Episode 189: Show Notes
Today on the show we welcome Autumn Witt Boyd. Autumn is an experienced lawyer who helps ambitious and creative business owners, such as yourself, reach their big scary goals. She owns the law office of Autumn Witt Boyd where she guides online and e-commerce businesses as they grow. She has special expertise in copyright and trademark issues and her firm offers full legal support to creative businesses. Autumn is also the host of The Legal Road Map podcast which teaches business owners to protect their rights and stay out of legal hot water!
A lot of entrepreneurs and business owners tend to shy away from legal conversations, particularly when it comes to copyrights. These situations can get complicated, awkward and are often just downright confusing! But they shouldn’t have to be. This is why we’ve brought Autumn on - to simplify our lives and ensure that we’re all on the right track and protecting our booties! In this episode, you’ll hear more about the biggest legal mistakes that creative and online business owners are making and get some special insights related to copyright, trademarks and dealing with copycats. To top it all off, you’ll get to hear Emylee go off on a tangent about people stealing our sh*t!
The Biggest Mistake That Autumn Sees Business Owners Making
First off, whether you’re ignoring legal conversations and situations or not, the truth is that there are laws that apply to you and your business. So burying your head in the sand is not helpful and a little bit of education can go a long way. Legal issues are just part of being a business owner, even though they are not really advertised along with the business owner lifestyle we see on social media! It is a necessary part of any profitable business to know your legal rights.
The biggest legal mistakes that Autumn sees business owners making always seem to be linked to client contracts. If you are a service provider then that is going to be your number one protection. If you are an online service business, selling digital products, your terms of service are basically your contracts to your users and is super important. And terms of service are required by law.
So what do business owners need to be paying attention to? Autumn doesn’t believe that a new business owner should run out and spend thousands of dollars hiring a lawyer. Because you are going to change things, you are still figuring out what you’re offering and who your clients really are. So hold back on that because you can DIY a lot of your legalities in the beginning. Once your business is pretty solid, or you have partners, or there is just a lot more at stake – then maybe lawyer up. But for now, let’s just get the basics down.
Red Flags To Be Looking Out For When Signing A Contract
If you are dealing with a very complex contract, it could be a good idea to get a lawyer involved because there is a good chance you are not going to understand everything in a 25 page contract! But with a general services type contract, like if you’re thinking about a publishing deal or a book collaboration of sorts – the really important thing to look at is what each person is going to be doing. Are there services going back and forth? Or are there products going back and forth? What are the pricing terms? What are the deliverables? What is the schedule? Does it work for you? And hopefully, all of this should be written in plain English so that everybody can understand it. What people don’t realize is that pretty much all contracts are open to negotiation. If you don’t understand what something means, you can ask and if you still don’t understand, that is a real problem! What a lot of people don’t often look at is the termination provision at the end of a contract. That is going to be how you get out of the contract if something goes wrong. Is it easy or really hard for you to get out? With creative businesses, our intellectual property is our most important asset because your copyrights and trademarks are pretty much how you are making your money. So, this is something that needs to be outlined very clearly. Who owns what? And what can you do with it afterward? These are the big questions, especially if it is a collaboration or something like a book deal.
Copyrights And Trademarks: How Important Are They?
Copyrights are going to protect creative content in your business. Everything from an online course, your website, images, music etc. Under US law you have automatic copyrights from the moment you take something out of your head and put it on paper or upload it. But the problem under our law is that you can’t file a lawsuit until it’s registered. So if someone copied your stuff and they know you’re not registered and you send them a lawsuit – well, they know you can’t really do anything. You’re just basically sending them empty words. Life is a negotiation, so you need to think about what sort of leverage you want to have in those situations. So if someone copies your course or your blogpost and puts it online under their name, how do you want them to take that down? Because essentially they are stealing. That is where copyright registration becomes really critical.
Trademarks on the other hand, protect your brand. Your business name, your logo, or a slogan, or your most popular course names etc. Under a trademark law you have some automatic protection, but if you have a registered trademark, people are going to take you more seriously. Trademark registration is a process: it takes one year to register, it is costly and it is an investment into your business. So it must be an investment that you are going to get a return on!
Copycats: How Much Energy Should We Be Spending On Them?
