I’ve been quiet on here lately, but busy busy busy. I’ve been chatting with lots of new readers and have been taking in what people are saying about their struggles with running their blog / new business. So in the spirit of the new year / new beginnings, I wanted to create a simple list of the areas where I see most people struggling so I can show you how to avoid these legal headaches in your biz right now.
Blogging has come a long way and it is a full time job for lots of people. As I see more and more people jump into the full time blogging / online biz world, I’m reminded of how confusing it can all be. There are tons of things to know and learn about but here are some of the biggest areas of legal headaches where I see fellow biz owners struggling.
(Oh and as a reminder – I am a US based attorney, so this post is mainly geared towards US bloggers, but can apply to international bloggers as well. Additionally this post should not be seen as legal advice.)
You can’t sneeze anymore online without someone saying “bless you and you better have an email list right now!” Dramatic? Yes. True? Even bigger yes.
Email marketing is the hot thing and if you’re looking to sell, connect with your readers, build a following, or basically do anything business-y online, every expert will tell you that you need an email list.
They’re not wrong, but most people aren’t telling you what you need to be doing to make sure that your email list is legal. In the US, email marketing is regulated by something called the CAN-SPAM Act. The main gist of this law is that spam email is bad. So they have some rules you gotta follow so that your emails aren’t spammy/violating the law.
There’s lots to know about email marketing and the law, but here are the basics:
(1) You need to let your readers easily unsubscribe (meaning have an unsubscribe option in every single email) and then you have to actually unsubscribe them. There isn’t a rule against randomly adding people to your list (but that is a not very nice practice), but since you gotta unsubscribe people who ask, it’s in your best interest to not randomly add people to your list. If Joe Schmoe unsubscribed in February and then you re-add him to your list without his permission in March, then you’ve just violated the law here. He wanted to unsubscribe, but you are continuing to email him. Tsk tsk.
(2) Your emails can’t be misleading. This is pretty obvious. Don’t conceal who you are by having an unclear “from” name. Don’t have inaccurate subject lines like “everything 50% off!” but then the email says “everything 5% off!”
(3) Say where you are. That Nigerian banking scam person doesn’t give you their real address in their spam emails. Because they’re spammers. So the law wants legit businesses to include their physical address as “proof” that they are for real and aren’t hiding. So this is why you need to include a physical address (this can be a PO Box) in every email you send.
As email marketing grows (and grows and grows), they could tighten up with these rules, so it’s best to get in the habit today of doing things the right way.
One of the best things about being a blogger/online biz lady is that I’ve met tons of amazing people. I love being able to interact with and collaborate with people all over the world. It’s good good stuff.
And 99.99999% of the time, the interactions are fabulous and everything goes smoothly. But just like with everything else, sometimes things go wrong. This is where the dreaded lawyers get called and everything is a mess.
One way to avoid having to hire your own dreaded lawyer (hey, we’re not that bad!) is to prevent problems from even happening in the first place. I’m talking about having proper contracts or agreements in place whenever you work with someone else, especially when money and/or work products are involved.
Your contracts don’t have to be anything convoluted or complicated in order to be valid. Include the necessary info surrounding your partnership to cover any issues or questions that might come up in your collaboration. Having things in writing can be a huge help down the line if things go south.
Want to make sure you’re covering everything with your collaboration contract? Just enter your info below to get a free Collaboration Contract Checklist!
Related Post: Legal Questions You Need to be Asking About Your Blog
Speaking of, having solids contracts in place is super important if you want to get paid. Especially if you want to get paid the right amount and get paid on time.
If you do any sort of client work at all in your business (freelance writing, VA services, graphic design, etc.), getting paid is obviously a priority. And the best way to ensure this is to have proper contracts in place. These types of contracts should include everything you can think of to be sure that your relationship/work will progress smoothly.
Just like with collabs with fellow biz owners, make sure you are coving all the bases. The main points of contention tend to revolve around money (no surprise) and ownership issues. First off, make payment terms clear by including amounts due, methods of payment, late fees, cancellation fees, etc. For ownership, include info on whether you are retaining an interest in the product you’re selling (like a custom blog design or photos to be used in your portfolio) and the ways in which your client is allowed to use your creations. Lastly, also be sure to include info about deadlines and dates too.
