Secrets of
Dealing with Legal and Social Realities

Date: 18 August 2008; Length: 6:44

Dr. Todd Curtis discusses how the laws of the U.S., particularly those dealing with free speech and copyright protection, have allowed and other sites to flourish, and also how the availability of a variety of free services have allowed all who are online to be much more creative when it comes to producing and consuming online content.

Audio: MP3


Welcome to the Conversation at, with your host Dr. Todd Curtis.

This is show #61 - Secrets of Dealing with Legal and Social Realities

To many, the Internet seems to be a freewheeling place where anything goes. That isn't surprising since the Internet was largely created in the United States, and the laws and traditions of the United States have heavily influenced the extent of information and resources available online. The Constitution of the United States, specifically the First Amendment, states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment forms the basis of laws and traditions in the United States that are related to both online and traditional publishing. The most important tradition for online publishing is freedom of speech, which is the right to express opinions, information, or ideas in public or in private, regardless of content, without interference by a government. is based in the U.S., and benefits from all the U.S. laws and traditions concerning free speech. In spite of what the Constitution says, speech is not 100% free. There are limits to what can be said online, and if you don't pay attention to those limits, it can cause problems ranging from having your email account disabled, to getting fired from your job, to being taken to court and sued.

Even before was launched, I was aware that there were some things I shouldn't do, and I made the effort to find out what those limits were, especially the ones that were relevant to the subjects covered by

One of the most important legal realities for the site were laws relating to libel. Libel is a false statement, written or broadcast, that causes harm to someone's reputation, or that causes that person to become a target of public contempt, hatred, ridicule, or condemnation. discusses in great detail events that kill or injure airline passengers, and that kind of content may affect the reputation of the airline or aircraft manufacturers involved. The key for avoiding libel claims is to make sure that the statements are factual, or the information is from an authoritative source. For, that means that when there's a crash involving an airliner, there may be initially only a small amount of information about the event.

The world's news media organizations do a very good job of gathering information on breaking news stories, so's policy is to wait until there's some kind of consistency in the reporting, and to focus on the objective and factual aspects of the event.

Another legal reality that benefits is that of copyright. The biggest benefit is that the copyright rules followed by the U.S. and recognized by most of the world automatically grants copyright protection to all the original content of the site, including text, pictures, videos, and podcasts. Regular visitors to the site may see copyright notices on most of the pages. While this is not necessary, it serves to remind visitors that the material can't be used elsewhere without permission.

One aspect of copyright rules, the concept of public domain information, is also of great benefit to the site. Something that's in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the work's creator. While most material on the Internet is protected by copyright or other intellectual property laws, the most important information used by is in the public domain. Factual information, such as the location and date of a plane crash, are not subject to copyright. More importantly, most documents created by the U.S. government, including information from the FAA, NTSB, NASA, TSA, and the Department of Transportation can be freely used by anyone without asking permission. Substantial amounts of information from these and many other U.S. government organizations has been used throughout the site.

These fundamental legal realities are the foundation that protects not just, but also much of the content and resources available online. While these laws, rules, and regulations make it easier for people and organizations to be creative, there are other social realities that contribute to the growth and influence of the Internet. One of the biggest realities that benefit all who are online is the fact that so much of what's available is provided for free.

There are many reasons why massive amounts of data and other resources are freely available online, including information, software, or other resources created at great expense by corporations or governments. Whatever the reasons, the benefit to the average user is that once you have access to the Internet, there's rarely any need to spend money for many common online activities.

Because so much is free, individuals and groups can try all sorts of things to see if they'll work for them. For example, for the Conversation at podcast, I make use of a free service that allows me to conduct a conference call, have that call recorded, and have the MP3 file of the recording emailed to me. I edit the recording on a free audio editing program, and if I wanted to add music and other sound effects, those too are available for free.

Anyone can subscribe to the program through a number of free online services, as well as through iTunes, a program that's not only free to download, but also allows any podcast creator to register their programs without charge. By the way, you don't need an iPod to use iTunes. If you're not using it already, I suggest that you download it and use it to get new podcast episodes sent to you automatically.

To promote the podcast, I can submit press releases to multiple free press release services, making sure I mention the URL of the blog that provides additional information about the episode. That blog would be hosted on a free service like Blogger or WordPress. Both of these services offer multiple design templates, so that a complete novice can launch a customized blog within minutes.

I can even promote the podcast using more than words. I can include a few photos in the blog, or include links to many more photos on a photo sharing site like Flickr. If I decide to create a video version of the podcast, I can make it using software that's bundled with new computers that use either a Windows or a Mac operating system. Once I create it, I can upload it to a video sharing site like YouTube. I can do all of that, and much, much more, without spending any money.

With all the legal protections and free services available online, the biggest challenge the Internet presents for, and for you the listener, is to figure out how to use the rules and resources to your advantage. In the next episode in the Secrets of series, I'll talk about one of the more elusive aspects of, how to make money running a web site or a podcast.

For more information about this show, and about other podcasts, please visit There you'll find links to related resources, one of which is a free download of my book, "Parenting and the Internet." That document includes links to over 150 free online resources.

Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next time.

Additional Resources
Find Free Online Resources in the Book "Parenting and the Internet"
Secrets of Special Podcast Series
Other Podcast Episodes

Want to leave a voice mail or email? How about mailing a letter? Go to the Contact Page and send us your message.

Secrets of Key Technology Trends and How They Are Used -- Revised: 18 August 2008