Digital Journalist's Legal Guide

Welcome to the Reporters Committee's Digital Journalist's Legal Guide.

If you are gathering and disseminating news and information in any medium, this guide is for you. It will be as useful to bloggers as to a staff reporter at a national newspaper.

Please note: This site is meant to help educate you about your rights, and is not meant to be taken as legal advice from an attorney or a substitute for direct consultation with an attorney. The Reporters Committee can usually help journalists, traditional or digital, find an attorney in your jurisdiction when you are sued or arrested. In such cases, contact our hotline for help.

This guide is arranged by the legal topics below, which will also always be on the menu to the left. Please pick a topic to start:

Gathering news and getting information:

Open records & meetings (FOIA)

Are you having trouble getting access to information from federal, state or local governments? Do you need to follow the latest on how privacy and national security issues are affecting access?

Access to courts

Are you being kept out of a judicial proceeding, or denied access to court documents? Do you need to contest a sealing order that has placed newsworthy information off-limits?

Newsgathering (Access to places)

Have you been stopped by police while covering a news story? Have you been kept out of a news scene because you've been denied credentials? Do you have other issues and concerns related to official interference with your right to gather news and information?

Protecting and defending your work:

Sources and Subpoenas (Reporter's Privilege)

Have you been served with a subpoena? Is someone demanding that you reveal a source, or provide what you feel is protected newsgathering information? Do you have a question about the reporter's privilege -- the right not to be compelled to testify or reveal sources in court?

Libel

Is someone threatening to sue you over what you've written, or claiming that what you printed is not true? Do you have a question about libel cases or related issues, like anti-SLAPP laws and the fair report privilege?

Invasion of Privacy

Are you worried about how to present what may be personal yet newsworthy details in a news story? Do you have a question about other privacy claims, like intrusion upon seclusion and publication of private facts?

Knowing the legal restrictions:

Government Censorship (Prior restraints)

Has a court ordered you not to print information that you lawfully obtained, or not to report what you heard in open court?

Content Regulation

Are you being threatened with revocation of a domain name? Do you need to know what the FCC and FTC are doing to regulate the Internet? Need to know how the "fair use" exception to copyright law works? Have you been told to take down something from your site for copyright reasons? Or, has someone else taken your work without permission?