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What Is Protectable Inside Your Course

Today you’re going to learn about exactly what you can protect in terms of an idea for your next course, and what you can’t.

I hate to break it to you, but ideas really are a dime a dozen.

That doesn’t help you.

But what will help you is to understand that line between an unprotectable idea and a protectable expression of that idea. What’s the actual protectable creative property behind an idea?

Examples of Protectable Creative Property

My go-to example is Uber and Lyft. The same exact idea, different execution, different brands, different feel when you’re in their app. But let’s bring it back to that course context.

How about Kajabi and Kartra? Those are platforms that integrate email and email marketing and hosting your online course and allowing you to upload videos and your course content. Same idea, different execution, different brands, different features.

Finally, a great example is Amy Porterfield and Jenna Kutcher. Each of them has online courses on how to build your email list. But again, different brands may be different content in that course, different videos, of course, different worksheets, all of those things are the different protectable parts of those courses.

All of those are examples of ideas, pure ideas that are executed in different ways. And it’s the execution that we’re focusing on.

What’s protectable when it comes to a course?

Well, there’s the brand name and logo and a logo that you might have for your overall brand. And the course you’re releasing under that brand, but also any special logo that you have for that course, those two things are protectable under US trademark law. There are artistic elements like graphic design that are part of that user experience. Those fall under copyright territory. There’s text, of course, whether it’s a script, or a worksheet, or a workbook, purely copyrightable.

To recap what’s protectable…

  • brand name
  • logo
  • graphic designs
  • text (in whatever form and in your course)
  • video

In other words, whatever you do, and create to make this idea of yours and make it different from someone else’s execution of that same idea, that’s probably what’s protectable here.

Whatever it takes it beyond, “This is my idea for the subject matter of a course” beyond that, too. “Here’s why people are going to buy from me here is the specific thing that I’ve created.” That’s what we’re talking about here in terms of the protectable parts of the course.

I hope that that helps you to better understand what’s protectable about a course idea!

If you have this little lingering feeling like there might be some legal issue out there that I’m not thinking of it could come back to haunt me, head to to find out the legal blind spot that is secretly killing your business and not only to find out about that blind spot, but how to fix it.

How To Legally Send Out Email Marketing Content

email marketing

After this video, you’re going to stop Googling and Googling and Googling legal email marketing practices, because you’re going to get it. I have three steps for you to follow to finally rid that feeling of, “Eh is this, okay?” when it comes to how to legally send out email marketing content.

There are 3 key areas that we got to focus on when it comes to legally handling email marketing: Sending, Content, and Unsubscribe.

Email Marketing Tip #1: Sending

You want to be sure to send emails to people who have actually affirmatively opted into your email list. I kind of tricked you because this isn’t actually a legal requirement. I know, right? A lot of people would have you think if you’re crowdsourcing these kinds of tips in Facebook groups, that this is a legal requirement, but it’s not. However, it is a really, really, really good idea. So many services like MailChimp, and ConvertKit require that you only send emails to people who have opted into your email list.

That’s because people who have not opted in and receive your emails will mark them as spam, which makes it harder for these services to deliver emails to people’s inboxes. Plus, don’t you want people who actually want to read your stuff to get your stuff? I wouldn’t want someone who didn’t opt into my email list to get my stuff.

Email Marketing Tip #2: Content

These are just some little boxes to tick when it comes to the content of your email marketing messages. The “from” designation has to be accurate. If your email is coming from a brand, it can’t say that it’s coming from an individual or pretend to be an individual. The subject line of the email should not be misleading, or the content of the message. That should also not be misleading. The content of the actual email should be accurate. Here’s one you might not know – the email has to have your actual valid postal address. That’s why you see addresses at the bottom of a lot of marketing emails. And the message should disclose that it’s a marketing or advertising message.

Email Markeing Tip #3: Unsubscribes

It’s kind of like road rage when you unsubscribe from a list like three times and you still continue to receive their email messages, right? Every single marketing email that you send should have an unsubscribe option. And it shouldn’t require them to click through five times either. It’s got to be visible, it’s got to work and you’ve got to honor it. You can’t require a fee or other exchange of information in exchange for that unsubscribe. Make it easy for them.

So those are my three steps to how to legally send out email marketing: Sending, Content and Unsubscribe. I hope that helps you to avoid Googling that topic in the future!

I want you to head right now to I’m going to help you find that legal blind spot that’s been kind of lurking in the back of your mind, on the bottom of your to do list, and in the back of your business for a while now. And then I’m going to tell you how to fix it. Again, head to!

