AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO STAYING LEGAL
On a shelf in my study is a well-thumbed but rather old copy of a book that many journalists will know. It’s about the law and guides reporters through what they can say, or indeed can’t say, when writing stories.
From court proceedings to defamation, and many points in between, McNae’s (and it’s numerous editions) has been a staple read for reporters learning their craft.
For me, my copy dates back to the mid-90s and is a reminder of sitting in a classroom in Harlow College with a group of people who were just setting out on the road to becoming a journalist.
Despite the passage of time, what I learned in the book, and subsequent learnings, has stood me in good stead and I know I have a good appreciation of the law.
It’s important to know what you can or cannot say in print. Being sued, or dragged through courts, wouldn’t be my idea of fun.
But, as mentioned in my most recent post, time has changed; the media landscape has changed. Where once people wrote mainly for print, they now write for online. Where faxes and letters were the norm, social media means anyone can publish what they like at the touch of a button.
Therein lies a problem. Many people do not know the rules. And the exponential growth of the web and sites like Facebook and Twitter has only muddied the waters yet further.
For some, in relation to social media, the law is an ass but the law remains the law and falling foul of it will have serious consequences.
There have been cases where people have been taken to court for publishing libelous material, or acted in contempt of court by breaking the rules. Many think the rules do not apply to them, while some believe social media has redefined the rules (whether it has or has not).
So, what to do?
In steps Cleland Thom, an internet and media law consultant and trainer, who has just released the second edition of his book Internet Law.
In his intro to the book, Thom states: “Online publishing can be risky. And the dangers grow daily as the law catches up with technology. With this in mind, I have produced the second edition of Internet Law. It covers most issues facing bloggers, journalists, webmasters, content writers and web editors.”
It’s a good read and for anyone, journalists and PR people alike, who want to either refresh their memory but also learn new things.
For example, there’s a section about libel and sharing links to potentially libelous material.
There’s also a section about the use of hashtags.
Useful. Fun. Commercially-focused. All words to describe the hashtag (#). But look at this, in a section called Branded tweets and hashtags:
“The Trademark Act 1994 means that combining a hashtag (#) with another business’ trademark could breach the law…”.
Thom then uses an example that involves the hashtag #webby.
And that’s what I personally like about this eBook.
It goes through the law for people who are not lawyers. It cites examples and clearly sets out up-to-date practice (Although I wouldn’t know the rap artist known as Webby).
And what about message boards? Ripe for defamatory comments, would you or your webmaster know about your legal defence to accusations of defamation?
How does your use of Facebook, personally or if you manage a client’s Facebook page, leave you open to possible legal issues?
It’s a bloody minefield out there, tread carefully. I’d rather know the rules and use them.
If you want to purchase a copy of Thom’s book – and I would suggest you want to really think about doing do so – visit his page here.