When it comes to blogging or running an online business there are some key items that individuals might overlook. All of these things surround the law and making sure that you are operating your blog or business to abide by laws.
Today I'm happy to share a post with you that is going to cover many of your questions right from copyrights within images to contracts for dealing with clients and website visitors. Of course, I don't have all of this information inside of my own brain so I've happily invited Donata from Agency Attorney's to come and chat with you all today and share her knowledge of the legal industry and answer some of your burning questions.
Before we get started, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Donata Kalnenaite and I am the owner of Agency Attorneys, a Chicago-based law firm for software developers, graphic designers, marketing agencies, startups and small businesses. I am passionate about protecting businesses and their owners. One of my biggest goals in my company is to educate my clients so that they can feel confident when their client asks about a certain provision in the contract and can understand everything that they sign. I am originally from Lithuania and came to the U.S. when I was 12 years old. I have built my life here and live happily with my boyfriend and three cats.
How did you branch into the legal industry and what made you decide this was the career path you wanted to take?
I discovered that I wanted to be an attorney in my last year of college. I am very analytical and am good at writing so it is a great fit. My passion for being an attorney really solidified at the Business Enterprise Law Clinic at The John Marshall Law School. In the clinic, an amazing professor, Professor Schlesinger, taught us how to help small businesses in minority and impoverished neighbourhoods. He taught us how to be kind and respectful to our clients and I will never forget that experience. It has shaped who I am today, as a lawyer and as a person.
When working with bloggers or small business owners what is the one legal question you get asked the most?
I think that the most common legal question that I get all of the time is;
“I am not getting sued, why do I need a lawyer?”
Lawyers are not just for lawsuits. We also help you prevent lawsuits from happening in the first place. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – this common saying really holds up when it comes time for legal protections. For example, a contract with a client that takes about $200 to write can help you avoid $2,000 in legal expenses if you get sued. Retaining an attorney can also help you avoid trouble with the government or county in which your business is located.
What is one area of small business that you feel is under looked from a legal point of view?
I think that a very big area that is often under looked is the protection of trade secrets. Every business has trade secrets. Some examples include customer lists, financials and secret recipes. However, small businesses often share that information with everyone who is employed there and do not have adequate protection. If you share your trade secrets with everyone, it is obviously no longer a secret and could be up for grabs by your competitors. To protect your trade secrets, you should also have all of your employees sign a contract that has a non-disclosure provision in it.
If you could give the general blogging and small business population one piece of legal advice, what would it be and why?
Do not use templates that you find online!
While it is tempting to save some costs by just using a template you found online, these templates are generally insufficient. The templates attempt to create a “one size fits all” model with contracts. Unfortunately for the templates, every business is different and faces different risks. This means that every business should have a contract that is tailored to them. Furthermore, the online templates are often missing many provisions and by using them, you may be giving up rights that you do not want to give up. For example, there have been quite a few templates that I have seen that do not contain a disputes provision. So what will happen when you and your client have a dispute? Will you go to court? If so, where? Is court the right decision for you or should you look into arbitration? These questions are not answered in the template and thus you are leaving a huge hole where your protections should be.
It is always necessary for a blogger or small business owners to hire a Lawyer or Legal Aid when they have legal questions or is Google enough?
It is not always necessary to hire a lawyer or legal aid. Some questions can be looked up on Google such as what is the difference between an LLC or a Corporation. These questions have been asked for a long time and there are plenty of good answers out there. However, if you are asking which type of entity is right for you specifically, Google cannot answer that question. You should also be cautious of using Google for your legal needs because the answers may be incomplete or incorrect. Anyone can post an answer but not everyone can give good legal advice.
Is there any legal advice you would give to someone who is looking to use images on their website that aren’t their own?
My advice is that if you do not have permission from the owner, don’t use their images.
If you use images without permission, you are committing copyright infringement and can be made to take the pictures down and can even get sued. It’s simply not worth it. My advice is to go on websites where you can get images for free with the owner’s permission such as Pixabay.
When it comes to copyright how much ‘red tape’ is there for bloggers and business owners to get around?
When you create an original work, you are automatically granted a copyright. So you do not have to register anything. However, it is recommended that you register it with the USPTO because registration is necessary to, for example, file a lawsuit when someone is infringing on that copyright. There is not a whole lot of red tape to register, you just go to uspto.gov and file a registration.
Is copyright as simple as linking back to an image disclosing proper credit?
No. If you do not have permission to use an image or an original work, linking back to an image and disclosing proper credit does not absolve you from copyright infringement. The only way to properly use an image is to have the owner’s protection.
Website Terms / Business Terms
Should every blogger or small business owner have a Terms & Conditions linked on their website?
In my opinion, yes.
What are the benefits of a Terms & Conditions?
The benefits of Having Terms and Conditions are as follows:
- you are establishing the rules for everyone who visits or uses your website;
- you can retain control of your website by specifying what types of content people may post (e.g. someone may not post graphic or violent content);
- you can use the Terms and Conditions to inform others of the fact that you own everything on the website and that no one may take your work without your permission;
- having Terms and Conditions increases transparency between you and your customers and thus improves customer relationships.
What important information should be included in a Terms & Conditions? And is there a certain length we should be concerned about?
Terms and Conditions and other contracts are not about length per se. You can write something in one sentence, or you can write an entire paragraph that states essentially the same thing. Here are the most important sections that should be included in the Terms and Conditions:
- availability, errors and inaccuracies;
- links to third party websites;
- changes to Terms and Conditions;
- intellectual property;
- dispute resolution
It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive and you may need additional sections depending on your business.
Are your overwhelmed yet? Running a blog or a business is no joke and when you realize how much legal work actually goes into it you will get overwhelmed. One thing that has always helped me as a business owner is having supportive and expert individuals in their field helping me out along the way, Donata is one of those.
We hope that today's post has given you some insight on the things that you absolutely need when you are operating a blog or a business. If you are still confused and have more questions head over to Agency Attorney's and hire Donata today!