Legal Adventures in Online Journalism

In most every profession, there are rules and regulations a person must follow.

Whether you are a chef, who must work within health and quality standards, or a construction foreman, who must meet building codes and follow safety guidlines, the law is everywhere.

Online journalists, like their print counterparts, are subject to media laws.  If they write outside of the confines of the law, journalists are subject to libel suits, copyright infringement and other occupational hazards.

The internet, innitially regarded as the online equivelant of international waters, poses new, and often surprising legal issues for online journalists.

While reading Online Journalism: Principles and Practices of News for the Web by James C. Foust, I came accross a few surprising legal quandries.

Because the internet crosses all national and international borders, journalists writing online are subject to the laws of many different nations.  

A small town newspaper that publishes something online not considered libel or defamation in the United States, can still faces legal action under the laws of Tokyo or Moscow.

A London-based paper, The Guardian, faced trial in Zimbabwe for “publishing falsehoods,” online according to Foust’s book. The paper claimed Zimbabwe did not have jurisdiction to sue, however, that claim was thrown out.

The Guardian’s experience is an example of how avoiding liable in journalism is more complicated than in the past.

The uses of linking is another aspect of internet law that, to my surprise poses potential problems to journalists. Linking is a common practice on blogs and news sites, however doing it incorrectly is dangerous.

Deep Linking ( using a link that brings the user deep into another website) has been the subject of several cases. Websites claim that by being redirected to a page within a site, they are losing out on advertising revenues. 

 It is also a probelm because linking can lead to an assumed relationship between two sites without one’s permission. Ticketmaster sued a Microsoft site for this exact thing, according to Foust.

Associative linking can affect a site’s legitimacy and negatively impact an organization’s public perception. In some cases associative linking can be seen as a sort of endorsement of a site, sometimes an unwanted one.

Linking to illegal or explicit meterial is another problem journalists face. A reporter covering a story on illegal downloading, must be careful not to link to a site that would facilitate any digital theft of copyright material.

All in all it can be confusing what is safe to do when writing online. But, it seems that if journalists folow existing codes of conduct and work within their own set of ethical standards, it should be fairly easy to stay out of the court.


About Bob Ringer

I am a 21-year-old journalist and student at Minnesota State University, Mankato,born and raised in the shadow of the Twin Cities, in the suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota.
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