IT’S MY IDEA – PLAGIARISM

Often in the blogging world, we see a bit of a catfight over one blogger saying another has stolen their ideas. I’ve seen some claim the legal high ground. Look, it’s 2017. At this point, everything has been done. Everything. There isn’t much left that hasn’t been blogged or vlogged about. When someone has a hissy fit saying everyone is copying them, chances are they don’t understand how big the blogosphere actually is.

However, plagiarism is different. This is when someone pretty much takes what you have written and either take whooping big chunks of it or has pretty much the same context. For example, if you decided to write a blog on the same subject matter as this blog and used all the same headers and key points and the same examples and pinched a few of my witty one-liners, that’s stealing my ideas. That’s plagiarism. And it’s not nice.

 

However, making it stand up in court is another matter so really it’s a matter for your conscience and own integrity. And the small matter of the voodoo doll I will make of you and stick pins into forever more.

 

Intellectual property is another matter and a bit too complex to cover here and now. But if something has a trademark or copyright sign next to it, you know the © or ® or ™ then leave it alone. It’s not yours to touch.

 

DISCLOSURE

Before we start, refer back to my point at the start, that Google is not the law. They are a search engine. Google state that if a post is sponsored you must use a no-follow link and disclose the relationship. However, in issuing their guidance they left most of it in a grey area because they didn’t take into account natural follow links that would and should appear within your website.

 

How would Google know that a do-follow link on a blog post about, say, a great meal you had, was sponsored or not if there was no disclosure because it wasn’t sponsored and you’d paid for the meal? What about affiliate links? What about links others leave in your comments section? I thought the comments example was a good one given the blog post Google put out about this became flooded with spam comments containing do-follow links. Almost like proving a point. Anyway……..

 

The legal requirements of disclosure are clear. It’s the nature of the disclosure that varies between different countries advertising standards authorities. But best practice is to be open, honest and transparent. Make your disclosure hard to miss. Be clear if you got a freebie or if you got paid. You don’t have to say how much you got paid. And cover your own ass.

 

Don’t:

Assume your followers know about all your different brand relationships

Assume your disclosure will be seen when it requires someone to click to see more

Rely on the built-in disclosures on social media platforms (like the handshake thing on Facebook)

Be vague with your disclosure by using hashtags like #sp #spon #thanks etc. Use the proper words and tags.

Also, don’t forget about Snapchat and Insta Stories. You need to put a #ad on the actual image/snap/story not somewhere else vaguely hoping your viewer might not realise that your swipe up reference is actually sponsored. And don’t use the tiniest font you can manage. Make it clear!

 

Your website should also have a full disclosure statement linked within the footer.

 

PRIVACY

If you’re collecting any form of data on your website, be it email addresses, you have a Facebook tracking pixel or any other thing that tells you something about the visitors to your website, you need a privacy policy. And one of those cookie consent button things.

When collecting emails you need to ensure this is done in a way that doesn’t breach anyone’s privacy, meets data compliance regulations and CAN-SPAM rules. The easiest way to do this is by using a mail provider such as MailChimp.

 

Don’t start sending out random emails to subscribers from your Gmail and certainly don’t put anyone on your list that hasn’t given express consent to be there. This is why double opt-in is always your best bet. And a legal requirement in some countries.

 

Every single day I receive a lot of email newsletters that I haven’t subscribed to. Not only is it annoying but it’s a sure-fire way to ensure that I never read the email, click on the links, buy from that company or speak nicely about them. You know how annoying those PPI and have you had an accident phone calls are? Spam email is just as bad. Don’t do it.

 

GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT

Most blogs are touted as being one’s own personal opinion. That’s fine. Just make sure you say that. If you are talking about another person or an event make sure you have your facts right and you have 100% proof of those facts. If you say something that isn’t true or could be potentially damaging to someone else and you are stating it as a matter of fact, you could leave yourself wide open to legal action. Don’t be that person that gets sued for calling someone out over something you haven’t got your facts right about. Slander and libel are a dangerous game of roulette you don’t want to chance playing. You don’t know someone else’s ability to drag you through the courts if they can.

 

It’s also best to work on a fair opinion basis. If you’re going to say a product or place is rubbish then be clear on your reasons why and offer balance. It’s not very fair, or professional for that matter to say a product is rubbish just because your mate gets you freebies at a competitor brand or because you want to suck up to the PR. Bloggers don’t have to work to the same codes as journalists, but we’ve still got to keep an edge of professionalism about us.

 

The pen can be mightier than the sword but loose lips sink ships.

 

STAY ON THE GOOD SIDE

The Internet is only still really in its infancy and blogging is just still a newborn baby. When some bloggers try saying the industry is saturated I smirk. It’s not. It’s only just beginning. Imagine if the BBC had after launching BBC1 in 1936 said that the industry was saturated when ITV came along in 1955. What if others had paid attention then and the industry had remained as it was? You get my point.

 

Just remember to stay on the right legal side and keep on producing the best quality content you possibly can. Serve your audience and provide them with value. And come the day when there are a billion blogs all posting content, you’ll be doing just fine.

 

** Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. You know how it is, a girls gotta eat. 

 

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