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May 7, 2015

3 Laws You Might Be Breaking As A Blogger


As the world of blogging grows, it seems like I hear of more and more laws that bloggers need to be wary of.  My guess is that it's a rare case in which a blogger intentionally breaks a law, but intentional or not, it happens all the time.  I'm sure I've been guilty of it, and you probably have been too.  Even though I've been blogging for nearly six years, it wasn't until the past year or two that I even knew about some of the laws that bloggers need to be aware of.

I'm certainly not an expert in this field, and there are many other laws that bloggers should make themselves aware of.  But I've come up with a list of the three most common things that I see bloggers doing that technically break a law.  Following some of those laws isn't always fun, but it's necessary.  And beyond the fact that it's the law and we should be adhering to it, we also want to be people of character, which means following these guidelines because it's the right and honest thing to do, and not just because we're told to.

1 // Not Properly Disclosing Sponsored Content
When I first started blogging, I only dreamed of making any sort of income or even getting free products.  I watched bigger bloggers promote products from their blog and thought it was so cool, but I never considered the legal aspect of disclosure.  So when I got a chance to do my first product review, I had no idea that disclosing the fact that I received the product for free was required by law!

It won't take long into your journey of working with brands to figure this one out:  Federal Trade Commission guidelines require you to provide your readers and follower with a disclosure that you are being paid (in money or product) to talk about the product/topic.

If you're working with a network that connects brands and bloggers (like Clever Girls or Collective Bias), then you're reminded (and required) to disclose that your content for a campaign is sponsored.  But when you're working one-on-one with a brand, they may not think to tell you about FTC guidelines (or, as in one experience that I had, the brand will actually ask you not to disclose!), and in those cases, it's good to know what is legally required of you as a blogger.

Disclosure can simply mean tagging a sentence or two onto the beginning of your post thanking the company that you're working with and expressing that all opinions and content are your own (ex. Thanks to Starbucks for sponsoring this post!  I love the new S'mores Frappuccino and all opinions, photos, and content in this post is my own.).  To disclose on a post on social media, simply using the hashtag "#ad" or "#sponsored" will typically suffice.


2 // Not Properly Disclosing Affiliate/Referral Links
Similar to disclosing sponsored content, the FTC requires that you disclose when you're using affiliate referral links!  That means that any time you could make money off of someone clicking on a link, you need to disclose that (that includes things like shop credit for others who sign up through your link).  You can disclose these links in a similar fashion to the way you disclose sponsored content.  A simple "This post uses referral/affiliate links." in your post and "#referral" or "#affiliate" in a tweet or social media post should suffice.


3 // Not Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
If you've ever google-searched for a specific image and then used it in a blog post (let's face it...we all have!), then this one's for you.  Copyright infringement runs rampant in the blogging world, and you definitely don't want to be an offender!  The reality is that copyright laws are crazy and so hard to really understand the ins and outs of, and whether we meant to or not, we've probably all infringed on someone else's copyright at some point.  But having your content stolen is no fun, so it's important to be intentional about giving the proper credit where credit is due.  Simply put:  you wouldn't want someone stealing your content, so don't do it to others.

So how should you avoid this, you ask?
The easiest way to avoid this problem is to only use your own images and content on your blog.  If you're creating the content, then you're not infringing on someone else's copyright.
But sometimes, creating your own content (most often, images) just isn't happening, and then you have a few choices:
+ Use open-source images from sites like Unsplash, which offers royalty-free stock photos for you to use.
+ Contact the creator of the photo or content that you'd like to use and ask for permission.  If they say yes, always be sure to credit your source!  If you can't get ahold of the creator, your best bet is to not use the image.
+ Use the image and credit the creator by linking back.  I don't really recommend this practice, as it's not sufficient in most cases (like if someone would actually take you to court over it), but it's at least better than not giving credit at all.

And here's my disclosure:  I am NOT a lawyer!  To the best of my knowledge, research, and experience, everything you've read in this post is true and correct, but please do not take this advice as legal advice (and if you think something's not quite right, please let me know!).  You can read more about FTC Guidelines here.

23 comments:

  1. Hey, Miss Betsy! Gorgeous blog redesign. As someone who works for IZEA and in blogger marketing, #sp is actually not an acceptable form of disclosure. #ad, #sponsored, or I've partnered with are totally great. #sp was discontinued a couple of years ago. Happy Blogging! :)

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  2. Great tips! I'm glad to have learned all of these early on from posts like this, instead of finding out the hard way.

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  3. Great tips! These are things that I never would have thought about when I started blogging - but they make sense. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Yeah -- the photo thing is a big problem. The only time I don't use my own content is if I'm displaying a clothing item from a website and/or promoting something I enjoy. Like my favorite album's of the year..but clearly people know I didn't create Katy Perry's album. ;-)

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  5. Oh man! Thanks for that tip! I recently worked with a network that recommended that hashtag, so I'm glad to know it's not covering me in the way I was told and I'll definitely keep that in mind moving forward! I just made that change in my post...thanks Eryn!

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  6. So you'll see links on my blog. :D It's important to give due credit.

    P.S. I love how dainty your blog is. Pretty in pink.

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  7. Awesome post, Betsy! By the way, do you know bloggers are allowed to take any image on the internet as long as they link back? Or do you need express permission from the site? I rarely take photos from other sites just because I'm never sure whether the link back suffices.

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  8. According to my research, it seems like a simple link back won't hold up in court if a blogger would ever be upset enough to sue you. Personally, if someone would reference a post of mine and link back to me, I think I'd be fine with that; but whether or not someone takes legal action against you is up to them...and just linking back to them might not be enough in a legal case

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  9. These are great reminders! I have always tried to use my own photos to avoid copyright wissues, but I have used a couple of stock photos in the past.

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  10. Betsy, have you seen my "Favorite Things Friday" posts before? I'd be curious to know where these fall....

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  11. You got it! Yes, a lot of networks think that is still ok and it's not. We are up to date! :)

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  12. Sarah ShaneyfeltMay 7, 2015 at 9:28 PM

    Good to know!!! I have definitely forgotten to link to pictures I've grabbed off Pinterest, but I will definitely be doing that from now on for sure!! Thanks!

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  13. Very helpful and informative - thanks, Betsy!

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  14. Great advice! Cat from oddlylovely wrote a really indepth post about FTC and I learned that FTC actually requires you to post your disclosure before anything else, at the top of your post, not the bottom and that things like c/o don't cut it! You actually have to state that you got a product for free for your opinon.

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  15. I was about to leave this comment!

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  16. I never have sponsors, so #1 is not a problem for me. I also rarely put affiliate links in my posts. But I used to be guilty of breaking #3. Now if I need pictures that I can't take myself, I use the ones from Unsplash and Flickr Creative Commons. I still put backlinks to the pictures, just in case.

    Dara | Hola Darla | @DarlaOct

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  17. Same! I also use royalty-free open stock images once in a while, but obviously those are ok! :)

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  18. Not properly disclosing sponsored content is one of my biggest pet peeves. It's so easy and if we all did it then it wouldn't be so taboo!

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