03 Jul How to start a Blog in Nigeria: The Legal Issues
Blogging in Nigeria
Just a few years ago, blogging in Nigeria was dismissed as a hobby and an unemployed person’s pastime. However the recent media reports around success stories of Nigerian bloggers, has given more people reason to look into this ‘hobby’ again.
We won’t bore readers with an explanation of what blogging is, we are making an assumption that if you are reading this, then you have a pretty good idea of what blogging is, if this is wrong, then you can read this brief explanation of blogging here.
Now at LawPàdí, we get quite a number of questions and requests from bloggers who want to start blogging in Nigeria about the legal issues they need to consider, and so we decided to write this article explaining some of the legal issues which aspiring and current bloggers need to be aware of.
A number of bloggers ask us this question: do we need to register a business name or incorporate a company in order to blog? The answer is no. In fact, we would actively encourage new bloggers NOT to register a business name or incorporate a company when they are just starting off. This is because blogging is not an easy profession, there are millions of bloggers out there, all fighting to grab readers to their blogs, and to succeed at it, you need to post blogs consistently, and write engaging articles that people want to read consistently.
If you can’t do those 2 things then your blog will die…quickly.
You should only register a business name or incorporate a company when you are ready to treat blogging as a serious business and not a hobby, and you can only answer that question when you have done it consistently for a period of time. Once you decide to register a business name or incorporate a company, there are certain statutory things you need to begin doing in order not to break the law for example charging and collecting VAT on behalf of the Government, filing annual returns etc.
So in essence what we are saying is this – treat is as a hobby until you are sure you can make the commitment to make a great business out of it. Once you reach that point, then registering a business or incorporating a company is very much advisable. If you have already been blogging consistently for a while now, then you should seriously consider setting up an appropriate business structure.
Avoiding Criminal and Civil Liability
Now whether you are a hobby blogger or business blogger, this section is very important for you. As the saying goes- ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. This is very much so in blogging.
As a blogger, when you put up a post on your blog, you can potentially have some liability for what is posted, and so you need to be aware of your responsibilities in this regard.
The main area of liability in blogging is from defamation and copyright infringment. Generally, defamation is a false statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation, and published as a result of negligence or malice. Defamation is made up of libel and slander, however, since we are speaking about blogging, then the relevant type of defamation is libel.
Libel in the context of blogging is when you publish something false about someone on your blog and this damages the person’s reputation. Once you publish something incorrect on your blog, whether or not you are the one who made the statement, you are potentially liable for defamation.
If your blog is one that allows comments, you should know that you could still be held liable for defamation even if the false statement wasn’t in your blog post, but only in the comments section and not even written by you! The law doesn’t care about who said it unfortunately, the law is generally only concerned with three things:
- Is it false?
- Has the person’s reputation been damaged?
- Who published it? (Since it is your blog, you are the publisher.)
Now we are not saying this to alarm any bloggers, but the reality is, that is the law.
All Nigerian bloggers should be aware of the Cybercrime Act 2015, which amongst other things creates offences like knowingly sending a message (which in our context can be a blog) which is ‘…false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another…is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7m or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment..’ (Section 24)
Recently, a number of Nigerian bloggers have been arrested for criminal defamation including Ojo Emmanuel for allegedly defaming the wife of the Ogun State Governor; Seun Olokuteyi for allegedly defaming the Fidelity Bank CEO; Chris Uwandu for reposting on Facebook the alleged defamation by Seun Olokuteyi; and Desmond Chima for allegedly defaming the UBA MD and Genevive Nnaji.
Yup…that’s a lot of arrests! So, how can you protect yourself? Well, you can protect yourself in these ways:
- Always fact check and reference. If you are blogging about people and institutions, and you suspect that what you are saying would be unfavourable, then you should make doubly sure that the facts are correct, and reference how you received the information.
- Be careful about what you re-blog. If you are reposting an original post which appeared on another blog, you can’t really absolve yourself from liability by saying you weren’t the one who wrote the original blog post. As we’ve discussed above, the issue is publishing. If you repost it, then you have published it on your blog as well.
- Have a Terms & Conditions page, which specifically has disclaimers, which protects you from some (not all) liability, for example that ‘users are liable for any comments they post on a blog, and your blog will not be held liable’ (or something to that effect). At LawPàdí we have a free template that bloggers can use for their Terms and Conditions page, you can access it for free here.
- Moderate your comments to ensure that no false, offensive or threatening comment slips through on to your blog. Also, do not allow anonymous comments. By doing this and by moderating comments it would help in creating a potential defence, should you face any legal action. Also, you should consider implementing a comment system that uses social media login; to try to make sure people are using their real identities to post comments.
Intellectual property includes copyright, patents, and trademarks. But in our context we shall be speaking exclusively about copyright issues (although trademark issues are also potentially important for bloggers). The main things bloggers need to bear in mind here is plagiarism, and image copyright.
Plagiarism in the context of blogging is when you take someone else’s work (or part of it) and post it on your blog. It is important to note that the fact that you haven’t claimed it as yours doesn’t absolve you of liability for infringement. The only way you can legally use someone else’s work is if you are granted permission. You can’t take content from somewhere else and put the words ‘originally posted at …’, and hope that would be enough.
When someone authors a work, whether it is an article, or a book etc., they immediately have copyright in that work (they don’t have to register it), and the ownership of copyright extends to how and where it is used. So in order to avoid plagiarism, you need to always seek for and obtain express permission before using a part of or the entire work.
Image copyright infringement is when you take an image and put it on your blog without express permission. In images, the copyright in the image rests with the person who took the picture. An interesting case in the USA is trying to establish that even a monkey can have copyright in an image!
Images are a big part of why blogs and in fact the entire Internet is so visually appealing. Imagine a world where the internet had no pictures, only text…close your eyes now and imagine it…boring right?! Anyway, because images are such a big part of the Internet and can be used in different contexts to illustrate different things, image copyright infringement is one of the most breached.
So, before you add that image to your blog post, make sure you have the permission and authority to post it.
It’s important to mention ‘creative commons licenses’ here. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Creative commons gives copyright owners a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use their creative work — on conditions of their choice.
A creative commons license provides a standard way for authors to declare their works as “some rights reserved” (instead of “all rights”), thus giving users extra rights to use the content. We won’t bore you with the types of licenses available, but you can read more about the Creative Commons Licenses here.
This is for the people who have decided to take their blog from being just a hobby to a full-fledged business.
The first and most important thing is – registering your business/company; we have an article about things to consider when deciding what business structure to set up in this article.
The next thing to consider is to register for tax. You can read a bit more about tax registration in a couple of articles we posted on our website here:
The next important thing is taking care of your money…when you get paid, how you get paid, what you are paid for. Here you need to consider getting a template invoice and contract for your company.
The invoice is important not only because it projects a professional image, but also because you will need it for your financial records when you compile your yearly company accounts, and also in any dealings with the tax authorities; and most importantly it evidences money owed to you in case someone refuses to pay as agreed and you intend to commence debt recovery proceedings.
A contract is important because it lays out the terms and conditions of the advert placement on your blog. You need a contract to present to potential sponsors and advertisers, to make sure they know what they are paying for and what they are going to get, so as to ensure there are no issues in future. It would cover things like advertising options, rates, any restrictions, payment information, cancellation policies, limitation of liabilities, disclaimers and indemnity etc.
Those are the highlights of the legal issues you need to consider as a blogger in Nigeria. We hope you have found this article helpful, and to all the bloggers out there…wish you all the best and hope you find success!
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