By Adam Barber published November 28, 2011

4 Media Law Tips for Content Marketers

Content marketing is not without its challenges. From coming up with compelling new ideas for articles, to getting your target audience to notice and engage with them, successful campaigns require skill, hard work, and an element of good fortune.

While it may not be top of the to-do list, media law is becoming an increasingly important consideration for content marketers. Whether you’re producing content in-house or outsourcing it, there are steps you can take to avoid writing your way into a sticky situation.

Having worked with these issues for 10 years, I believe there are a few things you should do yourself — or demand of your suppliers — to protect your business and your content:

1)    Create an editorial policy

An editorial policy has all kinds of uses. In this context, it establishes your understanding of the law and how it applies to what you do. It defines the professional standards that your writers are required to adhere to. And it sets out the measures you will take to mitigate any legal risks associated with publishing content.

Your editorial policy should be, primarily, an internal document and probably not something you would publish on your website. But you might show it to individual clients (and potential clients) to reassure them that they’re in safe hands. You can also use your policy to set ethical standards for your organization such as restricting yourself from writing or linking to certain types of content (pornographic or discriminatory websites, for example).

2)    Check your insurance

Whether you are creating content yourself or you’re using an agency, you need to understand who is liable for any potential legal ramifications that arise, and make sure your end is covered by an appropriate insurance policy. If content marketing is a new venture for your business, it probably isn’t safe to assume that your existing coverage will be sufficient. A quick chat with your insurance broker won’t kill you and it could pay dividends if things go sour.

The chances of getting into legal trouble over a company blog, a press release or a news article are remote, but the potential downside of not being prepared for problems occurring is huge. According to The Guardian, a British newspaper, libel cases involving online media have doubled in the last year. People are paying more attention to what’s published online,  particularly on news sites, blogs, and social media platforms making relevant and comprehensive insurance a wise investment for anyone in the publishing game.

3)    Training and monitoring

Insurance is to a content marketer what a safety net is to a trapeze artist. You wouldn’t want to be without it, but you hope you’ll never have to use it. Just like the trapeze artist, lots of training and checking is the key to keeping your content marketing efforts up on the high wire where they belong.

Your writers don’t need to be practicing IP lawyers, but they should have a solid operational understanding of the important elements of media law such as libel and copyright, for example. Your editorial policy will form the basis of their knowledge, but you’ll want to run regular training sessions demonstrating situations with real-life examples to ensure they can apply what they know.

To back up these regular training sessions, you also need to check your content regularly for potential problems. If there’s a problem with something you’ve written or commissioned, it’s better that you discover it before anyone else does. One of the benefits of digital publishing is that swift action can clear up a molehill before it becomes a mountain.

4)    Become an expert

Perhaps you don’t need to become an expert yourself, but you should make sure you have easy access to one. If you’re producing a lot of content in-house, someone on your staff needs to be the media law nerd. If you’re outsourcing, then make sure your supplier has a sufficient level of legal expertise. This will save you having to call your lawyer every time you receive a complaint.

In general, it’s good practice to respond whenever your content is challenged, and if it looks like a legal issue might be involved, it’s important to remove the posted content quickly so that you can begin your investigation. But quite often, issues can be settled without involving lawyers. If you have someone at your disposal who knows the legal rights and responsibilities of content, you’ll feel much more confident responding and taking action when necessary. This will not only make you more comfortable with your content marketing activities, but it will also save you money.

What are your thoughts? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Author: Adam Barber

Adam is a director at Castleford Media, a custom news and content agency based in Sydney, Australia. Castleford is a leading provider of tailored content marketing solutions, supporting our client's web, social media and email campaigns with unique, white label content and expert consultancy. You can follow Castleford on Twitter @castlefordmedia or connect with Adam on Google+.

Other posts by Adam Barber

  • Anonymous

    Adam, good article about a topic marketers are beginning to take seriously.  As marketers transition to a publishing mindset we should expect greater attention to the management aspect of content production.   Marketers in regulated industries will certainly understand administrative review of content for public consumption, but with the proper system or solution this does not have to be a bottleneck.

  • http://twitter.com/brencournoyer Brendan Cournoyer

    “Libel cases involving online media have doubled in the last year.” — ouch. Though not entirely surprising. One of the side effects of an online world where “anyone can be a publisher” is that you also end up with a lot of amateur publishers out there that lack the experience to know what might get them into trouble. These tips are a great place to start – good stuff.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Brendan. You’re absolutely right. It also shows that online content is being taken more seriously, which we should welcome. Here’s the link to the Guardian article I mentioned in case you’re interested:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media-tech-law/the-long-arm-of-online-libel-laws?newsfeed=true