4 Legal Documents Involved in Pivoting Your Online Business

woman thinking about pivoting her online business

By the end of this post you’ll know more about four legal documents that are involved in pivoting your online business. And it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. We’re going to be talking about trademark applications, non-disclosure agreements, work for hire, and a trademark license. So here we go.

Trademark Application

So first, a trademark application. Contrary to what you might think, you can’t add to an existing registration. Once you register your trademark, it’s registered in connection with whatever product or service that you’ve registered previously. What you can do is register the same mark, but in connection with a different offering altogether. Are you registered in connection with podcast episodes, but you’re pivoting your online business and offering e-courses under the mark? Simple. You’ll basically file another application for the same trademark, but under that new category, that educational services/e-course category.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (aka NDAs)

People often refer to non-disclosure agreements as confidentiality agreements, they’re the same thing. It basically protects confidential information from being disclosed to the public. Who might you disclose confidential information to when pivoting your business? Maybe a manufacturer, maybe a contractor, but again, that non-disclosure will help keep that information confidential.

Work for Hire/IP Rights Agreement

You’ve heard me talk about Work-for-Hire/IP Rights Agreements before. (I have one for sale in my Contract Kit™ shop). If you’re pivoting your business, odds are that you’re needing some new, creative content. Essentially, anyone that’s creating any creative content for you — whether it’s graphic designs, slides for a presentation, a logo, a new website — anyone creating something creative, should sign this type of agreement. Under U.S. Copyright law, just because you’re paying somebody to create something for you doesn’t mean that you own it. So the purpose of the work for hire/IP rights agreement is to make sure and reinforce that you own all of the copyright to that work product.

Trademark License

And finally, a License Agreement. A license agreement is meant to help you where someone is already offering something that you want to sell. And rather than reinvent the wheel, and come up with a formula for perfume, let’s say, you go to someone already in the business of making perfume, and you license your brand name to that existing product. You may be a blogger for entrepreneurs and you want to venture out into creating a physical planner for instance. Or you are a podcaster but you are venturing out into your own sound equipment line. Or maybe you’ve built your fame around a little ol’ cooking show and now you and Macy’s partner up on things like sheets. (Hello, Martha Stewart.) You are venturing into a new area but you may be licensing your brand and your reputation in connection with an existing brand.

So there you go. You’ve got your trademark application, your nondisclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement, you have a work for hire or IP assignment agreement, and trademark license.

I hope that helps you understand some of the different documents that go into pivoting your online business.

The PPP for Bloggers, Podcasters, and Other Self-Employed Online Business Owners

woman researching ppp for bloggers and podcasters

The CARES Act created a wonderful opportunity for businesses struggling because of COVID-19. That opportunity is through the PPP or Paycheck Protection Program. This post will talk about the PPP for bloggers, podcasters, and other self-employed individuals doing business online.

Note: This is ever-changing! There are several different interpretations of the PPP and I will continue to update this post as much as I can.

An explanation of what the Paycheck Protection Program is, in 15 seconds

The PPP is a loan program through the SBA. It was created as part of the CARES act for businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. (And really, what business isn’t, aside from maybe Zoom and the grocery industry?)

What it means when people say this is “free money”

I repeat, this is a loan program. But, it’s a loan you don’t have to pay back…so long as you use the funds for certain specific things, like payroll expenses. Hence, free money.

A screenshot showing a portion of the PPP Borrower Application Form. (Link in caption to screenshot)
Snapshot of the PPP application. Access the full application here.

Are bloggers, podcasters, and self-employed business owners eligible for the PPP?

Short answer: Probably.

Long answer: So long as you meet the following requirements, which you’ll have to sign off on when applying for the loan.

  1. Less than 500 employees (with some exceptions that probably don’t apply to bloggers and podcasters);
  2. In operation as of February 15, 2020;
  3. Current economic uncertainty makes the funds necessary to support your ongoing business operations;
  4. Funds must be used to retain workers and maintain payroll, OR make mortgage interest payments, lease payments, and utility payments;
  5. You haven’t received another PPP loan; and
  6. You had employees whom you paid salaries and payroll taxes OR paid independent contractors.

So that last one, #6, is the kicker.

Technically, if you’re a single-member LLC, you don’t pay yourself a salary or issue yourself a 1099. So the big, bad question that no one has made crystal clear yet is, does a draw paid to yourself, as a self-employed person, count as a salary or wages for PPP purposes?

We know that expenses you incur to pay any employees definitely count.

