Let me start this post with a disclaimer. I have never — and I repeat, never — heard of a client getting sued for something that’s on their author website.
That said, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get sued for something posted on your author website. With that in mind, and in the interest of helping all authors play things safe, here are five things you should watch out for on your site if you want to ensure that you’ll never be the victim of a lawsuit.
1. Copyright infringement. Have you ever thought about posting someone else’s material on your site? Maybe copying someone else’s blog entry and calling it a guest post? Or cutting and pasting an entire review of your book on your site? All of these are examples of copyright infringement, and they could get you served papers. As a writer, you should be especially aware of these types of issues.
2. Privacy violations. Let’s say you collect information from visitors to your site. Maybe you get their names, addresses, etc… If you then use that information in ways that the users didn’t agree to, you’re in violation of their privacy. Examples could include spamming users with emails they didn’t agree to, or selling their information to a third party.
3. Libel/Product disparagement. Do you regularly write reviews of products or other books? There’s nothing wrong with saying you didn’t like them. But there IS something wrong if you say anything incorrect about those books or products. In other words, it’s okay to say that the book was boring and overpriced. It’s NOT okay to exaggerate the cost, number of pages, etc… in an effort to make a point or be funny.
4. Using images illegally. This is one of the most common violations on the web. People often believe that if they find an image on Pinterest, or a celebrity photo on a news site, that they can reuse that photo in their own blog post on the subject. Wrong! Remember, there’s a photographer who took that picture and is pretty proud of his or her work. And the Associated Press or Reuters, for example, collect a lot of money from sites which want the rights to use their photos online. When you use those pictures without paying for those rights, you are hitting these companies where it hurts. And they don’t take that lightly. No matter how “small time” you may feel your site is, using photos without the proper rights is a bit no-no.
5. All of these things … through comments. Do you think that if you follow all the rules you can’t get sued? Think again. If you have any commenting functions or message boards on your site, then you are responsible for what any visitors post there. It’s important that you keep a close eye on each and every comment, photo, etc… that a user posts. Any illegal use of photos, copying and pasting of other materials, or incorrect information that defames a person or business can get you into the same trouble as doing these things yourself. At the end of the day, you the site owner can be the one sued for anything that’s posted.
All of this isn’t with the purpose of scaring you. Instead, it’s intended to educate you on the most common activities on the web that many site owners generally think of as harmless …. but that can get them into a lot of trouble if they’re not careful.