Non-profits and Blogging: The Reality Of It All

Years ago, the word “blogging” would conjure thoughts of teenagers logging into LiveJournal and documenting what they’d had for lunch that day.  But these days, blogging has taken on an entirely different life.  Now, it’s a powerful tool used to globalize a brand, reach a wider audience and forge connections.   Fun and cost-effective (free, in many cases), it’s easy to see why blogging is such a great tool for non-profit organization’s to use.

But the world of blogging isn’t as easy as coming up with a post and sitting back. There are a myriad of laws and regulations that must be kept in mind, particularly those issues concerning copyright law. And with blogging constantly evolving,  legislators are definitely struggling to keep up and react accordingly.

In fact, a few years ago the BNA Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Journal published an article about the affect blogging has had on laws.  One thing the article made clear is that despite increasing oversight, the law (most of which was created far before the internet took off) has failed to keep up. Consequently, the application of important things such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the quintessential law governing copyright issues most germane to blogging) are now very grey.

When it comes to blogging, legal issues may indeed seem a bit murky, dense, and convoluted.  But take solace.  Here are a few ways that you can keep in mind to, try to avoid any unnecessary legal trouble.

1.    Familiarize yourself with the law – do your research!  Particularly The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a copy of which can be found here: http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/pl105-304.pdf.  If that online casino just seems too overwhelming (trust me, I understand), keep the following general points in mind:

a.     For the most part, short quotations, federal government documents, and facts and ideas are all fair play.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great Q&A page that explains it further here: http://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/IP.  For anything else, you should:

2.    Learn about the public domain.  The University System of Georgia has a helpful to-the-point tutorial on it here: http://www.usg.edu/galileo/skills/unit08/credit08_10.phtml.

3.    Learn about Fair Use, as well.  Cornell University kindly sums it up here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107—-000-.html.

4.    When in doubt, cite it!  No matter what it is, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

5.    When in more doubt, don’t be afraid to talk to a lawyer.  It may be “just a blog”, but it’s still subject to the law.

Blogging is a fantastic tool for any non-profit organization to use.  Just make sure to remember that there are certain guidelines to follow, and you’ll be well on your way to happy blogging!

Further reading:

Science of Blogging has a great interview with a lawyer regarding blogging and copyright here: http://scienceofblogging.com/blogging-and-the-law-copyright/.

Blogger Danny Brown also has a great article musing on the finer points of the business of blogging here: http://dannybrown.me/2008/11/02/make-sure-your-blog-isnt-breaking-the-law/.

And finally, Daily Blog Tips has a few helpful Dos and Don’ts here: http://www.dailyblogtips.com/copyright-law-12-dos-and-donts/.