What legal rights, if any, do bloggers have? This has been quite a hot topic in the blogosphere the past few months.
By now just about everyone, including the non-bloggers amongst us, have heard about the Queen of the Sky, the trolly dolly who was fired by her airline after publishing photos of herself posing provacatively onboard an airplane. I can’t help but think that, had she just worked for RyanAir, who famously promoted itself on the back of one of their staff members appearing in a reality television programme, that the Queen would not only still be employed but would probably have her likeness on the side of a whole fleet of 727’s!
Many will also be aware of the Apple case in which 3 bloggers were forced to disclose the names of Apple employees who had leaked them information on new product launches.
In response to these and other recent incidents and court cases involving bloggers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued some guidelines for bloggers in the workplace. Unfortunately, the first guideline, that bloggers should try to maintain their anonymity, simply isn’t practical for many of us. As Larry E. Ribstein from the University of Illinois (USA) College of Law recognises in his interesting paper, Initial Reflections on the Law and Economics of Blogging one of the benefits of blogging is that it can be used for marketting one’s services, expertise, and knowledge. Ribstein notes that those providing professional services, for example a lawyer, might give away free advice in their blog as a sort of "loss leader" to secure new business. Ribstein also gives the example of blogging academics who my wish to use their blog to further disseminate their work, something of value both to them as individuals and for the institutions they work for. Indeed, Ribstein initially published early versions of the above article on his blog and used the comments of readers to help refine his ideas.
Obviously, if you’re a blogger you should avoid libel, contempt of court, and copyright infringement. If you blog from work you might want to check your employment contract, or the terms and use of your employer’s computer network, to see if you are allowed to use their equipment/network for personal use. If you are writing about your work, you might want to look at any confidentiality and intellectual property clauses in your contract. If you are making money off your blog you might want to see if there is an exclusivity clause in your contract prohibiting you from self-employment. It’s a lot to think about and, I suppose, you could always follow the EFF’s advice and remain anonymous – but doesn’t that somewhat defeat the purpose of having a viewpoint?!