Experts offer tips for avoiding blog lawsuits

Legal risks grow with increase in Web 2.0 adoption

As companies increasingly use blogs, wikis, podcasts and other Web 2.0 tools to form social networking sites for their customers, partners and employees, executives must keep track of the new medium's myriad legal risks.

Information posted on corporate blogs or wikis could prompt lawsuits charging the companies with libel, copyright infringement or trademark violations, according to several lawyers that specialize in technology issues. They said that notes posted on such sites could also violate securities laws.

Dennis Kennedy, a St. Louis lawyer who specializes in IT issues, said that often companies often, and unwisely, treat emerging Web 2.0 technologies like "isolated new phenomena" that isn't directly tied to corporate operations. "You need to look at what employees are doing ... in the context of your communications policy," Kennedy added.

Robert Clothier, an attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP in Philadelphia, noted that the legal risks associated with blogs are higher for posts written by a company's employees than by those sent in by nonemployees. Companies are not likely to be sued for libel for posts on corporate blogs by outside users unless the company significantly alters the meaning of the content, said Clothier, who specializes in First Amendment issues.

Clothier offers the following tips to avoid legal problems with forays into Web 2.0

  • Establish strict policies listing, which employees can post on a corporate blog, and what subjects they can write about.

  • Assign an employee to monitor blogs to make sure that policies are followed.

  • Discipline employees who violate the policies.

  • Remove inaccurate blog items, and post a correction.

  • Determine whether the company needs libel insurance, and if so, what kind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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