Blogging has become one of the most effective, rewarding forms of interacting with current and potential customers. In fact, it’s now more uncommon for businesses not to have a blog, and it’s definitely something people look for when deciding whether or not to do business with you.
The trouble with blogging regularly, however, is that you can run into some serious legal consequences if you aren’t careful. From inadvertently violating copyrights to falsely representing your products or services, you can’t be too careful when it comes to what you publish. When I used to write for a legal blog, I picked up some tips that I think all blog owners should know. Please note that I am not a lawyer and you should, therefore, refer any specific law questions you have to a law professional. But if you want to get a gist of some general rules to follow, here are five legal tips to help you stay on the up and up:
1. Never, Ever Copy and Paste Anything From Another Source
It’s OK to use brief quotes from time to time, as long as you are careful to give full credit to the original source. It’s never OK, however, to copy complete sentences and paragraphs and publish them as if they were your own words.
Written content isn’t the only thing to watch for, though. Images, music, videos or even ad copy all require written permission before you can use them, if they don’t already belong to you. Even then, you’re probably going to need to reference the source. If you’re ever in doubt as to whether or not you might be violating a copyright, err on the side of caution and investigate matters more deeply.
2. Don’t Just Rewrite What Someone Else Has Already Published, Either
Yes, it is very difficult to find unique wording for some topics. This is especially true of topics that really don’t change much, such as how to find a good SSI disability attorney or tips on installing a dishwasher. After all, there’s only so many ways you can tell someone to look for an experienced and well-educated lawyer or to make sure your water connection is secure.
Even so, it’s vital that you find your own voice and bring a fresh perspective to the topic. Don’t simply take someone else’s post and rephrase it sentence by sentence. Contemplate the subject, do your research and come up with a new approach. Copying ideas can be as serious as direct copying, so be careful.
3. Be Careful to Represent Your Products and Services Accurately
OK, so it is easier to sell a mobile app if you can make everyone believe that yours is the absolute best on the market. Besides, “best” is a subjective term, so there’s really no way to prove that you’ve misrepresented your product, right?
Well, this can get tricky. If you truly believe what you have to offer is the best, and you can substantiate those claims, you’re probably fine. However, if you’re claiming your mobile app is the best because it’s the easiest to use when it isn’t, or that it uses the highest-quality materials available when it doesn’t, you could find yourself in serious legal trouble. Play up the advantages of your product, but don’t falsify your claims.
4. Leave Name-Calling and Bashing Out of the Picture
You want to blow the competition out of the water, so you think a little mudslinging is in order. While it might seem like fair game for politicians, this is not a solid strategy for businesses. Aside from making your brand appear childish and unprofessional, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit for libel or defamation.
It’s OK to use competitors’ names when you’re comparing the differences in your products, but go sparingly. If nothing else, every time you mention a competitor, you’re giving them free advertising and publicity… and that’s certainly not going to do much to help your brand.
5. Know Your Limitations When Using Customer Testimonials
You just got a glowing email from one very satisfied customer and you’d like to share their experience with the world. Before you do something that could get you in trouble, make sure you go about it in a legally acceptable way.
Everything that another person writes is the intellectual property of that person. If you write a memo that simply says, “Our company is the best company in the world,” you are the author and that content belongs to you. Although posting private correspondence between you and your customers on your blog may seem like a good idea, it’s copyright infringement if you don’t get written permission from that customer first.
Don’t worry about public testimonials on your own site too much. If you have a dedicated area where customers or clients can provide feedback, and it’s quite clear that those comments will be public, you pretty much have your bases covered. Just don’t copy and paste to another area without providing proper attribution and a link to the location at which the feedback was submitted.
Blogs are a wonderful tool in today’s marketplace, and they’re definitely worth the time and effort. Make sure that you’re complying with all the legal requirements and they’ll serve you well. If not, they could become a huge source of stress. Be professional, give credit where credit is due and be honest. That’s all it really takes.