Hey everyone! Today, I have a great article from Liz Stapleton. A licensed attorney since 2012, and a blogger since 2014, she has spoken at both virtual and in person conferences, including FinCon (my favorite blogging conference), on the importance of legally protecting your blog and business. She is the founder and voice behind Less Debt, More Wine – a personal finance site, and ElizabethStapleton.com, where she helps readers earn more money while making sure they are protecting themselves and their businesses legally. Enjoy!
When you first decide to start a blog, you are filled with ideas and inspirations and a long list of what you want to do. But chances are the legal compliance and protecting your blog aren’t high on that list if they’re on there at all.
After a while you realize there are probably some things you need to do to either protect or blog or to have it be compliant with the law.
Unless you went to law school, you’re probably stressing about what those things are and perhaps how much it would cost to hire a lawyer.
Well, I’m excited to be here to help you understand some of the most common legal mistakes bloggers make and what to do about them so that you and your blog are keeping things legit and your income is protected.
But before we get to it, a necessary disclaimer:
While I am an attorney, I am not your attorney and nothing in this post is to be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship. Additionally, nothing in this post or resources made available are to be considered legal advice. Content and resources provided are meant for educational and informational purposes only. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failure to act related to the content in this website. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.
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Now, that’s out of the way, lets get to it….
Privacy policies can also be required by law. Perhaps the most well known law that caused a big splash in the blogging world in 2018 is the General Data Protection Regulation also known as GDPR.
GDPR helped to bring the law up to date with technology, but that also meant a lot more work for website owners and a potentially hefty fine for those that didn’t comply.
The purpose of GDPR is to allow people to have better control over their own personal information aka data.
GDPR came out of the European Union, so does it even apply to you?
While there is some debate about the reach of the law, the strictest reading suggests that if someone in your audience is located anywhere in the European Union, then it applies.
And if you think you don’t collect personal information, then you probably need to think again, do you….
- Use Google Analytics?
- Allow comments on your blog posts?
- Have a contact form?
- Have an email list for people to sign up to?
Any one of these are examples of ways you collect personal data, and as you can imagine there are a lot more.
- Do a ton of research and write your own
Now, which path you take likely depends on your budget….
While on the surface this may seem like the cheapest option, it kind of depends on how you value your time.
Writing your own policy doesn’t require any out of pocket expense but it would require several hours of your time.
Chances are your time could be better spent….
Additionally, a template written by an attorney likely doesn’t cost as much as you’d think and is sure to cover all the basics. You can purchase them at a wide range of prices.
But in most instances the best bang for your buck is going to be purchasing a template bundle, that includes all the basic policies you’ll need for your website (disclaimers, terms and conditions, disclosures, etc.).
Hiring An Attorney
There are some great firms that specialize in helping creatives, online blogs and businesses like WilkMazz or Hashtag Legal.
The Fix: The best option is to purchase templates written by an attorney (like these) or hiring an attorney to craft custom policies for your site.
2. Violating Copyright (Using Images Without Proper Permission)
Graphics are an important part of blogging. Whether you are creating featured images or social share images or just headings to break up the page, there is always a need to create graphics.
Often times these graphics require photos but where you get those photos from and if you’re allowed to use them matters.
First, you cannot just pull images from Google images to use in your blog post, doing so means you’re likely violating the copyright of who own those photos.
Some other instances where it’s not okay to just share someone’s photo without permission include:
- Regram on Instagram
- Including an image of theirs in a roundup post
- Using stock photos that don’t have proper licensing for blog posts
- Using stock photos that don’t have proper licensing for products
So let’s break these down a bit more to make sure you understand what I’m talking about…
Why You Can’t Just Regram Someone’s Photo on Instagram
I actually had this happen to me, a user was taking my posts, which were just simple questions and posting them to their own Instagram. I actually didn’t know they had been doing this until they started using Regram which tagged me.
I immediately reached out and told them they needed to take my images down or I’d report them to Instagram.
The reason why I did this is because unlike on other platforms, there was zero advantage to me for her using my images, she was just stealing them.
The Fix: If you want to reshare someone’s photo on Instagram, ask their permission first. If you don’t get their permission, don’t share it.
Including Someone’s Image in a Roundup
Unlike the Instagram example where there was no advantage to the image owner, in a roundup post you’re likely linking the image to their content, which they’d want right?
Maybe not. And there could be lots of reasons why they would or wouldn’t give you permission.
They may be fine with it, but you won’t know unless you ask first.
They may not be fine with it because they are restricted by the licensing of the photo, if for example it’s a stock image and they only purchased with a limited license. (In which case you may be able to go purchase the same image).
Alternatively, some bloggers have a policy listed on their site for having images included in a roundup post, check their terms and conditions on their website.
The Fix: Check their terms and conditions to see if they have a policy on images being used in roundup posts. Don’t see anything on their site one way or the other? Get permission, it’s just that simple. Ask.
Stock Photos and Licensing
Stock photo sites sell images with certain licenses attached. You may have to pay more to be able to use the image in the way you want.
