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Don’t Tweet from Court and Other Tips from the Digital Journalist’s Legal Guide

Are you grappling with how to protect the identities of anonymous posters? Legally speaking, can you even do that? Now, help is just a click away. On Monday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press unveiled the new Digital Journalist’s Legal Guide. If you haven’t bookmarked it yet, do so. Right now.

The Reporters Committee said the guide is “designed to assist anyone who is disseminating news online, from an independent blogger to a reporter for a major media outlet, as well as media lawyers active in this area.” The interactive reference is divided into three main topics — gathering news and getting information; protecting and defending your work; and knowing the legal restrictions. Each is then broken down into specific subjects, such as libel or access to courts; questions; recent relevant news articles; links; and comments. It will also be continually updated as digital journalism evolves.

Here are three pieces of advice I found useful:

1. Tweeting from court is a no-no.
Although it varies from courtroom to courtroom, and jurisdiction, tweeting and using cell phones, laptops and other technology in court is generally frowned upon.

2. Copy and paste sparingly.
When it comes to taking content from another web site, a good rule of thumb is don’t use so much material that your reader won’t follow a link to the original site.

3. Don’t ignore subpoenas.
Depending on the state and type of court, journalists may have a privilege to refuse to testify. Unfortunately, there is no definite assurance of this.

For more information, go to, or follow the Reporters Committee on Twitter, @rcfp.

What parts did you find most useful? What is missing?

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