I am so sad. I just found my handout from the Legal Confidence session at Blissdom and there is NOT. ONE. NOTE. I think I live tweeted the whole thing, and I didn’t write anything down. Which is SUCH a shame because it was chock full of super helpful information AND links to articles Sara Hawkin’s website. And since I procrastinated so long in writing this post, I cannot search any of my tweets on Twitter. Boo. Hiss.
So. I am going to go through the handout and try to record the things I learned that stuck out to me so much that I have been implementing them.
But first, go to Sara Hawkins’ website, Saving For Someday, and check out her Blog Law Series. Super helpful stuff. I have actually had the privilege of speaking with Sara on the phone about some of my legal questions. I can personally attest that she is fabulous. She’s friendly, knowledgable, and most importantly, easy to understand.
Should I form a company?
As with most things blogging and social media related, the answer is “it depends.” Basically if you are making money on your blog, then yes, you should probably form a company. As to what kind of company, well, that depends to. I have an Limited Liability Company (LLC) and that is probably most common. This is so that if you are ever sued for something you write on your blog, your home and assets are protected. (Yes, people sue bloggers. Sad but true.)
Sara advised us NOT to go through an online website to create an LLC or other business entity. I cannot agree enough. I was told how easy it was to do it that way, but I have spent more money fixing my mistakes than I would have if I’d just gone through an attorney to begin with.
Read What Type of Business Should I Form for more information.
Tax ID & setting up a separate bank account
It’s a good idea to get a Tax ID number and set up a separate bank account if you are making money on your blog. Ideally you will keep business and personal monies separate. That keeps Uncle Sam happy, and it’s just easier all the way around.
Taxes: compensation, income and expenses
Yes you must report your earnings to the government. If you receive products to review, they count as income as well, so take that into consideration when accepting product reviews.
There was also a section on contracts, although I’m not sue where it fit into her outline so I’m throwing it in here. But basically, if you are working with another person or company, you should have a contract. If you co-own a site with another individual, you should have a written contract. They don’t always have to be drawn up by an attorney, but they should be written clearly and signed by both parties. This is also true if you write for another site or run a site where you employ contributors. Whether or not they are paid, there should be a written agreement about who owns the content and how it can be used.
FTC Disclosure – When it is required
This was the best part of the discussion, in my opinion. Ever since the FTC took notice of bloggers and started requiring disclosure, I’ve felt like I couldn’t write about anything without disclosing whether or not I am working with the brand, or if the product was given to me or I bought it on my own. Almost every blog post ends with a disclosure of some sort, and it starts to cheapen the whole conversation, if you ask me.
I love that Sara clarified that the FTC only wants you to be transparent. You do NOT need to write an official disclaimer at the bottom of every post. If you say within your post, “Frigidiare sent me this stove to try out and blog about it,” that is enough. Well YAY!!! I’ve always done this anyway. So now when I’m writing about my outfits, I say “the bracelet given to me by Studio Jewel” and move on. No legalese at the end is necessary.
On Twitter, you will often see people using the #spon hashtag. The FTC actually has no standards for Twitter, and neither does Twitter, as far as disclosure is concerned. Still, in order to maintain your credibility, Sara advises you to lead them to your site, where the disclosure is included in the post. So rather than, “Playing with my new Frigidaire range!” on Twitter. Try, “Check out my new Frigidaire range – link to blog post!”
Read FTC Disclosure and You for more information.
Of course we all know that it is not kosher to use someone else’s image on your site without permission and proper credit. WE ALL KNOW THIS, RIGHT??? Read Posting And Using Photos On Photo Sharing Sites for more information.
Sara highly recommends watermarking your photos with a copyright notice to prevent people from using them unlawfully. While this won’t prevent thieves from stealing your work, it wil inform the ignorant what is and is not okay to do.
Fortunately Pinterest has now taken a hard line against copyright infringement with their new Copyright/Trademark policy, and if you find your photo is used illegally, you can report it.
Social Platform Rules
I’m kind of covering all this in different areas of this post. Not sure what else she shared in this section.
Copyright or Trademark
Copyright is automatic. If you create something, it is automatically your property and thus copyrighted. You don’t need to say so, although it’s a good idea to have a copyright notice on your site for the idiots out there who don’t know better, and it gives you more recourse. Read Know Your Digital Rights for more information.
Trademarking is a bit different. You trademark names and brands, but trademarking is only effective for the category in which you belong. So in other words, just because your blog name is trademarked doesn’t mean someone can’t use the name for their book. So it’s not always helpful to trademark your name. You have to decide if it’s worth it.
By the way, did you know that anyone can put TM after their brand? That does not require a legal certification. If you use that name, you have a common law right to it, and you can put a TM after it to signal to people that it is your brand. Now, if there is an R in a circle, that person has a legal, registered trademark on his or her brand and he/she is obligated by law to protect it.
If you are a food blogger, or if you post recipes, you should read Sara’s article on Recipe Copyright.
In the blogosphere, giveaways are hugely popular. You need to have a clear giveaway policy because there are actually people online who are professional giveaway hounds and they will find any loophole they can to try to win. Make sure you are clear about how you are selecting the winners and about who handles fulfillment. You do not want to be held responsible for someone not getting their prize. If you are giving away something that costs more than $600, there may be liability associated with that and you need to contact a lawyer.
There is a huge debate in the blogosphere about Facebook promotions and giveaways and what is and is not allowed by the Facebook Terms of Service. If you are running a contest on FB, you must use a third party app. You cannot require FB likes or comments as entries. It’s not illegal, so they won’t sue you but they can take your site down — a fate worse than death! So mind your Ps and Qs. Read Facebook Promotion Guidelines for more information.
WHEW!!! That’s a lot. If you are feeling overwhelmed, that is exactly how I felt coming out of that session.
My takeaways were many!
linking up to Social Media Saturdays at The Centsible Life