The advent and flourishing of online media has effectively stifled many a print publication, and its proliferation has changed the world of journalism in ways that are yet to be fully felt. But in one way, online media shares similar a specific gripe with any other news outlets: legal needs.

The Harvard Digital Media Law Project issued a report called “The Legal Needs of Emerging Online Media: The Online Media Legal Network After 500 Referrals,” which explores the relationship of those in the burgeoning and/or established-as-successful online media outlets to the legal field. The project maintains a group called the Online Media Legal Network (OMLN), which offers pro-bono legal services to independent journalists and digital publishers according to Capital New York.

In over 500 cases analyzed that were handled by the OMLN, the data showed that most clients — from both online and offline groups — required the same legal services including website terms of use drafting, mergers and acquisitions, corporate formation, and contract drafting.

The study’s authors, Jeffrey Hermes and Andrew Sellars, were quoted by Capital New York: “There remains much that has not changed in the nature and needs of journalism as it ourishes online. Rather, what has changed is journalists’ monetary ability to obtain counsel for the sorts of issues that these ventures have always faced.”

Defamation is one of the most highly cited claims against media outfits, which can often result in massive fees and penalties. And, surprisingly, plagiarism is not quite as heavily in the spotlight as some would believe. The report distinctly mentions that the clients were providers of original content, and many were not necessarily even coming to OMLN for litigation, but rather business advice. There are a few areas of focus. The report notes: “OMLN clients show significant evidence of forward planning. They are more often proactive than reactive to legal issues, frequently seeking assistance with intellectual property, content liability, and corporate questions before crises occur.”

While online media is still in the throes of its heyday, that does not mean it has eluded the courtroom. Although as regulations amount in various countries over IP claims and other requirements for online media presences, perhaps the OMLN will see the legal needs of online media shift.


Further reading:

SEC not altering compliance rules for social media

Mitigating the media risks of public litigation 

The risks and rewards of social media