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Legal Consequences of Co-Blogging, Part 1

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The decision to blog collaboratively can have significant legal consequences for the co-bloggers. In part 1 of a two-part series, Eric Goldman examines how current legal doctrines relevant to co-blogging can lead to unexpected (and possibly unwanted) results.
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Bloggers often work collaboratively with other bloggers, a phenomenon I call "co-blogging." The decision to co-blog may seem casual, but it can have significant and unexpected legal consequences for the co-bloggers. This series looks at some of these consequences under partnership law, employment law, and copyright law, explaining how each of these legal doctrines can lead to counterintuitive results. Part 2 of this series discusses some recommendations to mitigate the harshness of these results.

Introduction

Beginning a blog seems tantalizingly easy. Google’s Blogger service invites users to create a blog [1] in three easy steps:

  1. Create an account.
  2. Name your blog.
  3. Choose a template.

This solicitation suggests that the decision to blog can be made casually, but it’s hardly a trivial decision. The adverse consequences of blogging can be severe, ranging from being fired [2] to being sued, and bloggers—and the service providers catering to them—rarely discuss these risks. [3] Therefore, a new blogger can start a blog without contemplating these consequences.

A blogger can work solo, with other bloggers in a joint or group blog, or as a "guest" at someone else’s blog. All these various types of collaborative blogging activities are "co-blogging." As with the initial decision to blog, many bloggers form co-blogging relationships casually, without considering the legal implications. [4]

The law inevitably will blindside some of these co-bloggers. Bloggers may experience unexpected liability for their co-bloggers’ posts or actions. Co-bloggers may decide to separate, and only then find that default legal principles allocate the bloggers’ rights and responsibilities in counterintuitive ways.

Let’s examine the law of co-blogging and some of the unexpected consequences of that law. In part 2 of this series, I’ll make some recommendations to mitigate the harshest consequences, but I can’t really identify or propose any great solutions. Blogger blindsiding can be avoided only by readjusting bloggers’ expectations so that they better appreciate the significance of their decisions. Well-publicized legal incidents have this effect, but at significant personal cost for the subject bloggers. Perhaps this article can help you to avoid being an unlucky test case.

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