EFF Legal Guide For Bloggers
For those whom do not want to get internet legal advice from Tommy Duncan --- the Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent guide on legal issues bloggers may face.
What legal liability issues can arise from my blog?
Generally, you face the same liability issues as anyone making a publication available to the public, and receive the same freedom of speech and press protections. The main legal liability issues include:
Intellectual Property (Copyright/Trademark)
Right of Publicity
Publication of Private Facts
Intrusion into Seclusion
"Publication of private facts" covers school teacher Kate publishing a private email a parent sent her about a student medical condition. Kate ran the post on her blog and Sticks of Fire. Which is (poorly) edited by Tommy Duncan. There is also the matter of Rachel Moran's Sticks post about her intentions to seek out homeless people and assault them on video. Someone please explain to me why the St. Petersburg Times interviewed Tommy Duncan about internet laws?
Duncan told the Times he is worried about anonymous commenters. I explained before how bloggers can not be held accountable for commenters under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Duncan is worried about snarky anonymous commenters using internet handles of local celebrities. Openly discussing assault or Kate's violation of the Family Education Rights And Privacy Act.
Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):
School officials with legitimate educational interest;
Other schools to which a student is transferring;
Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.
Kate has no legal ground to publish that email. That didn't stop Tommy Duncan from letting Kate publish it on
The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how bloggers could break privacy laws.
Intrusion into seclusion occurs when you intrude upon the solitude or seclusion of another person or his private affairs or concerns, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. It generally comes up in the context of paparazzi photographing celebrities, but covers any reasonable expectation of privacy that is intruded upon. If the person intruded upon gave you consent to do it - i.e., gave you permission to take his picture or write about him - then you have a defense against this claim. Interception of an electronic communication (i.e., an email or IM chat) can raise additional legal issues, such as federal wiretap laws.
Strangely, the EFF does not mention anonymous commenters pretending to be local celebrities as a potential lawsuit possibility. Apparently, they haven't consulted with legal scholar Tommy Duncan.