Six Legal Risks that will Zap You when Publishing Content

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Advisors improperly cite or don’t cite their sources. Most advisors do this without even realizing it. This is a boring topic, but please read this to protect yourselves from legal problems.

I’ll make this as exciting as possible.

1. Not citing at all

When in doubt, cite it.

Anytime you discuss an idea that is not 100% original, whether or not you are directly quoting the source or not, you need to cite the source. Even if you’re just summarizing what someone said or wrote, you still need to cite the source.

I read market outlooks where advisors paraphrase something that another advisor, or a news source said, but no citation is included. Take the time to cite it because a quick Google search will find out you did that. Then you will get sued and have to pay significant fines. Trust me, I’ve seen this and it costs a lot.

Let me tell a little story that will shock you. When I was getting my MBA, there was an essay writing contest in the Investor Services Journal that I entered where I wrote about hedge fund volatility. Now, as this is a highly academic subject, I needed to call upon several third-party sources. Well, one of them was written by a woman named Hillary.

I remember not citing these sources particularly well. But, being younger, not as wise as I am now, I submitted the essay. Then I went to dinner with my friend Ben and he told me a story about how a professor of his lost his job by plagiarizing.

Eager to avoid any such a misfortune, I returned to the office late at night, revised my essay to include the proper citations, and submitted the essay before the impending deadline.

Well, I won the essay contest and it made international news. Lo and behold, Hillary herself read the essay and she personally contacted me to thank me for using her work and for recognizing her.

Just think about what would have happened if I had not had that conversation with Ben and taken the time to revise the citations! Not only could I have lost my cash prize and the notoriety that went along with winning the contest, I could have been sued if she really wanted to get nasty.

Most advisors don’t have a large following and their content isn’t read by many people – just being real with you – which is why they hire people like me to get exposure. Most advisors can get away with not properly citing things because they have a small audience.

The point of writing is to have people read it, and sometimes people who read these things are others from the industry whose work you may just have used.

2. Swiping charts without asking permission of the rights holder

Advisor marketing is rife with these infractions – almost every time I read a monthly or quarterly market outlook piece. The advisor plucks a chart or graph from another advisor or a news source illegally, blatantly copying and pasting the thing right out of the original source.

If you directly copy a chart or graph, not only do you have to cite the source but many times you are required to contact the work’s creator and ask his or her permission. Read the fine print in the disclaimers and it tells you what you need to do.