Legal FAQs for Nonprofit Journalism Organizations

(INN created this page on nonprofit status, copyright issues, and risks associated with publishing information in 2011 in collaboration with the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The DMLP project ended in 2014 and the website and its contents are no longer being updated. DISCLAIMER: Please check any information you find here for accuracy and completeness.)

For the answers to the questions below, review the linked section and other relevant parts of the DMLP website for a complete explanation.

Forming a Nonprofit Journalism Organization
1. What are the steps to forming a nonprofit corporation?

2. Do I need to incorporate in the state where I operate my nonprofit organization?

3. What is the management structure of a nonprofit corporation?

4. What is a Form 1023?

5. What are the requirements and restrictions to maintain 501(c)(3) status?

6. Can a nonprofit make a profit or engage in profit-making activities?

7. As a 501(c)(3), do I need to file an annual tax return?

8. What is the difference between a Form 990 and Form 990-EZ?

9. As a 501(c)3, what special benefits am I eligible to receive?

10. As a 501(c)3 organization, can my organization engage in political or legislative activities?

11. Should I consider getting a “fiscal sponsor?”

Risks Associated with Publication

1. What are the risks with publishing information?

2. If you have bloggers and social media users who review products or services on your website, what do they need to disclose when they post reviews on your website?

3. If I have incorrect information on my website, should I correct it or leave it?

Copyright Issues

1. What is copyright?

2. What does copyright protect?

3. Who owns a copyright?

4. How do I acquire a copyright?

5. What is fair use?

6. What are the differences between copyrights, trademarks, domain names, trade secrets and patents?

Access to Government Records

1. What is FOIA and when do I need to file a FOIA request for government records?

2. What kind of government meetings can I have access to and attend?

3. How can I get access to court proceedings or court records?

4. What is my state law for accessing state government records?

Newsgathering and Privacy

1. If I would like to record a conversation in person or over the telephone with a source, do I need permission?

2. Can I record (e.g. video, audio) a public meeting or court hearing?

3. What are the legal consequences if I promise confidentiality to a source?

4. What legal protections do I have regarding sources and source material?

5. What legal issues do I need to be aware of if I am gathering private information for a news story?