22 September 2010

Trouble In the Blogosphere: Legal Issues Arising from America's Newest Pastime

By Marissa Cocciolone, Staff Writer

        No one would argue that web-logging, or ‘blogging’ for short, is one of the fastest growing new forms of media. From sports to politics to – obviously -- legal news, topics for blogs are as unlimited as the blogger’s imagination. However, potential bloggers should take caution before engaging in this easy method of disseminating information.
          Because there is a blog for every taste, this form of media has become very popular. So popular, in fact, that it has caught the eye of the FTC. In late 2009, the FTC published a final guide governing endorsements and testimonials. The FTC took note that endorsement is a major source of revenue for most professional bloggers; one of the material changes to these guidelines was the inclusion of bloggers among the group of informal endorsers subject to the rules of the Guides governing endorsements. The new guidelines address what constitutes an endorsement when the plug exists in the form of a blogger review. While the Guides specify that decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, any type of compensation received in return for a blog review must be considered an endorsement and evidence a material connection.
         Basically, this is the FTC’s reaction to bloggers’ common practice of including a review of a company’s product or service, by way of a post or affiliate link, and being paid in return by the company. This method of gaining income is so common that it has given birth to sites like PayPerPost.com and ReviewMe.com, websites existing for the sole purpose of linking advertisers up with bloggers who will promote their products. The recommendation, however, specifically highlights that these connections must be disclosed when any fiduciary relationship exists. With a vigilant eye now being cast upon the blogosphere, bloggers may need to take the added precaution familiar to traditional journalists.
          Unfortunately, some bloggers may lack the legal-savvy to know how to handle an endorsement issue if it arises. In response to this problem, Avivadirectory.com, a blog with tips on everything from starting a website to growing a business with web apps, has compiled a list of federal laws helpful to bloggers. To stay out of trouble with the FTC, the site advises endorsed bloggers NOT to identify themselves as an objective and unbiased source, clearly distinguish between advertising and editorial content, and be wary of paid links – they may soon be included under the new guidelines.
          While any law concerning the internet is constantly in flux, it is safe to say that the legal field will only continue to establish regulation and precedent for legal action. The FTC’s recent release of guidelines only solidifies this fact. Bloggers are one of the many groups of internet publishers that are now adopting a heightened responsibility for what they put online, further narrowing the gap between new and old forms of media.
Marissa Cocciolone is a Staff Writer for Juris.  She is a senator of the Student Bar Association and a representative for BarBri.  Marissa is a 2009 graduate of Washington and Jefferson College with a B.A. in English and Professional Writing.  She will graduate from Duquesne Law School in the spring of 2012.  Marissa can be reached at cocciolonem@duq.edu