How Your Blog Can Land You in Court

If you blog for your business or you post comments on other people’s blogs, read this to ensure that you are fully protected from a liability perspective.
Latest posts by Nina Kaufman (see all)

Business blogging is not easily pigeon-holed from a legal perspective. Some laws already apply in non-blog contexts, such as:

  • Don’t disclose another’s trade secrets
  • Bad-mouthing the boss is not a good idea
  • Trumping up unfounded claims against a competitor will get you in trouble

If you are blogging for your business (that is, either publishing your own blog or posting comments on someone else’s), what, briefly, are some of the legal issues that this brave new world of blogging raises?

Defamation and Libel

Remember when your mother told you to "Think before you speak"? In the blogosphere, think before you press the Enter button. Being incendiary or flippant can get you noticed for the wrong reasons. Defamation (called "libel" if in writing, and "slander" if verbal) involves false statements concerning someone else that cause harm to his/her reputation. Statements regarding a person’s trade or business can render you particularly vulnerable to a defamation suit.   

Let’s say you’re reviewing a nutriceutical drink and don’t care for it. Saying, "It reminds me of the time my mother washed my mouth out with soap,” may be seen as more of an opinion-type statement. After all, taste buds are not verifiable fact. But going over the top saying, "It’s so awful it made me gag and want to puke,” could cause harm to the company’s reputation through the inference that it makes people ill. Will a retraction help? It depends on the laws of your state and how you publish the retraction. Do you r-e-a-l-l-y need to be an in-your-face crusader/gadfly? If so, have an in-depth consultation with a defamation attorney to develop a strategy for handling these issues.

“It’s on the Internet, so I can take it, right?” No. Remember playing in the sandbox as a kid. If you didn’t bring the shovels and pails and Tonka trucks, they belonged to someone else, and they were not yours to use. Unless you asked. Similarly, if you didn’t upload the information to the Internet, it’s not yours to take. Unless you get permission.

Now there’s an exception for what copyright law calls “fair use.” If you use a snippet of Rich Sloan’s article or images (with attribution to him, of course) to inspire blog commentary of your own, that’s generally okay. If you take whacking great hunks of his content and pass it off as your own, that’s not. An easy work around: be original. And If someone complains that you have infringing material on your blog, respond quickly, and consider removing the offending content.

Employee Abuses

Here’s an area that needs clear guidelines, for employees’ time both on the job and off. On the job, you have productivity issues. How much time do you really want them spending updating their Facebook pages? (Answer: none.) There’s also the issue of what employees write, whether it’s on their personal blogs or a company blog. To what degree are they expressing their dissatisfaction with their job, their co-workers, and your company? Even worse, how easy it is for them to post confidential information (plans, photos, documents, diagrams) or divulge company trade secrets? An employee handbook/manual can go a long way to setting boundaries for blog activity and setting protocol for the kinds of information that will not be permissible on the company blog, such as regulatory investigations, product launches, and customer information.

Conclusion

Blogging for business differs from personal blogging in one important respect – you want to put your professional foot forward at all times. This isn’t the place for frat house (or cat house) antics or language . . . particularly when caches can preserve foolish comments for posterity. Sure, you have the right to free speech, but you also have the responsibility to bear any negative consequences for that speech.

Total
0
Shares
Previous Article

Improve Your Website's Usability in 30 Minutes or Less

Next Article

2 Contests with great upside

Related Posts
home-based businesses
Read More

The Value of Home-Based Businesses to Economic Recovery

The challenge of America’s economic recovery, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to spread it to every community – and especially those that have been historically excluded. The key to meeting that challenge is to appreciate the civic and economic value of an overlooked resource: home-based businesses. There are about 16 million home-based...
top fintech startups
Read More

Top Fintech Startups in the Midwest 2022

The Midwest is rapidly becoming home to some of the best fintech startups in the country. Chicago, for instance, is becoming a top tech hub for fintech startups, seeing massive growth and funding for its companies. In Columbus, the city’s long history with top banking institutions has created a fertile ground for fintech startups to...
E&O insurance
Read More

Your Technology Company Needs E&O Insurance: Here’s Why

Every business has unique risks that can seriously harm its operations if not properly addressed. As a business utilizing technology to produce and deliver products or services, it’s important to recognize and take precautions against risks that your commercial general liability (CGL) coverage doesn’t include. Technology professional liability coverage, also referred to as tech errors...
Read More

WJR Business Beat: Job Switchers Rewarded with Higher Pay (Episode 406)

On today's Business Beat, Jeff Sloan talks about how it's going to be more difficult and costly for small businesses to hire the best talent because job switchers during the pandemic have seen significant salary hikes. Tune in to today's Business Beat for more:   Tune in to News/Talk 760 AM WJR weekday mornings at...