Whether you do it for business reasons or purely pleasure, blogging can be an activity that is extremely empowering, fun and informative. However, it also carries a great deal of responsibility, which is especially true if you are a blogger who has built up a large amount of recognition in your industry or in your topic of choice.
In that case, it’s highly likely readers will respect what you have to say. However, it’s also possible some of those readers may not be happy with your views and may even try and sue you.
Fortunately, there are several laws in place that relate to blogging, and if you are well educated about them, it should be easier to protect yourself from potential legal troubles.
Here are five of these important and relevant laws you should know as a blogger:
1. Endorsements – Section 5 of the FTC Act (15 U.S.C. 45)
Depending on the type of blog you have, you might often write content about particular products or services and provide feedback on them by writing reviews. That type of blogging is particularly useful if your target audience is generally a group who likes to spend less, not waste money on things that aren’t what they expected — or both.
Realizing that bloggers often include endorsed content in their posts, the Federal Trade Commission, or the FTC, wrote an Act that specifically relates to endorsements and how they should be handled. Officially, it’s called Section 5 of the FTC Act (15 U.S.C. 45), and here’s what you need to know about it in terms of blogging:
- If you have a relationship with a product or company, the nature of it should be clearly disclosed.
- You must make clear distinctions about which parts of your content are editorial, and which are related to advertising.
- This Act does not apply if you are reviewing a product you purchased yourself or you received for free.
- Writing a disclosure is usually as simple as including a statement such as “[Name of Company] gave me this product for free.”
- If you need further information about how to handle endorsements while blogging, the FTC has provided some guides written in easy-to-understand language.
2. Fair Use – Section 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act
Bloggers often deal with the concept of fair use, specifically when they are quoting work that has been published. Fair use is precisely what is dealt with in Section 17 U.S.C. § 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.
Unfortunately, there are no clearly defined rules about how much content constitutes fair use or when a line has been crossed. However, it’s useful to know the guidelines below that are taken from that section of the Copyright Act:
- If you are using content for the purpose of studying, researching, reporting the news, making a criticism or comment or teaching, the ways you are relying on the content should fall under fair use.
- The legal system in the United States favors transformative uses, meaning those that are needed in order to produce commentary on the subject or using existing content in a new context.
- The courts look at four factors when determining whether something constitutes fair use:
- How the content was used and why
- How much of the original work was used
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The impact on the market
This section of the law is also important if you use images on your blog, including those found on social media sites. Legal experts have warned using those improperly could be a risk to another person’s intellectual property.
3. The Copyright Law in Relation to Created Works
Up until 1989, copyrighted works were required to have either a copyright symbol or a textual declaration of an existing copyright. However, the law has evolved. Now, something is considered copyrighted as soon as it is created — or in other words, when you write a blog post.
Although that may seem comforting, it’s still in your best interest to go through the process of making sure your content has visual copyright indicators, just in case you ever get involved in a lawsuit. There are numerous specifics relating to copyrighted work, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them — especially if you intend to have a long-term blogging career.
4. The Law for Blog Comments
Understandably, you may be under the impression that if a person makes a comment on your blog, you also own the copyright to that opinionated content. However, that’s generally not true. Comments usually fall under a category known as user-generated content.
Put simply, the person who makes a comment is the copyright holder of it. However, you can solve that issue by putting language to the contrary inside a terms of service agreement that everyone must abide by before posting their views.
If you have things set up in such a way where it is impossible to provide feedback on a post without agreeing to that terms of service document, you’re protected in the event a commenter tries to engage in a dispute with you over the fact that you own the copyright. If they to claim unawareness, all you have to do is point to the fact that agreeing to the terms of service is a necessity for all users before they publish comments on your blog.
5. Federal Tax Law for Blogging Income
Some people don’t consider blogging a profession and merely do it as a hobby. However, if you are making money from your blog, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay federal taxes on that income. If you are blogging on your own and not for an employer, you’ll need to pay estimated taxes every quarter. However, if you don’t anticipate making more than $1,000 in a year, you may be able to avoid that estimated tax obligation.
Also, as far as the IRS is concerned, if you write your own blog and make money, you are a business owner. That means you also need to set aside money to cover self-employment taxes.
If this makes you feel discouraged because it seems like you won’t actually have any income left over after paying taxes, don’t be too concerned just yet. Keep in mind, many of the items you use while blogging could potentially be written off as business expenses. Just be sure to keep your receipts. Possible examples of valid business expenses include computers, software, printers, writing and general office supplies, Internet service bills and mobile data charges.
Because the area of tax law is so complex and changes yearly, it’s a good idea to meet with a well-qualified accountant so you can discuss the particulars of the way you use your blog to make income.
In some cases, the accountant may fill you in on lesser-known subjects within tax law, such as how to take a home office deduction. However, if you want to get educated before that first meeting with an accountant, there are many reputable online resources that can explain the basics of tax law for bloggers in language that’s layperson friendly.
Laws can certainly be complex, but hopefully, the information above has proved it’s easier than you might have imagined to at least get acquainted with the legal information most relevant to your work as a blogger. The more informed you are, the more you should be able to feel confident about expressing your thoughts without unnecessary fear of legal repercussions.
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Disclaimer: Unless otherwise specified, authors of The Work at Home Woman are not licensed legal, financial or medical professionals. The information on this website is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on finding happiness and success in life and at work. You can find her dishing out advice with a side of wit on Twitter and her career advice blog, Punched Clocks.