Overall, think of your contract as a big “what if” statement – what if you get paid late, what if you get sick and can’t finish the work, what if the client wants to cancel halfway through, etc. Think of all those scenarios to include in your contract.
Related Post: 20 Legal Things Every Blogger Needs to Know
So important to know the legal headaches to avoid in your biz via @jackiejade https://ctt.ec/37BC8+
Tracking Your Money
Ok so you’re getting paid – woohoo! Whether you are monetizing through client work, ads, products or whatever, you gotta track those dollars and cents for several reasons. Of course, it’s good to keep track because you want to know how much money you’re earning in your biz. But it’s also (possibly even more) important to make sure you know what’s going on for tax purposes.
Obviously the government wants to know what you’re earning so that they can be sure you’re paying the right amount of taxes. So you need to keep track of your earnings so you can report your profits (and pay taxes according). But also you should be keeping track of the money going out too. These appropriate business related expenses can lower your overall taxable income from your business.
Additionally if you’re just starting out and have more expenses than income, knowing your expenses can save you money if you’re actually still “losing money” as you are starting your business.
Related Post: How Your Blog Can Save You Money
So right now, you need to start tracking your money, whether you’re making any money yet or not. There are lots of accounting software options out there but you can even just start with a spreadsheet or a notebook if you aren’t ready to invest in software.
Now let’s talk about copyrights and copyright protected work. As you know (since I know you’ve read my post about copyrights and trademarks), in the US, creative works are copyright protected from the moment that they are created. This means if someone writes a short story, takes a photo, hand letters a saying or records a YouTube video (or does a million other creative works), that thing is immediately protected, without the creator needing to go out and affirmatively register or file his or her work.
For creators, this is a “yay!” moment. It means your work is protected. But as a content curator, this can put us in a pickle. You need a stock photo of a typewriter for a blog post and found one on Flickr – no one will know if you reuse it, right? Or you don’t have time to take your own insta photos, so you’ll just post something you found online. Or, you just love the way this other blogger explained how to use wordpress, so you can just re-post her tutorial and drop a link.
These are all examples of copyright infringement. The creator of the original work owns the copyright to her work (unless she transferred or sold that right to someone else). So if you reuse her work without her permission, that is a big no-no.
So this means you gotta find stock photos that are explicitly allowed for reuse. You need to ask someone’s permission before reposting their photo on Instagram. And you can’t use more than a short quote (it depends on a case by case basis) from someone’s written work without first getting her permission.
In this world of #repostapp and Pinterest, it’s so easily to reuse someone else’s work without their permission and not even think that that’s a no-no. When in doubt, always always ask permission first or make sure you’re using work (like stock photos) that for sure allow reuse.
As an example, my friend Summer from Lady Boss League recently shared a legal horror story with me –
The legal side of blogging is often a topic that you don’t think about, until something happens and it’s too late! On my local business’ website, I made the mistake of finding an image on Google to use as a photo on a blog post. Blogging wasn’t even a big part of that business, and the image was tiny! I never thought twice about using it.
Several years after it was published, I received a letter from Getty Images demanding $1,300 for using that little, tiny image! I did the best I could on my own, and ended up settling for half the requested amount.
I was out $650 AND I felt both silly for not knowing the legal side of blogging, and I felt I had been taken advantage of because of it. When something like this happens, hindsight is 20/20 and I can only wish I’d had the knowledge and know-how that Jackie provides in her course. With her guidance, I would have never been in this difficult situation in the first place, and I wouldn’t be out that costly settlement fee!
It’s scary to have to do with legal issues ever and especially when you’re working on your own on building up your business. I know that there is a ton to learn about the legal side and about making sure that you’re doing things correctly.
Right now you can get hands-on help with your business because I’m reopening the doors to Blog and Be Legal Premium! The course was only open for a limited time in the fall but I’m excited to open the doors again. This premium version of my signature course includes extra templates PLUS a one hour one-on-one legal consultation with me where you get to ask me your specific legal questions. The doors are only open until January 31 so now is the perfect time to get your blog and biz legal for 2017!
Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions of failure to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.