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Net Law Roundup #32

by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer

Although it will probably be remembered as the year of the war in Iraq, 2003 was also the year of the blog, Web publishing for the masses. Of course, the two events are not unrelated, because it was largely through online writings about the war from Iraqis, soldiers, and concerned citizens, that the Web log or blog came to prominence after years on the fringes.

There are some interesting legal issues tied up in the publication of a blog. For example, a Chinese blogger Zhang Shengqi was arrested late in the year for publishing supposed state secrets in his blog. It is easy to think of the Internet as a nation all its own, but in fact local laws do apply to those who publish to the Internet, and this applies to Australia just as much as to China.

The most important issues that you have to consider when publishing a blog in Australia include these:

  • Does what you are writing have the potential to injure another person's reputation in the community? If so, be very careful because you could be defaming them, and exposing yourself to liability to pay damages which could run to tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Do you have the rights to use any material that you have borrowed from other sources? Although brief quotations are generally OK, you should ask permission before reproducing what other people have written, or graphics or music that they have created. Disclosing information that you have been told in confidence can also land you in trouble.
  • Is the content you are publishing unsuitable for a general audience? It it were to be rated R if it were a film, you are not allowed to put it on the Web without an age verification system; if it would be rated X or refused classification, you are not allowed to publish it in Australia at all.

By keeping these issues in mind, you can achieve your fifteen minutes of fame in your blog, without needing to sweat about ending up in court. So, stay safe and happy blogging.

Please Note: The information contained in this article is general in nature and cannot be regarded as anything more than general comment. Readers of this article should not act on the basis of this comment without consulting one of iLaw’s legal practitioners who will consider their particular circumstances