Welcome to class – Blogging Legally 101! Today’s lesson is about taking it back to the way way basics. If you’ve been blogging for awhile, you might already be aware of a lot of this. Or maybe you’ve been blogging for awhile but you weren’t aware of these legal basics. Or maybe you’re a brand new blogger and want to start out on the right foot when it comes to blogging. Regardless of how you clicked over – welcome! I’m pretty dang sure you’ll learn a thing or two with today’s post.
First off, I want to congratulate you for reading another one of my posts about the legal aspects related to blogging. Lots of other people are talking about the more glamorous things – building a business where you can be your own boss, making 6 figures, becoming a blog guru – all super awesome things. But I’m over here bringing the party down, saying “well before you make thousands of bucks, have you thought about tax consequences? Is your viral giveaway legal? Do you have independent contractor agreements in place?”
Cue nerdy me, pushing my glasses up.
I don’t want to take the wind out of your sails (or your sales. I love puns.) You’re excited about your blog and your business. You want to jump right in and create a blog with beautiful graphics, start your email list, get paid by brands to work with them, sell your ecourse, host a giveaway and so.much.more.
And I want you to do all those things. But, more importantly, I want you to do them legally. Because it’s all fun and games til someone gets sued. Womp womp. But it’s true. Knowing the legal repercussions is super important when you’re building up your space online. I don’t want you to make a potentially devastating error that could cost you a ton (financially and emotionally). The best way to avoid a potential mistake is to be empowered by knowledge. Which is where today’s post comes in. Let’s jump into the basics you need to know.
(Oh and before we get started – I am an American attorney, so I’m writing this from the perspective of US law. If you live in a different country, your laws may be different, so consult with a local attorney or professional. Also this post is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be treated as legal advice.)
Copyright laws apply to lots of different work product, including your original blog content – your words, your images, your design, etc. In the US, work is automatically copyrighted once it’s created. This is good news because it means your work is protected. But this also means that other people’s work is also copyright protected, so you can’t use other people’s work without their permission (meaning getting their explicit permission or using work where the owner has said they’re ok with other people using it, such as with a Creative Commons license.)
Additionally, just because your work is protected, that doesn’t mean that it won’t get stolen. It’s a good idea to include a copyright statement on your blog, letting others know that it’s your content and you aren’t (or are) ok with others using it. Read more about copyright issues – 7 Legal Myths About Blogging.
Linking to other content
So now you might be scared to ever use or refer to anyone else’s content. And I’m not trying to tell you not to link to other people’s work, but to just make sure that you’re getting permission if you are re-posting someone else’s content, such as their blog post, a video, product or images. However, if you are just referencing someone else’s work and providing a link, then you aren’t violating any copyright issues. If you are worried, you can always email someone to ask, but most people are happy if you share their content. The most important thing is to just give attribution where it is due.
Legal statements on blogs
Most blogs need several different statements (in order to protect yourself and your readers) – a privacy statement (a must have if you collect any personal info), terms and conditions statement (letting people know the acceptable behavior for visitors of your blog) and a disclosure statement (disclosing that you have a vested interest in the products/brands you’re recommending).
These statements are important because they show that you’re running a professional business blog and understand legal requirements. It will also put your visitors at ease because you’re letting them know your “rules” – such as you don’t sell their personal info, you have security in place, you won’t tolerate abusive comments, etc.
Click the links to learn more about each kind of statement and how to create one for your blog. I also have templates available in my Legal Marketplace, where you can plug in your blog info to create your own customized statement.
Using an address in email newsletters
If you are using email marketing for your blog or business, make sure you are doing it correctly. The most important thing is to include your address in your email newsletter (physical address or a PO Box). This is to help prevent spam. In general, you want to avoid being spammy with your email list and want to make sure you aren’t emailing people who have opted out. Learn more about email lists and the law in my recent post.
Providing info in your niche without liability
You want to share helpful information on your blog, but some professionals need to be careful that they aren’t opening themselves up to liability. For example, if you’re an accountant and you blog about finance, you should always make sure to include language that this isn’t financial advice and if someone relies on it to their detriment, you aren’t liable, you aren’t promising results, etc.
For the most part, people will realize your blog posts are just for informational purposes and not medical, legal, tax, health, etc advice. However, to cover your butt and make it clear to people that you aren’t sharing professional advice, it’s a good idea to include a disclaimer as often as possible. For example, I have a legal disclaimer below. If you’re providing any info that might be mistakenly seen as professional advice, be sure to make it clear that you aren’t acting in your professional capacity.
In a nutshell, a contract is the agreed upon terms between two parties regarding their relationship. You have a contract for huge deals, like buying your house. But you can also create a contract for your web design clients, when you’re partnering up for a webinar, when you offer free photo packs for download and so much more. We all deal with contracts constantly in our everyday lives and we don’t even think about them. Contracts are there to provide protection in those worst case scenarios.
If you’re doing any sort of online business, start thinking about where you might need contracts in place. It can be as simple as laying it all out in an email or you can get an attorney to draft one for you. Just think of how you need to protect your work when it comes to work working with others. There’s so much more to this topic and I’ll be writing about it soon in another blog post.
Tax and money
If you’re making money with your blog, you need to understand tax issues in your jurisdiction. In general, once you are making more than $400 per year, you need to start reporting that to the government. Because, taxes, of course. However, you are also able to take advantage of some deductions as well. In fact, your blog can actually save you money. So if your blog is brand new, start tracking your income and expenses today, so that you’ll be ready when tax time comes around. Additionally, if your blog is still in the “hobby” stage, you might not need to worry about taxes yet. Check out this post to learn whether your blog is a business or a hobby.
Finding trustworthy legal info
There is obviously a ton of information out there, so make sure you are finding what applies to your particular situation. The law can be messy since it’s not always cut and dry – what applies for one person’s situation might not be applicable to yours. In general, find information from people who are actually attorneys, make sure you are covering your butt with the legal basics by researching as much as you can and consult with a local attorney if you need more specific and tailored legal advice.
Remember this post is just the first building block when it comes to how to blog legally. I obviously can’t teach it all in just one blog post. If I could, law school would’ve been much shorter (and cheaper). I think the first step is even understanding and knowing that legal consequences do exist for bloggers. But it doesn’t need to be scary. If you put the basic legal protections in place now, you can get back to the fun aspects of blogging worry-free.
If you’re ready to learn more, here are a few options for you:
My comprehensive legal course – Blog and Be Legal
My free email course – Legalize Your Blog
My ebook – The Blogger’s Handbook for Keeping It Legal
Templates – Legal Marketplace
If you’re just getting started, the above will put you on the best path. Any questions I missed here and that you’d like to learn more about? Shoot me an email (jackie AT jadeoak.com) or drop a comment below! I’m here to make the law less scary – promise!
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Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions of failure to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.