Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bloggers: Cover Your You-Know-What the Easy Way


There are three documents your readers should be able to easily locate on your blog. Each tells readers what to expect from you:

  • A Privacy Policy: A privacy policy tells readers what you'll do with any information you'll collect from them. If you do giveaways, it's a must.
  • A Disclosure: Do you accept products for review? Do you carry advertising on your site or are you a member of any affiliate programs? A disclosure tells readers "the purpose and interests of a blogger in his/her published posts: written, audio or video," in the words of Disclosure.org.
  • A User Agreement or Terms of Service Document: A user agreement or terms of service agreement tells readers what they're agreeing to when they visit and make use of your blog. It tells them, for example, that you're free to repost any comment they make to the form or any tip they send you without compensation. Perhaps most importantly, it tells them that they use the site at their own risk and that they shouldn't hope to hold you responsible for any damages that occur as a result of using your site (within the limitations of law, of course).
If your blog is new, or if you don't have much traffic, you may not think you need the legal protection these documents offer. In the past, bloggers without the money, time, or inclination to hire a lawyer have been stuck either trying to draft their own legalese or borrowing from other sites' policies and altering them to fit their own needs. No more. With these three easy-to-use online policy generators, there's no reason not to go ahead and create them, regardless of how necessary you feel they are.

Got five minutes? Here are the sites. Just fill in the blanks or check the boxes as applicable. Then copy and paste:
I asked a blogging friend of mine who's also an attorney, to take a look at these sites and see if they were worth using and if they would hold water legally. She responded:
The policy generators are probably adequate for most bloggers' purposes. Probably the most important thing for bloggers looking to make money is to make sure they're in compliance with the terms of their affiliate programs - AdSense, for instance, requires a privacy policy that contains certain dislclosures, if I recall correctly.

The privacy policy and disclosures have a two-fold purpose:
  1. to build trust with your readers; and
  2. to protect yourself from liability.
The more successful you are, the more likely you are to be targeted legally, so at some point you may want to seek an attorney's advice for your specific situation. At the very least, you'll probably want to incorporate to limit the scope of your liability, but you'll have to do a cost-benefit analysis to decide if you make (or will make) enough income to make the expense worthwhile. For most bloggers, it's probably enough to think of the policies from a reader's perspective: Ask yourself, what would I want to know? And then give that to your readers.
Once you've generated your policies and have made sure that you understand and agree with what they say, link to your policies somewhere where readers will see them. Your sidebar perhaps, or on the footer of your index page. If you have a dedicated "about" page or post, you might also add them there. And remember to update your policies as needed when you change anything about your blog or how it works.

Readers: Do you have any or all of these three documents on your blog? Have you used the generators for your own sites? And if you're an attorney, feel free to offer your own informed opinion on these generators.

And speaking of disclaimers: I'm not a lawyer. The advice in this post shouldn't be construed as legal advice.

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