It’s difficult to know how much energy we should be spending on copycats. Maybe someone copied your website layout, are using similar language or are mimicking your images, and you’re not sure where to draw the line. So you sit there with that feeling in the pit of your stomach of, “I know you ripped me off!” The questions to ask though are, “Is this hurting my revenue? Is this stealing my customers? Is this confusing my customers?” Unless it is verbatim copying, the truth is it is very hard to sue and win on any of that more mild copying of style or tone. But it’s not a bad idea to reach out and say, “Hey, I noticed your website looks a lot like mine.” Just let them know that you have seen them and you have your eyeballs on them. If you are very sure that they are copying you, you can even tell them that you will be monitoring their activity. Often people think that they can just get away with it, so it’s okay to speak up. The thing is that copyright law does not protect ideas, so give them the benefit of the doubt.
Tips For Sending A Legal Letter And Remembering Fair Use
First things first, record your evidence. If you had to go in front of a judge, what would you want to take to him or her to prove that something happened. Screenshots, emails, etc. If someone is copying your stuff, start off easy. Drop them an email and just say “Hey, you’re copying my stuff and I want you to take it down.” Be very firm but also give them the benefit of the doubt. You might include a deadline in there for the take down or for them to respond to you. Try to use decent language, because if this escalates and does end up going in front of a judge, you don’t want to be embarrassed!
The next step, if they don’t respond or do not take whatever it is down, would be to send a more formal letter from an attorney with a letterhead, so that it gets taken a bit more seriously. This is if this copycat is affecting your revenue or confusing your customers. The thing is that is impossible to have brand new ideas in the universe and so there is something within copyright law which is called Fair Use. This enables you to take an idea, grow it, change it, turn it into something new, but it is not verbatim copying. And this is a grey area of the law because there is no magic percentage calculation for how much you change or don’t.
Navigating Terms Of Service On Social Media Platforms
There are so many social media platforms and oftentimes, we just sign up for them, click “yes” to it all, and don’t even read the terms of service! (Well, Emylee and Abagail do at least). The thing that a lot of us worry about is who owns the right to our stuff if we post it on social media? Generally, on social media, you retain copyright to your own stuff but you are giving them limited rights to use it, whether that’s in a commercial or to promote their service. Generally, you are not giving other people the right to use your stuff either. You are giving the platform a few rights to use your content, but you are never giving other people who use the service the rights to use your stuff. Get it? There is a common misconception that whatever is posted on social media is free reign, meaning it can be downloaded and re-posted. But this is not true and this is where copyright law applies! We have created a culture of content sharing, and generally people are happy because it spreads their word or their brand. When proper credit is given, people appreciate it. But technically, it is still infringement if you are using or re-posting someone’s work without permission. But people seem to not really care! These rights are not often exercised, because people A) Don’t really mind and B) Copyright and trademark lawyers are expensive! But the tide could change. So just be aware of that.
That’s Hot: What Can You Actually Trademark?
Remember when Paris Hilton tried to trademark her phrase, “That’s hot”? Well, Taylor Swift recently trademarked a bunch of her song lyrics and is now putting them on t-shirts and selling them, so that no one else can do it. Girl Boss ended up trademarking Girl Boss and that has been ripped off a million times!
Can you trademark hashtags? A hashtag is generally used for a search tool or for a category, but you can only trademark things that are used to identify your brand. So the answer is no, not really. But if your brand is called #GirlBoss, then yes, you can trademark it. The Trademark Office reviews every trademark application, and one thing they look at is the evidence you’ve submitted to show how you use that trademark to sell. The most common reason why trademarks get rejected is if you simply are just saying something a lot but are not actually using that trademark for selling. So back to Paris, with “That’s hot.” If she was just saying it and not really selling anything with it, then she would have been rejected. Fun fact.
- The Biggest Mistake That Autumn Sees Business Owners Making. [0:5:20.1]
- Red Flags To Be Looking Out For When Signing A Contract. [0:09:45.1]
- Copyrights And Trademarks: How Important Are They? [0:12:42.1]
- Copycats: How Much Energy Should We Be Spending On Them? [0:15:50.1]
- Tips For Sending A Legal Letter And Remembering Fair Use. [0:18:44.1]
- Navigating Terms Of Service On Social Media Platforms. [0:26:40.1]
- That’s Hot: What Can You Actually Trademark? [0:39:10.1]
- Draw up your own contracts.
- Choose a great name for your business.
- Know your required website documents.
- Think about a corporate entity.
- Ensure you are using other people’s content the right way.