Can I Write That? The Legalities of Writing Online
*Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are the individual’s own and in no way represent Wix or any of its partners, affiliates or subsidiaries. The views are not meant to be construed as legal advice and cannot be used as such, in any capacity.
Writers face many challenges when it comes to creating great text. We have to consider where to get the best information, how to shape that into amazing text, and how to self-edit. Another factor that should be playing in the background of our minds is the legalities of what we write, and how to make sure we’re not playing in territory we really shouldn’t be. But where’s the line? And how do we know when we’ve crossed it? This is a particularly important issue when you write for a large company, where the words you put on the page could be taken as the legal standpoint of the whole company.
We sat down with Ronna Ilan, one of Wix’s legal experts, who gave us an overview of some of the concepts we should know.
01. Thanks for taking the time to explain some legal terms and concepts. Let’s start by talking about a few of the common challenges you come across when reviewing text.
RI: One common problem I come across is puffery. This is when the text makes a grand statement that can’t be backed up because it’s something that is measurable or can be tested. For example, saying something like, “This is the number 1 online store,” without actually knowing if that statement is true – that’s a problem. In this case, it would be a better idea to say something like, “This is one of the greatest online stores.” It still makes an impact but doesn’t claim something that can’t be backed up with facts.
02. But what if you have the facts to backup a statement? What if a writer reads something online and then uses that fact in their text?
RI: The concern there is that you don’t know the original source of that supposed fact. Remember that just because you read something in a book, magazine, or online doesn’t make it true. It’s better not to use information, even if you read it in what seems to be a reputable source, unless you know for a fact that it is… well, a fact.
03. So if I were to say that one celebrity is married to another celebrity, that’s a fact. I can use that right?
RI: Actually that brings up other issues: privacy rights, moral rights and copyrights. Unless you get permission to mention a celebrity’s name or have a legally binding affiliation to that person, it’s better not to mention them. In fact, you shouldn’t even allude to them, because that would violate their right to privacy. Of course, if you can contact them and get their permission to use their name or talk about them in your text, then you should be covered.
04. Well that makes sense. I wouldn’t want someone to use my name in their text without permission. Speaking of permission, how about when I quote something someone has said, or I talk about an idea they have. If I give them credit, is that acceptable?
RI: Not exactly. Giving someone credit doesn’t cover copyright permission. Just because you say that you learned about something from Person X, doesn’t mean you’re actually allowed to write about what they originally said. But as with any copyright issue, if you can contact the person and get their permission, you may be able to discuss their idea, depending on what your agreement with them lays out.
05. Is there anything else you see coming up frequently in written text?
RI: Something I see a lot is when a writer makes up the name of a company or person to use in their text, especially in text that appears on an image. What they don’t always realize is that the name they invented is also the name of a real company or person. That opens us up to copyright and privacy violation issues.
There’s an easy way to avoid doing this! Run a Google search and ask your legal department to check if there’s a registered trademark to that name. It takes a couple of minutes and can save you a lot of time and stress later on.
06. Before we end this interview, are there any words of wisdom you can offer to writers?
RI: Be responsible for your own content. Be aware of the fact that copyright and privacy laws are there, but that you can do a lot even within legal boundaries. And if you’re not sure of something, ask. Get real legal advice before you make a statement or write text that could be problematic.
Amazing, thanks for talking to us. You’ve covered a lot of points that are really valuable for writers to consider.
RI: You’re welcome.
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Na'ama Oren, Superverbalist