Laptop, books and fruit. Photo: Clare O’Beara.
Laptop, books and fruit. Photo: Clare O’Beara.

Web Writing- Part Six, Legal issues

Clare O'Beara
4 min readFeb 22, 2021

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The Web is full of content so how do we know what is allowed?

In Part Four, we looked at setting up your own blog. If you put something on the web, you are publishing that piece.

If you write something original, or take a photo or video clip, you hold the copyright. Using someone else’s material is breach of their copyright.

A firm of lawyers exists solely to write to people and point out that Biro needs to be capitalised. Trademarks need capitals.

Another firm profits by contacting American people to tell them they have been defamed outside America, where free speech is broad. The defamed people are invited to sue those commenters in Europe.

What about images?

Another firm exists to search images on the web, and you can be sued for lifting an image if you do not own the copyright. The reason is that professional photographers spend a lot of time and money on their craft, and they expect to sell their images. Even if you are giving publicity to a hotel, make sure you have clearance to use an image from their website. Generally, a firm can supply you with an approved image.

Women in Business panel at Dublin Business School, 2019. Photo: Clare O’Beara.
Women in Business panel at Dublin Business School, 2019. Photo: Clare O’Beara.

You may use images, music or video for the purpose of review and criticism but not just for a compilation of clips. Use a brief excerpt. Still be careful, as there are firms which sue mightily for breach of copyright. Educational institutions have more leeway, so something on a college site is safer than your own site. If you put something unauthorised on YouTube, you will quickly get a takedown notice. I’ve had to file a few. My webmaster spotted them with Google Alerts, and YouTube needed me personally to write and say that this was my copyright. The items went down within a couple of days.

In general, to use an image or a clip, or a musical piece, you need permission in writing, or a licence. A photo licence might allow you to use this image for one article. Sometimes you will be allowed to use something for personal use only, not for commercial use. You might think a performance of Handel’s Messiah is out of copyright, because the composer died a long time ago. However, the recording was made recently, and the orchestra and choir are entitled to royalties for their performance.

I’ll explain about Creative Commons free licences next time.

Defamation

In Ireland, the civil crimes of libel and slander have been replaced by one civil crime of defamation, to take into account the multiple platforms of modern conversation and publication. A writer can defame someone by putting their image next to a text which misrepresents them. The person can sue.

Don’t associate a brand name with crime. Don’t discriminate.

Privacy and GDPR

Platforms like Facebook strip the exif (exchangeable image file) data from images before posting them. If you are not doing this, on your blog, someone could read the GPS off the phone photo and that could invade someone’s privacy. For instance, it could tell a stalker where to find an ex-partner.

GDPR. This is General Data Protection Regulation and this is now the legal form in the EU. If you store someone’s contact details on a computer, you must comply with the data protection laws and store it securely. If you publish something, you must take care not to infringe these laws. You could accidentally break the law by publishing someone’s full address and date of birth, making it easy for fraudsters to impersonate them. People are also just plain entitled to their privacy. Be aware that web platforms sell all the personal data of their users to many groups, including advertisers, and this has gone to third party data brokers. If someone doesn’t want their supermarket, employer, bank and health insurer to know facts about their life, they’d better keep these facts off social media.

A Cookie notice is legally required if you place cookies on your website to keep track of your visitors. A cookie is a small piece of web code which interacts with the visiting computer or phone.

Launch of ‘Local’ photo exhibition by artist Pete Smyth.
Launch of ‘Local’ photo exhibition by artist Pete Smyth.

Reposting

Sometimes people are looking for publicity, about sponsorship, or to promote their artworks, for instance. They are pleased if you repost their content to help them get sponsors or sales. But I recommend asking if this is okay. In general, if someone posts a message on their social media site, it’s not a good idea to repost that onto a different platform. News sites may do this by embedding a tweet, which is not the same as just copy-pasting the statement.

Communication is potentially mass communication.

This practice is also bad manners. Previously, a casually spoken comment would only reach so many ears. Now, communication is potentially mass communication. If you tell a friend something via email or social media you don’t expect to see that personal comment splashed all over several other platforms, reaching viewers who may react extremely badly. This prospect may make you pause and think before posting. Once you put something on the Web, it’s public.

Next time we’ll look at crediting work and Creative Commons.

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Clare O'Beara

Environmental journalist, tree surgeon and expert witness, and former national standard showjumper. Author of 19 books of crime, science fiction, YA fiction.