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Watch Your Weblog

Legal liabilities lurk amid corporate blogs.

By Linda Rosencrance
November 1, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - More and more people are jumping on the corporate weblogging bandwagon. At Microsoft Corp., for example, there are currently more than 1,000 blogs. Like many companies, especially the IT vendor companies where weblogs tend to proliferate, Microsoft encourages the informal sites as a way for its employees to stay close to customers.
But as weblogs have multiplied, a number of legal issues have arisen, and regardless of whether your company sponsors its bloggers, it may be opening itself up to hidden liabilities. Here are some of the dangers of corporate blogging and precautions companies should consider.
Danger: Libel and trade libel. Bloggers who write anything negative or defamatory about a corporation or an individual are opening themselves and their companies up to the possibility of libel suits, says David Carr, an attorney and partner at London-based consulting firm Big Blog Co.
Precaution: Do your homework. If the blogger is going to make negative statements about a company's or individual's business activities, Carr says, "he's really got to do his research and make sure what he's saying can be proven to be true and not just believed to be true."
Danger: Disclosure of trade secrets or confidential information. Employees who blog may intentionally or unintentionally share company secrets, says employment attorney Michael Karpeles, a principal at Chicago-based law firm Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd. Information such as the finances or marketing and business strategies of the employer can cause damage to the company if it gets into the wrong hands. And a blogger who lets slip personal information about other employees may be opening the organization to prosecution for privacy infringements.
Precaution: Have employees sign a confidentiality agreement that states they will not disclose company confidential information, Karpeles says. "Even if they haven't signed an agreement, most states have a trade-secrets protection law that would prohibit individuals from misappropriating trade secrets," he says. But better to caution them upfront than prosecute them later.
Danger: Careless statements about the business that can be used during litigation. Anyone, from the CEO to the receptionist, can have a blog, whether it's related to the company's Web site or not, so organizations don't know what information is out there that could hurt them, says Gregory Rutchik, founding partner of The Arts and Technology Group, a litigation and transactional law practice in San Francisco. "But the reality is, if you allow your employees to blog, the likelihood that things are going to come back to hurt you is huge," he says.
Attorney Diana McKenzie agrees. "If the company is encouraging

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