Chapter 12: PR and the Law

Traditionally, libel was a printed falsehood.  Slander was an oral statement that was false.  Today, courts use defamation for both.

A person filing a libel suit must prove that:

  • The false statement was communicated to others through print, broadcast, or electronic means
  • The person was identified or is identifiable
  • There is actual injury in the form of money losses, loss of reputation, or mental suffering
  • The person making the statement was malicious or negligent

People in PR must be particularly sensitive to the issue of privacy in at least 4 areas:

  1. Employee Newsletters: One should avoid anything that might embarrass an employee or subject an employee to ridicule by fellow employees.
  2. Photo Releases:  PR departments should take the precaution of filing all photographs, dating them, and giving the context of the situation.
  3. Product Publicity and Advertising:  An organization must have a signed release on file if it wants to use the photographs or comments of employees and other individuals in product publicity, sales brochures, and advertising.
  4. Media Inquiries about Employees:  PR personnel should follow basic guidelines as o what information will be provided on the employee’s behalf.  Employers should give a news reporter only basic information.  Provide confirmation that the person is an employee, the person’s title and job description, and date of beginning employment.

Copyright means protection of a creative work from unauthorized use.  There are several copyright guidelines PR people should keep in mind.  Here are a few:

  • Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but the expression of those ideas can be.
  • Permission is required to use segments of TV programs or motion pictures.
  • Photographs of current celebrities or those who are now deceased can’t be used for promotion and publicity purposes without permission.

A trademark is a word, symbol, or slogan, used singly or in combination, that identifies a product’s origin.  There are three basic guidelines regarding the use of trademarks:

  1. Trademarks are proper adjectives and should be capitalized and followed by a generic noun or phrase
  2. Trademarks should not be pluralized or used in the possessive form.
  3. Trademarks are never verbs.

Regulations by Government Agencies:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has jurisdiction to determine that advertisements are not deceptive or misleading.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) closely monitors the financial affairs of publicly traded companies and protects the interests of stockholders.  The 3 concepts most important to PR people are the following:

  1. Full information must be given on anything that might materially affect the company’s stock.
  2. Timely disclosure is essential.
  3. Insider trading is illegal.

Investor relations personnel must also avoid such practices as:

  • Unrealistic sales and earnings reports
  • Glowing descriptions of products in the experimental stage
  • Omission of unfavorable news and devlopments
  • Leaks of information to selected outsiders and financial columnists

Commercial speech doesn’t have the same 1st Amendment protection as other forms of speech.  The government may regulate advertising that is:

  • False
  • Misleading
  • Deceptive
  • That promotes unlawful goods and services

This information was taken from the book  Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, Ninth Edition by Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron.

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Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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