Chapter 3: Avoiding Legal Hassles


This information is found in PUBLIC RELATION WRITING AND MEDIA TECHNIQUES, 6th edition, by Dennis L. Wilcox

A Sampling of Legal Problems:

  • You must understand basic legal concepts that provide a framework for all your writing.
  • A false product claim in a news release or the unauthorized use of a celebrity’s photograph can least to costly lawsuits.
  • Once you have mastered persuasive writing, you must also become familiar with law.

Libel and Defamation:

  • Libel is injury to reputation.
  • Libel is written.
  • Slander is spoken.
  • Defamation is awarded if the following four points can be proven
    • the statement was published to other by print or broadcast
    • the plaintiff was identified or is identifiable
    • there was actual injury in the form of monetary losses, impairment of reputation, humiliation, or mental anguish and suffering
    • the publisher of the statement was malicious or negligent

Invasion of Privacy:

  • Public relations writers and staff are vulnerable to litigation with regard to invasion of employee’s privacy in these five areas:
    • employee newsletters
    • photo releases
    • product publicity and advertising
    • media inquires about employees
    • employee blogs and virtual communities

Copyright Law:

  • Knowledge of copyright law is important from two perspectives:
    • what organizational materials should be copyrighted
    • how to correctly utilize the copyright materials of others
  • Authorship is defined in seven categories:
    • literary works
    • musical works
    • dramatic works
    • pantomimes and choreographic works
    • pictorials, graphics or sculptural works
    • motion pictures
    • sound recordings
  • Under the U.S. law, a copyright protects original material for the life of the creator plus 70 years for individual works and 95 years from publication for copyrights held by corporations.

Trademark Law:

  • Trademark – a word, symbol or slogan, used singly or in combination, that identifies a product’s origin.
  • The protection if trademarks:
    • Trademarks are proper adjectives and should be capitalized and followed by a generic noun or pronoun.
    • Trademarks should not be pluralized or used in the possessive form.
    • Trademarks are never verbs.

Regulatory Agencies:

  • Federal Trade Commission:
    • The FTC ensures that advertisements are not deceptive or misleading.
    • A few general guidelines, adapted from FTC regulations, should be taken into account with writing product publicity material:
      • Make sure the information is accurate and can be substantiated.
      • Stick to the facts.Make sure celebrities or others who endorse the product actually use it.
      • Watch the language.
      • Provide proper context for statements and statistics attributed to government agencies.
      • Describe tests and surveys in sufficient detail so the consumer understands what was tested under what conditions.
      • Remember that a product is not “new: if only the packaging has been changed or the product is more than six months old.
      • When comparing products or services with a competitor’s, make certain you can substantiate your claims.
      • Avoid misleading and deceptive product demonstrations.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission:
    • The SEC closely monitors the financial affairs of publicly traded companies and protects the interests of stockholders.
    • Three basic concepts:
      • Full information must be given on anything that might materially affect the company’s stock.
      • Timely disclosure is essential
      • Insider trading is illegal.

Other Federal Agencies:

  • Federal Communications Commission – provides licenses to radio and television stations, allocates frequencies, and ensure that the public airwaves are used in the public interest.
  • The Food and Drug Administration – oversees the advertising and promotion of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and cosmetics.
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
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Filed under Chapter Notes, PRCA 3330

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