The main message of this chapter is that it is better to check for the line between legality and violation before you cross that line and become sorry later. The chapter also focuses on the major regulations, agencies, and court decisions that could affect day-to-day work as a public relations writer.
When it comes to protecting organizational interests, a PR professional will be working with lawyers. The roles of corporate legal council and corporate public relations counselor are identical, but despite this both of these professionals roles diverge with respect to disclosure. Management should recognize legal and public relations inputs are equally important in formulating policy. A short-term legal victory may not transfer to a public relations victory in the long run. This is why legal and public relations counsel should be represented at the same level of management, reporting at the same point to the same executives.
Contracts are also very important to the legal side of public relations. PR professional that contract externally for writers, photographers, printers, models, or research or mailing services should have contracts that specify the conditions of performance and subsequent ownership and use of all materials. The first three types of contracts cover what is to be provided and at what costs. Contracts are especially important for freelance public relations writers especially those involved in producing user manuals or publicity pieces based on information provided by your client. Just remember that if you are writing a copy for any outside organization, as a freelancer, consultant, or small business, you should consult an attorney and have a standard contract prepared that you will sign with all clients.
Legal issues are another important factor. Legal issues related to public relations writing usually focus on ownership and access information. Ownership rights are addressed in law under copyright, trademark, service marks, and domain names. As a PR professional your task it to protect the intellectual property rights of your employer while also representing the rights of other companies, authors, designers, and so on.
The first of the legal issues is copyrights. Ideas are ideas, but once they are fixed in tangible form such as webpage, photograph, music, magazine, they can be copyrighted. Bottom line, consider anything that is published as copyrighted and to seek the permission of the copyright holder for permission to use it.
Trademarks and services are conceptual cousins of copyright except that they are covered by trademark rather than copyright laws. Trademarks and services are short usually the names of companies, products, slogans, and services. They protect property that is part of the organization’s public image. One negativity is that trademarks have the tendencies of falling into is when a trademark becomes generic. This can happen when issues of trademarks become too familiar. This is something that companies are aware of and try to keep from happening.
Another important topic of this chapter is defaming, libel, and slander. Defamation is what happens to the victim’s name, reputation, or image has been publicly defamed, than libel and slander are how the defamation occur. Few communication issues have been more contentious or public in recent years than the issues of freedom of information and privacy. Some examples of these are corporate and private files in an era of increasing government surveillance and subsequent public suspicion. Medical records, student records, financial records, and records of consumer purchasing.
There are many agencies that a PR professional must pay attention to, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Communications Commission, and U.S Postal Services. It is always wise for PR professionals to monitor laws and regulations that will affect your organization to ensure that you are interpreting them accurately and that your own writing complies with them.