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The legal risks of blogging

A blog can be a good way to get your company noticed. But it can be a potential legal nightmare. PC Advisor looks at the risks and offers advice for companies who want to get in on the act.

This article appears in the October 06 issue of PC Advisor, which is available now in all good newsagents.

Companies have begun to view blogs as a valuable tool for many purposes. These include marketing products, building goodwill and brand loyalty, putting a human face on the corporation, countering negative publicity and facilitating communications with current and potential customers.

Some firms have official corporate blogs, or policies to encourage employees to set up personal blogs that can be used to promote the business. But while blogging can benefit companies, it can result in legal liability.

Keeping your nose clean

The legal issues company blogs raise fall into several categories. First up, there are potential intellectual-property problems to consider. New blogs tend to build on the work of existing feeds, or other internet content through linking and copying. This can create concerns regarding copyright infringement.

Inadvertent disclosure of company information in employee blogs can reveal trade secrets and jeopardise the protected status of that data. The disclosure of a third-party’s trade secrets can expose a blogger to liability for misappropriation, too.

Companies that collect personal information from a blog’s visitors, or posters, need to contend with the rapidly evolving legal and regulatory framework regarding privacy and data protection. Such companies may have liability for failure to comply with applicable regulations. A blogger who discloses personal information about co-workers on a company blog, or on his own weblog during company time, may open the organisation and himself to common-law tort actions for invasion of privacy.

Personal – as opposed to company-sanctioned – blogging by employees, whether from home or the office, creates some thorny employment-law issues. For blogs that are company sponsored, or originate in the workplace, employers might be held vicariously liable on the theory that they failed to exercise control, or implicitly endorsed the objectionable content by allowing the blogging.

Blogging can lead to potential security concerns, as well. In the related area of web-based bulletin boards, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US has brought actions against individuals who are alleged to have committed security fraud with their postings. The same potential for securities-fraud claims exists with respect to blogs.

Finally, there are litigation issues to consider. Before developing a corporate blog, or permitting employees to blog on their own time, companies should carefully consider the implications for discovery. In the event that litigation does arise in connection with blogs, problems can be compounded if a company has not maintained adequate archives of the blog information.

Minimise the risks

  • Develop and implement policies, establishing the terms and conditions employees must follow
  • Provide training as a component of the blogging policy
  • Appoint a representative to field employee blogging questions
  • Inform employees of the consequences of violating policy
  • Develop a system to monitor the company’s blogs for content that violates terms of use, employee policies or applicable laws
  • Ensure any personal information gathered via company blogs is handled in compliance with applicable privacy laws and company privacy policies
  • Develop and implement a policy for retaining and archiving corporate blog content
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