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Important Legal Tips to Understand Before You Start Blogging

By September 12, 2018 No Comments

You’ve chosen several topics and angles, picked a content management platform and used your social media profiles to spread the word about how you’re entering the blogging world soon. What’s left? Making sure you know the basics about legal concerns that could arise when you’re a blogger.

Please Note: We are not lawyers and this is not legal advice! Just some things to consider learning more about and looking into as your blog grows.

Endorsement Disclosure Is a Must

Many bloggers receive free products and other perks in exchange for mentioning companies in their content. If that situation applies to you, the Federal Trade Commission mandates letting readers know about that relationship, which is considered an endorsement.

You might use the #advertisement hashtag or include a statement in a post’s footer about how you got paid or received something for free from a company.

Copyright Protection Begins From the Moment of Creation

Contrary to what some bloggers may think, a work is under copyright from the moment of its creation, regardless of the publication date. Moreover, it’s not possible to copyright an idea that leads to a post or another type of created work.

It’s not necessary to get copyright notices or register your work to benefit from copyright protection. However, if you need to take legal action for a suspected case of infringement, a copyright notice or another date-based method of proof is advantageous. If you’re a blogger writing material under your name and not as a work for hire, you are the copyright owner.

When putting the work of others within your posts, that practice is subject to fair use. If citing a short snippet of a piece to support your points, that’s more likely considered fair use than grabbing several paragraphs. Also, if the use of another person’s work is part of your post to increase your likelihood of making a profit, it’d be nearly impossible to argue that’s an instance of fair use.

The specifics surrounding fair use are not always straightforward. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to consult a legal professional before proceeding with your desired purpose.

All Images Are Not Free to Use

The Internet makes it easier than ever for people to find pictures of anything and everything. Many people use Google Images as a starting point. However, the problem with Google Images is that it pulls in images from numerous sources, and you don’t automatically have permission to use them in your blogs. There is, however, a way to tweak Google’s filters and only see images that are OK to publish on a blog.

When including images in a post, you have a few options. The first is to contact the copyright owner and ask for permission to use an image. Next, a route many bloggers take is to use Creative Commons images. Those are pictures their creators licensed for use under certain circumstances that depend on the individual content. Commonly, many creators allow for images to be used with attribution and not for promotional purposes.

If your marketing budget allows for it, you may wish to buy stock images. That won’t typically be necessary, due to the easily accessible places to find free and legal visual content. However, if you’re covering an unusual topic and can’t find what you need without paying for it, buying usage rights via a stock photo purchase might be the way to go.

Be Aware of the Risk of Defamation Claims

Perhaps one of the things that inspired you to become a blogger is the urge to speak your mind about controversial topics or people and ultimately encourage people to think differently. In any case, if you’ll be using your blog as a platform to give opinions about other people, you need to know about online defamation law.

It comes into play if you publish false written content that could be considered harmful to a person’s reputation, which is otherwise known as libel. If the individual you write about is a public figure, he or she must also prove you had malicious intent. However, if it’s just an everyday individual, that person must show negligence. You can use truth as a defense, but building your case is often costly.

Stating opinions is not defamatory, but it is not always enough to write something such as, “My opinion is that…” and then proceed to make your claim. When deciding libel cases, courts of law often look at the context surrounding a libelous statement and determine how likely it is a reader could have assumed something said was a verifiable fact.

There are state-specific variations in libel laws, so it’s a good idea to learn which ones apply to where you live. Depending on locality and the scope of coverage on your blog, you may be protected by a specification that allows people to accurately report on controversial issues without fear of libelous accusations.

Most Blogging Income Is Taxable

Among the attractive things about becoming a blogger is the potential to work from anywhere and on your schedule. That freedom is indeed appealing, but it usually doesn’t extend to getting off the hook for paying Uncle Sam. In addition to reporting all your blogging income to the IRS, you’re probably subject to self-employment tax.

Assuming you’re an independent contractor or in a situation where a company that pays you as a blogger doesn’t take taxes out of your earnings, you need to pay estimated taxes every quarter. If you don’t anticipate making more than $1,000 in a year, it may be possible to avoid those taxes, but check with an accountant for more advice about current tax law.

Even if you don’t owe estimated taxes, it’s still necessary to pay self-employment tax to the IRS when filing at the end of a year, not in installments every few months. With that in mind, consider adjusting your budget to set money aside every month for the self-employment tax and estimated taxes if applicable.

You Must Exercise Caution When Sending Commercial Emails

Like many bloggers, you may want to build an email list and use it to gain traction. If so, a law called CAN-SPAM applies to you. Complying with it requires avoiding deceptive subject lines, clearly designating material as advertisements and including an email and postal address in your messages. It’s also necessary to inform readers how they can opt out of emails you send. Violating CAN-SPAM could lead to fines of $16,000 per email.

This is not an exhaustive list of legal tips for bloggers. However, it should help you feel more confident when starting to publish content and build an audience.

If you want to keep these tips handy, pin this post to your Pinterest board!

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