EFF: Legal Guide for Bloggers
Version current as of June 8, 2005
Whether you're a newly minted blogger or a relative old-timer, you've been seeing more and more stories pop up every day about bloggers getting in trouble for what they post.
Like all journalists and publishers, bloggers sometimes publish information that other people don't want published. You might, for example, publish something that someone considers defamatory, republish an AP news story that's under copyright, or write a lengthy piece detailing the alleged crimes of a candidate for public office.
The difference between you and the reporter at your local newspaper is that in many cases, you may not have the benefit of training or resources to help you determine whether what you're doing is legal. And on top of that, sometimes knowing the law doesn't help - in many cases it was written for traditional journalists, and the courts haven't yet decided how it applies to bloggers.
But here's the important part: None of this should stop you from blogging. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Internet bullies shouldn't use the law to stifle legitimate free expression. That's why EFF created this guide, compiling a number of FAQs designed to help you understand your rights and, if necessary, defend your freedom.
To be clear, this guide isn't a substitute for, nor does it constitute, legal advice. Only an attorney who knows the details of your particular situation can provide the kind of advice you need if you're being threatened with a lawsuit. The goal here is to give you a basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.
Please note that this guide applies to people living in the US. We don't have the expertise or resources to speak to other countries' legal traditions, but we'd like to work with those who do. If you know of a similar guide for your own jurisdiction or feel inspired to research and write one, please let us know. We can link to it here.
Table of Contents
or, see an index of all the questions »
Blogger Legal Liability Issues
The Overview of Legal Liability Issues FAQ briefly addresses some common legal issues that affect you as a publisher, especially situations where you may face legal claims or threats based on the information you published on your blog.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Intellectual Property addresses issues that arise when you publish material created by others on your blog.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Online Defamation Law provides an overview of defamation (libel) law, including a discussion of the constitutional and statutory privileges that may protect you.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Section 230 Protections discusses a powerful federal law that gives you, as a web host, protection against legal claims arising from hosting information written by third parties.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Privacy addresses the legal issues surrounding the privacy rights of people you blog about.
Bloggers As Journalists
The Bloggers' FAQ on the Reporter's Privilege is useful to bloggers who report news gathered from confidential sources.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Media Access can help bloggers who need to get access to public records and government meetings, as well as secure press passes to help with newsgathering.
Other Legal Issues for Bloggers
The Bloggers' FAQ on Election Law addresses the legal issues you may face blogging about political campaigns.
The Bloggers' FAQ on Labor Law addresses legal issues with workplace blogging, including union organizing, protections for political blogging away from the workplace, and whistle blowing.