August 12, 2015

Disclose, disclaim and attribute to avoid lawsuits and readers' ire

Our purpose is not to scare you with legalese. But it IS our purpose to guide bloggers on legal and ethical aspects of blogging.


When we copy a quotable passage from somebody else's website / blog / presentation / press release etc, we must give due credit to the source. Even more important is to give adequate attribution when using somebody's audio, graphic or audio-visual material. We have discussed it many times in the lat five years, so will leave it at that. Would like to add just this bit: giving credit does not mean you can use any material; we need to abide by copyright laws when using others' content.


When we, as bloggers, endorse a product or service, we are legally bound to disclose our relationship with the brand and benefits being derived through that association. 

Federal Trade Commission of the USA has issued comprehensive guidelines, with examples, on how to disclose promotion of a brand not only on blogs but short-form media such as Twitter. These apply mostly to blogs that review various products including fashion and beauty products, restaurants and hotels, gadgets, white goods, and books. Some other nations have advertising codes or guidelines on how a reviewer should disclose his/her association with the brand. 

However, we propose that bloggers go a step ahead when it comes to disclosure. We must disclose even if we are not being directly paid to endorse a product or service but are going to get indirect benefit. We must tell the viewers even when we got a gift during a press conference or received a free sample without an obligation to endorse the brand. 

Giving a generic disclosure somewhere on the blog does not compensate for not making a disclosure next to where the endorsement is written. The spirit is important: we need to tell the reader whether we were/ were not influenced by the brand / advertiser while giving our opinion about them. 

It is a great idea to disclose a non-association (e.g. I bought this product from the market. The views here are my own and based on my experience...). In such cases, we must make doubly sure that our review / endorsement / criticism are absolutely unbiased.


There are occasions when we are likely to be misunderstood if we did not explain our limitations / lack of expertise / lack of legal authority / etc while giving an advice or making a claim. In some cases, such disclaimers are legally required but in other cases, these might look out of place, but we must give them to avoid counter-claims or controversies.

Disclaimers could be like this:

  • "Advice given is for healthy individuals. In case you have a .... problem, you must consult your doctor before ...."
  • "The legal position relating to adoption /... may be different in your country. So, please consult the adoption control authority / a legal expert/..."
  • "The data is of August 2015. Kindly check ....(source) for any changes that might have taken place subsequently."

As you might have noted in these examples, you need not write a big DISCLAIMER and put a legal notice after that. In most cases, explaining the context in which you give the information / advice is enough.