5 Legal Tips for Bloggers
Food blogs, fitness blogs, fashion blogs – these are but a few of the many different types of blogs out there today. Originally, blogging started as a way for people to speak their mind and share their thoughts on any given topic. Now, blogging has developed into a business, as companies form partnerships with bloggers in an effort to sell a product to service. It is estimated that there will be approximately 31.7 million bloggers in the United States by year 2020. And, bloggers who amass a large number of followers become known as influencers because of their ability to affect, or influence, the purchase decisions of their audience. Since blogging has become a common business practice that continues to grow, bloggers and influencers alike need to ensure that they are protecting themselves and abiding by the law in the way they do business with others, including companies, marketers, artists, etc. Many may be unaware that there are legal aspects to blogging. So, here are five legal tips that bloggers should consider as they conduct their business:
1) Make It Official
Do you conduct business through your blog? Will you make money through your blog? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you should seriously consider making your business official and incorporating it as a formal entity, such as a limited liability company or a corporation. The main reason you would want to incorporate is to protect yourself from liability.
A blogger who does not incorporate his/her business is considered a sole proprietor, and if you were to be sued as a sole proprietor, whoever is suing you can go after your personal assets. On the other hand, a blogger whose incorporated business is sued cannot be held personally liable for the debts of the business.
Bloggers engage with numerous people every day, whether it be with their followers or with company representatives. By virtue of their interaction with various people, bloggers may be subject to lawsuits based on things they say or post. Incorporating offers a liability shield that protects the blogger in case of a lawsuit. Not to mention, the tax benefits of incorporating make it worth your while.
For further reading on business formations, take a look at this blog post written by associate attorney, Ford Harmon, “Entity Formation Series :: Part 1 – When Should You Form An Entity?“.
2) Think About Intellectual Property
Intellectual property includes things like copyright and trademarks, and it comes into play whenever bloggers post on their website or social media. Before doing so, a blogger must ask the question: do I have the rights to whatever I am posting?
A work is automatically copyrighted at the time it is created. So, if you are a photographer and you take a photograph, you own that photograph as soon as you take it. Bloggers cannot use an image or a photograph on their blog that they do not have the rights to and should pursue licensing agreements that give them the right to use such images. It may be tempting to use an image found during a Google search on your blog or social media, but that is prohibited by law, though there are very limited exceptions. When in doubt, it is best to ask permission.
3) Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Bloggers who grow in their business oftentimes will add members to their team, like a photographer, a brand manager, or a social media coordinator. It is important to have a written agreement with each team member to define the relationship of the parties, outline the scope of services to be completed, and clarify what is expected of each party.
4) Get It In Writing
There is an old lawyer adage: get it in writing. And that rings true when it comes to agreements that bloggers make with other parties. Whether a promotional deal, sponsorship agreement, or paid partnership, any agreement between a blogger and another company should be in writing, signed by both parties. These contracts should explicitly state the terms of the agreement, such as how long the relationship will last, what compensation will be provided, and what rights each party has.
5) Inform Your Visitors
Additionally, disclosure statements are required whenever a blogger has a “material connection” with another party, meaning the blogger has a business relationship with a company, is being paid to advertise a product, or was gifted a free product from a company. Say, for instance, a blogger agrees to endorse a company’s product. The blogger, then, has to disclose the endorsement in an effort to build an honest rapport with the consumer and prevent deceptive advertising. Disclosure statements are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and should not be taken lightly.
In sum, bloggers should be aware that there are important legal considerations to make in the business of blogging. Each of the above five points highlights some of the ways that bloggers can protect themselves and develop a comprehensive business strategy.