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My Top 4 Legal Tips for Online Businesses

woman preparing to look up top legal tips for online businesses

My top four legal tips for online businesses. In this post you’re going to get an idea of my top tips when it comes to disclosures, copyright, and ideas.

Disclosure Requirements Apply to All Media.

First, remember that disclosures apply to all media. That means it’s not just for sponsored posts on instagram but also emails, blog posts, videos, photographs, anywhere where you’re talking about something and you have a material connection to that brand or that business — and remember a material connection can mean you’re getting paid, you’re getting free stuff, if it’s a family relationship — anytime there’s a material connection you have to disclose that to your viewer, your audience, your reader. And that disclosure should be conspicuous! That means it shouldn’t be hidden in tiny fine print at the bottom of a marketing email or affiliate email, it shouldn’t be at the very bottom of a blog post because someone might not scroll all the way down to the bottom of a blog post. Conspicuous means hard to miss.

Copyright Ownership Happens Earlier Than You Think

Next, when it comes to copyright, know this:

You own the stuff that you create by default. You don’t have to register it with the Copyright Office in order to own it.

(I say you own it and there are some exceptions when you’re an employee creating stuff for your employer.)

But for the most part, the default rule is you create it, you own the copyright to it, boom. You don’t have to mail it to yourself, you don’t have to register it — although, and that takes us to number three…

Copyright Registration Is Worth It

Copyright registration does have its benefits for a bunch of reasons. Like:

  • You don’t have to prove that you own it;
  • You can get statutory damages ($$$$); and
  • You can get your attorneys’ fees back.

Understand the Law of Ideas.

Finally, let’s talk for one second about ideas. An idea is just an idea.

Uber and Lyft: same idea.

Amy Porterfield and Jenna Kutcher both have online courses on how to grow your email list. Same idea.

What’s protectable is how you express that idea. What makes how you do it awesome? What makes it unequivocally you? Those little unique factors are probably what’s protectable about your idea.

So I hope that shines a light on my top four legal tips for online businesses and i’ll see you next time.

CONTACT COPYCATS YOURSELF WITH CONFIDENCE

An Online Brand’s Guide to Dealing with Copycats

Itching to contact that copycat, but not ready to go full lawyered-up-cease-and-desist, yet?

In this free resource, you’ll get:

  • A little checklist to run through before you contact someone yourself;
  • An idea of things that you can say; and
  • What NOT to say.

Click here for access.

How to Tell the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark

woman taking notes on the difference between copyright and trademark

Want to know how to tell the difference between copyright and trademark? It’s so super easy and not complicated, I promise you won’t forget after you read this post. I’ll even give you a little trick to remember so that you’ll never forget again. And if you stick around to the bottom, you’ll learn more about my latest free resource for content creators!

Alright, are you ready? Here comes the definitive way to remember the difference between copyright and trademark.

Trademark.

First, we’ll talk about trademark. Trademark is branding. Trademark is something — like a word or a slogan or a logo — that signifies your brand. It tells people where a product or service originates: whether it’s you, your company, whatever it is. You see the Nike swoosh, you know where those shoes came from. You see the red can with the white script, you know, it’s a coke. So think: trademark, branding. Trademark, branding. Trrrrrrademark? Brrrrranding!

Copyright.

Next, let’s take a quick look at copyright. Copyright protects creative works — technically original works of authorship. And there are a few specific categories of things that copyright protects. (There are also certain things that copyright doesn’t protect, like facts, or lists of ingredients.) But like I said, copyright protects your creative works like art, and music, and video, and even a downloadable PDF, graphic designs, infographics. So copyright, creative works, copyright, creative works.

A quick trick to help you remember the difference between copyright and trademark.

Copyright: Creative.

TRademark: BRanding.

That’s it!

If you want more info on copyright, check out this post on the content you can copyright.

And, for a trademark toolkit, click here! (Think of it as your go-to educational resource on trademarks.)

So I hope that this short little post helps you remember the best way to remember the difference between trademark and copyright.

FREE AUDIO DOWNLOAD + GUIDE

straightforward legal protection for influencers

stop worrying about what could come back to haunt you with these 4 easy-to-DIY action items

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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.

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!


If you are interested in learning four things that you can do right now to protect your business online, click on the image below. Sign up, and you’ll get one thing per week for four weeks delivered to your inbox.

A Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy

Etsy is the first place that pops into mind when I want to find a special gift or something created by a small business owner. Want to open up shop yourself? This month’s blog post introduces Spear IP’s Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy.

Here’s a brief description of the topics you should expect from the Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy.

Business Structure

A lot of folks find themselves weighing the pros and cons of sole proprietorship versus something more structured, like a limited liability company. This list has some factors that could sway you one way or the other.

Tax and Licenses

You know e-commerce and the collection of sales tax was a hot topic with The Supremes last summer. Have you determined when and where you need to charge sales tax, if at all? What about a business license?

Trademark

By now you know a trademark is that brand name that everyone knows you by. The Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy walks you through a few general trademark considerations (and some Etsy-specific considerations).

Copyright

Copyright law governs not only your typical creative works, but some not-so-typical creative works. Registering with the Copyright Office, getting your contracts in place, and using contractors are all topics that are covered in this legal checklist for selling on Etsy.

Photographs and Artwork

Copyright and right of publicity are two different things. (Remember the client query, “A celebrity is wearing my brand“?) This checklist will make you think through using photographs and artwork properly.

Policies and E-Commerce

It’s hard to hold a customer to a return policy if you haven’t posted that return policy. Posting policies and truthful descriptions of products are both things to consider when opening up shop on Etsy.

And there you have it. Get the Essential Legal Checklist for Selling on Etsy here.

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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.)

Continue reading “IP and Thinking About Your Exit Strategy”

You Can’t Protect a T-shirt Idea (But You Can Start a Lifestyle Brand)

protect a t-shirt idea lifestyle brands spear ip

“I have a REALLY great t-shirt idea.” “I’ve got an idea for a funny t-shirt slogan.” Many an IP attorney has heard this phrase at least once. Just like protecting an idea can be difficult, it’s challenging to protect a t-shirt idea. But a lifestyle brand? Now you’re talking. But be proactive: know how to safeguard the protectable elements of a t-shirt or lifestyle brand.

Continue reading “You Can’t Protect a T-shirt Idea (But You Can Start a Lifestyle Brand)”

Using “Cheap” Online Legal Services for Trademarks

the temptations and shortcomings of online legal services

So, you’re thinking about registering a trademark. You have worked hard to choose a mark that distinguishes your product or service from the competition. Now, you’re wondering if it’s possible to protect it. “Cheap” online legal services like Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom, and Trademarkia sure are tempting. 

Continue reading “Using “Cheap” Online Legal Services for Trademarks”

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.

Continue reading “Client Query: Can I Protect An Idea? (Probably Not.)”

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.

Continue reading “Don’t Forget to File Your Annual Report”

Contest Rules, Social Media, and the Law

Contest Rules Social Media and the Law

You’ve seen them so often that you don’t even pay attention to the rules. “Tag a friend in the comments to enter!” “Share this photo to enter!” But, like all contests and sweepstakes, contests that take place on social media are often governed by very specific rules. How many social media contests or promotions have you run or participated in that do not follow the rules?

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First Anniversary: IP Lessons from Spear IP

First Anniversary: IP Lessons from Spear IP

This week, Spear IP celebrates its first anniversary. From fashion, to event planning, to technology and beyond, Spear IP has had the pleasure of assisting its fabulous clients with their intellectual-property, contractual, and business-related needs. This post takes a look back at the IP lessons learned from the Spear IP Blog in the last year.

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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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