Types of Legal Risk

While the policies and contracts listed here are crucial to proper legal risk management of your organization, they are not the only legal concerns journalism organizations face. Among the most important concerns are:

Libel/Defamation: Defamation is the publication to a third party of false and damaging statements about an individual or corporation; libel is defamation that has been fixed in a particular medium (including print, video and electronic formats). A complex and important area of media litigation, libel laws and defenses against civil lawsuits vary widely from state to state. A guide to libel for journalists can be found at the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press (“RCFP”), the Digital Media Law Project Legal Guide, and Public Citizen.

Copyright Infringement: Copyright infringement is another important aspect of law for journalists to be familiar with, particularly in the digital age. Copyrights can be infringed in a number of ways; from posting YouTube videos on a site to taking an image from another website without the copyright holder’s permission. Copyright infringement can also be implicated when commenters post infringing materials on websites as well, though this can largely be protected against with an effective DMCA compliance procedure (see above). For a thorough examination of copyright law as it pertains to journalists, see the RCFP’s guide to copyright infringement, as well as the Digital Media Law Project’s Legal Guide section on copyrights.

Protecting Sources: Federal and State Shield Laws: Subpoenas can and have been used to get the names of reporter’s confidential sources. Federal courts and the majority of states have adopted laws to shield reporters- to varying extents- from revealing their sources to the subpoenaing party. The RCFP provides a detailed examination of state and federal shield laws for journalists.

Invasion of Privacy and Recording: Journalists must also take care when publishing material that might be considered an invasion of privacy. While stories about the public activity of public figures and matters of public concern typically don’t invoke invasion of privacy concerns, there are a number of issues that journalist must take into consideration: a non-exhaustive list. The Digital Media Law Project’s Legal Guide also has a section of invasion of privacy concerns.

Furthermore, the law of when and where subjects can be recorded varies from state to state; the RCFP provides a detailed state by state discussion of recording laws.

Access to Government Records/Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): All states and the federal government have laws which allow journalists to access certain government records. The RCFP provides an up-to-date compendium of both federal and state law on the subject; and the Digital Media Law Project’s Legal Guide has useful information as well.