The PPP application itself says:

With respect to “purpose of the loan,” payroll costs consist of compensation to employees (whose principal place of residence is the United States) in the form of salary, wages, commissions, or similar compensation; cash tips or the equivalent (based on employer records of past tips or, in the absence of such records, a reasonable, good-faith employer estimate of such tips); payment for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave; allowance for separation or dismissal; payment for the provision of employee benefits consisting of group health care coverage, including insurance premiums, and retirement; payment of state and local taxes assessed on compensation of employees; and for an independent contractor or sole proprietor, wage, commissions, income, or net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation

So, based on what we’re told from the application, these things probably count, too:

  • A monthly draw you give yourself from your LLC
  • Wages you earn from self-employment

How much money can you get from the PPP?

Here’s the simplest way to make that calculation if you are a sole prop or LLC that files a Schedule C along with your income taxes:

Get out your 2019 return (your 2018 return is PROBABLY ok if you haven’t filed for 2019 yet, but they haven’t explicitly stated that the 2018 return is ok, just FYI).

Flip back to your Schedule C from your business.

Look at line 31. Divide that number by 12. That’s your average monthly payroll amount! Now multiply that by 2.5, and that’s the amount that you can ask for.

When bloggers, podcasters, and other self-employed online business owners can apply for PPP

Now. Like, RIGHT NOW.

Technically, “small businesses and sole proprietorships” can apply as of April 3, 2020. “independent contractors and self-employed individuals” can apply as of April 10, 2020. This is about as clear as mud, because you can be self-employed, and a sole prop. Or an independent contractor, and a sole-prop. Or a small business, and self-employed. So I repeat, if you think you qualify, just log into your bank and apply now.

Because the thing with this loan is that it’s only available until they run out of the funds earmarked for it. 10% of the entire amount earmarked has already been applied-for.

Not trying to instill panic, here. Just want you to shake a leg and apply if you are eligible!

Four Contracts Every Entrepreneur Should Know About

4 contracts every entrepreneur should know about spear ip maria spear ollis detroit mi nashville tn attorney

Short ‘n’ sweet, and in plain English, this post digs into four contracts every entrepreneur should know about, their purpose, and common terms to look out for.

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IP and Thinking About Your Exit Strategy

proactive ip protection and exit strategy spear ip

Whether you’re a brand owner or a future brand owner, you start to do a gut check this time of year. The soon-to-be brand owner? She starts her engines and gears up to launch her business. The existing brand owner? He does a review; thinking through how the previous year went. What to both types of entrepreneurs have in common? They must be thinking about an exit strategy. (Spoiler alert: taking proactive steps to protect your IP now will add value to your business, no matter the exit strategy you choose.)

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Real Talk on Entrepreneurship and Essential Skills

Maria Spear Ollis on entrepreneurship

I’ve heard too many friends and colleagues talk about how “scary” or “impressive” it seems to start your own business. I don’t know about impressive, but entrepreneurship can certainly be scary. It’s also amazing, crazy, and incredibly fulfilling. This post deviates from the usual educational material you’ll find on the Spear IP Blog. It’s time for some real talk about entrepreneurship and the must-have skills for taking the leap (in my very humble and non-expert opinion).

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Client Query: Can I Protect An Idea? (Probably Not.)

client query can I protect an idea

“Client Query” is a brief segment in which a common client question is broken down and answered. This month: the misconceptions surrounding whether you can protect an idea.

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Don’t Forget to File Your Annual Report

file your annual report

It’s that special time of year where suddenly we’re careening towards April 15. Engaged a trusted CPA? Check. Looked over the books and expenses for the last year? Check. But wait! There’s one more important deadline for Tennessee businesses and business owners: the deadline by which you must file your annual report.

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Proper Use of Client Materials in Marketing

Proper Use of Client Materials in Marketing

The ability for a client to view your portfolio is of utmost importance in client-facing industries. (Looking at you, event planning, graphic design, web design, and photography). One often assumes that she has free reign in posting clients’ projects for all to see. But, that is not necessarily the case. This post touches on some legal hurdles that apply to the proper use of client materials and the “quick fixes” that might save you from legal headaches when marketing your business.

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IP Independence: Using Contractors

IP and Using Contractors

Using independent contractors has its perks: an independent contractor is not an employee, so an employer can save by using contractors for certain services. But does an employer automatically own creative works created by its independent contractors? In short: probably not.

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EntreprAdmire June 2016 Edition

EntreprAdmire June 2016

Though the summer solstice is still one week away, summer is in full swing in Nashville, Tennessee. This month, I #EntreprAdmire these two brands for making a splash in Nash.

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