Chapter 3: PR and Legal Hassles

In the book, Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques, the author Dennis L. Wilcox states that persuasive writing must be within the law. False product claims in news releases will cause a lot of problems for the client and the PR practitioner. Chapter three discusses the importance of knowing the laws dealing with defamation, invasion of privacy, copyright, and trademark when you are a PR practitioner.

The book explains that defamation is the collective term used for slander and libel.  There are ways to avoid defamation such as watching your language and avoiding unflattering comments or accusations about competition.  As a PR practitioner it is also important to know the areas of invasion of privacy. For example, if a journalist asks you about a client you can only provide basic information. If you provided information such as salary, home address, or job performance you could be in a lot of trouble.

Copyright laws were also discussed in chapter three. The U.S. law is life of the creator plus 70 years for individual works and 95 years from publication for rights held by a corporation.  This is known as the Mickey Mouse law because the character Mickey Mouse rights would have expired in 2003 under previous rights. There are some materials that are considered public domain because of the age like Shakespeare’s works.  The internet copyright laws are the same as print laws for downloading and uploading materials.

Trademarks show quality for consumers. Consumers would spend more money for a product just because they believed brand qualities is more important than price. That is why trademarks such as iTunes, Frappucino, Academy Awards are all protected by law.  Trademarks are increasing by rapid rate.

There are regulatory agencies that make sure companies and individuals are not violating others rights.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Securities Exchange Commission.  FTC ensures ads are not misleading or deceptive. They have jurisdiction over product news releases and product publicity. PR practitioners can be held liable if their clients are producing ads that are misleading or false. It is important to be careful and make sure information is accurate for your client and for yourself. Many words spike FTC interest such as reliable, first-class, exclusive, perfect, etc.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) monitors financial affairs of publicity traded companies and protects the interests of stockholders.

There are legal departments that will know more about the laws than you and will help to ensure you don’t violate them.  But it is important to be aware of them yourself for the most part.  It will help the legal department and PR department to get along better if you take responsibility of knowing this information for yourself.

This chapter had a lot of information that will be important in working in the PR industry and working without violating the law.  The information I think is extremely important is the copyright section especially because it is so easy to violate these days with the internet being so popular.  It is so much easier to find information we need now because of the web and  it is just a click away most of the time.  It is important to know what can be used as public domain and what is not allowed to be used.


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