For example, I get most of my stock photos from DepositPhotos and they offer two different licenses:
- Standard license
- Extended license
The default license granted for purchasing photos on their site is the Standard license which allows me to create blog graphics.
However, what I can’t do is re-sell the graphic or use it in something free where the image plays a major role and adds value.
An example would be using the image in a Pinterest Image template, whether it’s free or not, using the image in that way would be in violation of the standard license granted.
However, I could purchase the image with an Extended license which does allow it to be used for creating products or freebies where the graphic plays a role and adds value.
If you’re still using free stock photo sites….
- Use the image for personal or commercial purposes
- Without attribution (aka giving credit to who took the photo)
- Modify the photos
But you cannot:
- Sell or redistribute the images (for example, as a wall paper aka where the image plays a major role and adds value)
- Use them in a way that is misleading in relation to a specific brand or service
The Fix: Pay attention the license you are granted when getting photos from stock photo sites.
3. Not Having or Incorrectly Using Disclosures & Disclaimers
There are lots of reasons why you would need to have certain disclosures and disclaimers and each blog is different, but some common ones include:
- Affiliate disclosures
- Professional disclaimers
- Testimonial/Earnings disclaimers
Let’s tackle these one at a time….
If you’re on this site, chances are you know a bit about affiliate marketing, afterall, Michelle is an absolute pro at it (it’s why I bought her Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course).
But affiliate marketing is not without it’s rules. The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) requires that you disclose affiliate relationships and has rules on how to do so.
Michelle covers all this in her course, but the basics are this, disclosures must:
- Be placed before the link
- Clearly convey the relationship
- Be easily visible
- Should not encourage clicking to support the site
Chances are you’ve seen some disclosures that do not adhere to these rules. So what is the potential fall out for not complying?
First, you’ll likely be kicked out of whatever affiliate program you were promoting and could face consequences for not complying with their terms and conditions.
Second, you could be fined the amount of money you earned, basically you’d have to payback your affiliate income to the government.
Generally, the goal with affiliate marketing is to earn money, so let’s make sure you get to keep that money by doing it right. Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen bloggers make with affiliate disclosures and how to fix them.
Placing the Disclosure in the Wrong Place
Some common places for disclosures that don’t work include the footer of your site or the side bar.
Hopefully, it’s obvious to you why the footer doesn’t work – it would never be seen before the affiliate link.
However, the sidebar placement is less obvious. While on a desktop the disclosure would likely be seen before an affiliate link could be clicked on, mobile use is on the rise…
And what happens to a sidebar on a mobile device?
It gets pushed under the content, which means the disclosure would not be seen before the affiliate link could be clicked on.
The Fix: Either place it at the top of your content like Michelle does or within the first few paragraphs.
Using Incorrect Language
The disclosure has to be easy to understand. A general rule I tell people that if your Grandma wouldn’t understand it, it’s not clear.
You also can’t say things like, “clicking on affiliate links helps to support this site.” because it encourages superficial clicks. Kind of how you can’t get paid for clicking on display ads on your site.
The Fix: Inform but don’t ask for clicks. A simple, “this post may contain affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission if you click, at no cost to you” will suffice.
Professional disclaimers are necessary if you are or are not a professional writing in a certain niche.
For example, at the beginning of this post I put a disclaimer about my being attorney but disclaiming and attorney-client relationship and explaining that the post is informational only. It’s just one example of a professional disclaimer.
Michelle, has a similar disclaimer on her site about the content not being professional financial advice.
If you are a specific professional you need to state that the information provided is not “official” advice, as that can only be rendered if you know the details of what an individual is dealing with.
If you’re not a professional and you do write in the space, then you need to explain that too so those are some reasons why you would use Professional disclaimers.
The Fix: Add a professional disclaimer to your site’s “Legal” Page.
Testimonials and income reports can be a great way to generate more revenue. Testimonials have the power to sell your products for you and income reports can be a great way to show readers what is possible.
But if you are using those things you need a disclaimer explaining that you cannot guarantee they will have the same results.
I think you’ll agree that when it comes to income reports, Michelle’s are #goals, but she can’t guarantee you or I will have the same results and she says as much here.
Earnings disclaimers are just explaining that such results take work and you may or may not achieve the same level of results.
If you want to learn a bit more about earnings and testimonial disclaimers as well as get an earnings disclaimer template, I created a bonus lesson inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing that goes more in depth and provides a template example.
The Fix: Add a testimonial and earnings disclaimer to your site’s “legal” page and any outside pages that use them (for example, sales pages on Teachable or similar platforms, or webinar software where you include testimonials in your webinar)
There are lots of potential legal issues that can come up when blogging, but it’s not very hard or difficult to address them and make sure you are protecting your blog and complying with the law.
Hopefully you’re now feeling confident in what to do about these three common legal mistakes bloggers make.
And if you want to learn more, you can head over to ElizabethStapleton.com also be sure to grab my free checklist of 10 Things You Need to Include on Your Site’s Legal Page.
What legal mistakes have you seen bloggers make? What questions do you have?
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