Media law primer for business bloggers

Posted by Gerald Heneghan Jan 13, 2014 1:40:00 PM

Topics: copywriting, blogging, law, publishing, online, web, media

Content marketing is on the up and up. With billions of people using the web on a daily basis, companies are in an understandable rush to capitalise by producing content that aims to attract relevant audiences.
What many fail to realise is that if you put content on the web, you're effectively a publisher - and are therefore bound by the same types of laws that govern regular publications and journalists.
There are more than 250 laws affecting free speech in the UK and in this guide, we'll provide a primer on the legalities you should be aware of before hitting the 'publish' button.  
Ignorantia juris non excusa (ignorance of the law is no excuse)
Media law is something that all companies need to keep in mind when publishing online content. You simply can't write what you see fit. It doesn't work like that. Even the most innocuous comment or post can leave you open to any number of legal actions.
Media law in the UK is a minefield of laws, legislations and loopholes that companies need to have at least a passing familiarity with if they are going to maintain any form of presence online. This is especially true of social media, which is proving to be one of the hardest things for companies to get a handle on.
But the question is, were any specific laws broken in these cases? Most likely not. However, with every word they put online, brands have the potential to fall foul of the myriad legislation that governs what you can and can't say in a public forum. 
While we can't examine every example here, a good starting point for budding publishers looking to brush up on their media law is this online pocketbook, which covers everything from child protection to misuse of private information and is quite comprehensive in its outlining of media law.
What rules you should pay attention to is largely dictated by what you're talking about on the web. However, if you're looking to get started online content creation, there are some basics that will be beneficial to everyone.
What is the difference between libel and slander?
Yes, there's a difference. And no, you simply cannot say what you want in a public setting like the internet. If you say something about anyone or anything that could be seen to damage their reputation, this is known as 'defamation'. And the UK has some of the strictest laws in the world on this front.
If you are creating content online, (e.g. written copy), and it's judged to be defamatory - this is known as libel. A video that is doing the same would be also qualify as defamatory, as it is preserved in a fixed medium and could potentially influence a large audience.
Being accurate
Nobody's perfect. There will come a time where you might publish something you believed to be true, but isn't. If you become aware of this, you cannot simply leave information like that out in the public domain. Blogging requires a lot of research and fact checking. If you publish something that is proven to be false, then it needs to be altered.
With a correction, you alert your audience to an error in your facts. A correction is ideal for when you do not wish to take the impact of your point or post away, but still wish to acknowledge a falsehood..
When confronted with this type of situation, you also have the opportunity to utilise a retraction; informing your audience that the previously-published statement or fact given is not correct. This can drastically reduce the impact of your main point you will be effectively condemning your original statement or fact.
By voluntarily correcting your work, you are showing good intent and lowering the likelihood of legal action being taken against you. This doesn't completely negate the risk however, as some parties may still wish to take legal action regardless of your correcting or retracting information.
Copyright/Fair Use
If you created something, and another person claimed that they created it, you would certainly want to challenge this claim. This is why, when blogging, it's vital that you credit any information, work or material that belongs to someone else as theirs. Even if you don't intend to copy, it could be seen to violate copyright law.
Copyright provides exclusive legal right to material, which can only be used by the originator.
However, if you want to quote or otherwise reflect upon copyrighted material, you are permitted to under the rules of fair use. These cover utilising copyrighted material with the intention to criticise, parody or comment upon it and also come into play when said material is used as a teaching tool.
Most people - entities or companies - will allow use of their material as long as it is credited as belonging to them.
Contempt of Court
This is a big one. If you publish anything which might prejudice a fair trial, then you are going to be in trouble. And with the ubiquitous nature of social media in the modern world, it's easier to do than ever before.
Remember to take care and vet absolutely anything that comes close to information regarding an ongoing legal case. You don't even need to actively accrue shares to be at risk and anything that has the potential to reach a significant audience could land you in hot water.
Know the limits
With the ethics of the media coming into question, it's more important than ever to ensure that your blogging is impeccable when it comes to sourcing and verifying information - crediting correctly and adhering to all possible media laws.
As mentioned, it's a veritable minefield out there, but hopefully the topics we've discussed will serve as a good starting point and help you minimise the risk of exposure to legal action being taken against you and your business.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on UK media law. Have you ever come unstuck due to something you might have published or said? We're always keen to hear what you have to say and comments are more than welcome below.
If you're still a little unsure as to where you might stand in terms of media law, feel free to contact us and we'll be glad to help. And if you want to get on board with content creation and marketing, then be sure to check out our free eBook, specially tailored for the professional services sector.
Images courtesy of Alan Levine and Myntex on Flickr and Wikicommons


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