How a Blogger Can Get Legal Protection from Libel and Slander

Better to know now than to figure this out later.

[This is part of the Escaping the 9-5: My Road to ProBlogging series.]

Just what is a “blogger,” really? No seriously – who and what are we? Writers? Storytellers? Authors? Creators? Artists?

The obvious answer is that we are all of those things. Technically speaking we are also called “Publishers” and with that particular title comes certain responsibilities. And with any responsibility comes a bit of risk, perhaps even some exposure that if not managed well could get us into a bit of a pickle.

Blogging has come a long way in a very short period of time. For many it is simply a hobby. However, as proven by some rather talented “pro” bloggers out there, blogging is much more than that. It can become a primary source of income, actually supporting an entire family!

Now how cool is that?!

As cool as that is, there is another side to blogging that many of us fail to recognize, and others outright ignore – and I’m not talking about spending countless hours on a post to only have three of four pageviews and zero comments – we’ve all been there, right?

What I’m talking about is a legal perspective; a perspective that you need to know about regardless if you’re just a hobby blogger or a professional blogger and one that invites risk each time you click that publish button.

In fact, this is something you should definitely consider if you’re going to leave the protection of a corporation’s legal department and head out on your own into problogging!

Ready for a bit of schooling?

One of Banksy's famous stencils.

The Power of an Opinion:

It’s easy to forget sometimes amidst all the brainstorming, drafting, editing, formatting, and publishing that we are ultimately sharing our candid thoughts, opinions, and ideas out there for the whole world to see. That can be a very good thing, especially if you’re building a loyal (and growing) following. But, it can also put us at risk for a number of different legal actions.

How?

You might not even be trying to do it, but your view or opinion of something could be easily perceived by someone else as defamation, libel, slander, or even invasion of privacy, and before you know it, you’re getting phone calls from someone’s personal injury attorney.

For the uninitiated, here is a base definition for you to become aware of:

Defamation – also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) – is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image.

In common law jurisdictions, slander refers to a malicious, false, and defamatory spoken statement or report, while libel refers to any other form of communication such as written words or images.

Even if the nature of your blog is “clean” and non-confrontational it’s still something you should take very seriously. This is a very real issue and bloggers get sued all the time even when they never intended in any way to be malicious, or critical of someone.

It’s especially easy to be sued because many personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis (the lawyer doesn’t get paid until the client gets paid), meaning that it doesn’t cost the claimant anything up-front for them to “lawyer up” or simply get a lawyer and proceed with a case.

Just not interested in seeing the inside of a courtroom for my blog...!

How to Protect Yourself:

There are two common ways to protect yourself from this exposure, the first being obvious: Just quit blogging. You can avoid risk all together if you just stop blogging. For most of us this really isn’t an option.

The second option is to simply transfer the risk and you can do this by purchasing insurance. Here are your options for getting that type of coverage:

Option 1: Your Homeowners, Renters, or Umbrella Policy

If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you should have what’s called “Family Liability” or “Personal Liability” coverage. The limit on your policy is likely between $100-$500k. This liability coverage covers a whole host of things and sometimes automatically provides coverage for “Personal Injury” damages as well, so there’s a chance you might already be covered and don’t know!

Amongst other things, “Personal Injury” coverage guards you against libel, slander, defamation of character, copyright infringement, and invasion of privacy, all of which are exposures to a blogger or publisher. It should be known that not all insurance carriers include “Personal Injury” coverage on their policies.

If your policy doesn’t already have it, you might be able to add it rather inexpensively via an “endorsement” (a.k.a. “rider”). If it’s not available via endorsement, then your last option would be a “Personal Umbrella” policy, which is a separately purchased “excess” liability policy that amongst other things, includes the “Personal Injury” coverage.

An umbrella policy’s job is to shadow your homeowners/renters/auto policy’s underlying liability limits, and step in if those limits are exhausted due to a large payout.

Umbrella policies are almost always purchased in $1 million increments and normally cost between $150/yr on the low side, up to $400/yr on the high side depending on insurance carrier and what limits you buy.

Check out 'Umbrella' policies for your blog.

Option 2: Commercial General Liability Insurance (CGL) or Business Owners Policy (BOP)

This is the option I would strongly recommend if you are incorporated and/or blogging for income, and especially if you manage several different blogs.

Just so you know the difference, a CGL is a “liability-only” policy. A BOP is a combination of liability and property coverage, sort of like a “bundled” package of coverages. Think of a BOP as a stereo-in-a-box. If you also need coverage for “business personal property”, like laptops, and other property relative to your blogging business, a BOP is the way to go.

If you’re smart (and I know that you are) you’re probably thinking about this question here:

Well, if I can get this coverage under my Homeowners policy, why would I buy a CGL or BOP?

The answer to that is because if someone tried to sue you and you presented that claim to your insurance carrier, and they investigated it and found that you are actually incorporated, and blogging for business, there is a good chance your claim could be denied because a “personal” policy like a Homeowners policy, is not intended to cover “commercial” or “business” exposures.

If by chance the claim was actually honored, your insurance carrier would almost certainly “non-renew” (basically cancel) your insurance at renewal.

That’s not the only reason you might want a CGL or BOP because they also provide many other beneficial coverages like loss of income, loss of business personal property (BOP), breach of electronic data coverage, cyber liability, and cover many other exposures that are borne out of blogging and/or managing websites.

The cost of these policies can vary widely depending on your needs and coverage levels but if you are a incorporated and/or blogging for income, there is much more at stake, so a good starting point would be a $1 million liability limit (if not $2 million), and potentially a “Commercial Umbrella” policy on top of that.

A Few Parting Thoughts:

Many of you may think that insurance is simply not necessary at this time, but the consequences of ignoring it are many. Even if the claimant doesn’t have a strong case against you, it costs just as much to defend an innocent person as it does a guilty one.

Depending on the laws in your state, all sorts of awful things can happen if you get sued, from wage garnishment, to asset liquidation or real estate repossession. That’s right, your house can actually be taken!

Please know that this is not meant to scare you, but to uncover something that many of us bloggers simply don’t acknowledge or understand.

If you have any other questions/comments regarding these coverages, just drop me a comment and I’d be happy to help in any way I can!

This is a Guest Post by Chris Langille. He accepted my offer to expand on a blog topic that I felt would be valuable to our readers after reading his comments about Health Insurance for Bloggers.

[This is part of the Escaping the 9-5: My Road to ProBlogging series. Images via Creative Commons, josh, nolife, joe, pinksherbert]