Create Content Legally: 3 Content Tips to Keep You Out of Legal Trouble

content tip from the newsroom: media lawI know the  “keep it legal” Content Tip from the Newsroom is obvious, but it’s not (always) easy.

Journalists learn, know and adhere to media law to avoid lawsuits – and to avoid hurting people.

What does this have to do with you?

As a business, you’re not new to the concept of copyright and ownership, but now that you’re creating content, you’re a media publisher with more legal concerns.

1. Copyright

You’ve been protecting your own creations since your business began, but now that you’re publishing content, you need to be aware of using other people’s creations. Basically, never use anything without permission from the creator. 

Just because you don’t see a copyright symbol, doesn’t mean you can use someone else’s material. Just remember: If it’s created, it’s copyrighted.

For authenticity as a brand, it’s always best to invest in creating your own original content. But if that’s not possible, ask the creator’s permission directly or make sure there’s a fair-use copyright license in place (and read it). Sometimes you can use a piece of content as long as you don’t plan to make money from it; sometimes you can use it as long as you give credit to the creator; etc.

2. Libel and Slander

As a business, you’re out to help people with your product or service – not hurt them. 

So why am I even talking about this?

Libel (written false statements) and slander (spoken false statements) are easier to commit than you might think; especially in social media land, where you can share content with the click of a button.

Sharing a libelous post can get you sued even if you didn’t write it.

This leads me to convicting someone before they’ve gone to trial. This is drilled into every editor.

Let’s say you’re referencing an existing case as an example in the content you’re creating for your blog. Do not say the suspect committed a crime. Everywhere you reference the crime in relation to the suspect, use the word “allegedly” or give the specific charges.

Use “she was arrested on robbery charges,” rather than “she robbed a bank.” She’s innocent until proven guilty. If you publish otherwise, her lawyer will be after you and try to claim an unfair trial.

3. Privacy

As a business owner or employee, you’re familiar with or at least aware of non-disclosure agreements. That’s information shared with you that you agree not to share with anyone else. Simple.

When you become a publisher, you need to know what else you can’t share that wasn’t covered by your signature on a legal document.

Here’s one example shared by The Associated Press:

In another case, a newspaper photographer in search of a picture to illustrate a hot weather story took a picture of a woman sitting on her front porch. She wore a house dress, her hair in curlers, her feet in thong sandals. The picture was taken from a car parked across the street from the woman’s home. She sued, charging invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion and public disclosure of private facts. A court, denying the newspaper’s motion for dismissal of the suit, said the scene photographed “was not a particularly newsworthy incident,” and the limits of decency were exceeded by “surreptitious” taking and publishing of pictures “in an embarrassing pose.”

The above example is something to be aware of now that photo sharing sites like Flickr are popular to help supplement blog content.

There are a lot of issues surrounding the topic of privacy that I can’t cover here, so do your research. Most of all, you’re smart, so use good judgment and ask yourself if what you’re about to publish would bother you if someone else were posting it about you.

Also, remember, everyone loves a cute kid, but never use photographs or quotes from children without getting parental permission first.

Final Tidbits

What I’ve shared here just touches on the topic of media law. There’s a lot more to it, so I suggest that you do some more research on the topic and consult a lawyer with legal publishing questions.

On a final note, keep these points in mind when managing sites on which your readers are allowed to comment or where you share user-generated content. If you manage the page, you’re responsible for the content your audience shares on that page.

OK, whoa, and whew! 

I know this was a heavy topic, but it’s the most important one, so I came at you with it right out of the gate.

Don’t worry – the rest of the tips are easier and more fun. I promise!

Thanks for making it through this one, and you can look forward to the fun and much lighter topic of newsworthiness next time.

Have a great rest of your week!


P.S.: Share if you know someone else who might find this information helpful! Thank you!

P.P.S.: Also, I know these are not the only content tips that can keep you out of legal trouble. Please share any others you have in the comments!

Tracy McCarthy is the founder of Content Newsroom, a website dedicated to helping you get more customers through the quality content that your website visitors deserve and Google demands. A journalist turned Internet marketer, Tracy uses her writing and editing skills to help B2B and B2C businesses succeed with content marketing. She has done work for Content Marketing Institute, SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting, Brookstone and more, and has contributed to Kapost, ISOOSI and other industry-leading blogs.

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