Protecting Your Knowledge -- and Your Business If you're in the business of selling information -- from books and podcasts to seminars and consulting -- protect your information and your business with these legal steps.
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If you've got an expertise and a way with words, you may be in the perfect position to launch a business teaching others about your expertise. This business is called information marketing and your products can take the form of books, audio programs, DVDs, newsletters, seminars and other content vehicles. What is essential is the actual information: the unique knowledge that you are taking from your brain and putting on paper or screen or into a video or seminar script.
The most exciting part of launching an information marketing business can be researching your market and creating your products. However, you also need to put protections in place before you launch. Paperwork and legal protections may not seem as sexy as writing your first book or making a seminar sale, but this work can be vital.
As you grow and make money, your success may make you a target, which can make you vulnerable. The following legal protections will help you protect your assets, products, customers and yourself.
Copyright can protect your words in whatever form from people stealing them. It creates a protection under federal law for your products and sales materials. You need to include copyright notices in your products and sales letters, and have documented agreements with all your writers and content providers.
Registering your products with the U.S. Copyright Office is the only way for you to fully protect them. It's a quick and easy process. Most importantly, it provides you with the right to statutory damages and attorney's fees should someone copy your original works. These penalties and fees can be a terrific deterrent when you are pursuing people who are stealing your work. Even if you never recover those damages, the threat can often be enough to stop continued infringement.
Registration is voluntary but if you ever want to bring a lawsuit against an infringer, registration is key. You register a work with the U.S. Copyright Office with a simple form, copies of your work, and a $30 fee.
Fair Use and Permissions for Copyright-Protected Work
Did you come across a killer sales letter you want to adapt to your business or an order form you want to edit into your own? It's always better to ask for permission. That letter or form is likely copyright protected, exposing you to legal liability should you use it without express permission.
Even if something is protected under intellectual property laws, your unauthorized use may still be legal. There are exceptions to each of the laws protecting creative work--situations where authorization is not required. For example, under copyright law, a principle known as "fair use" permits you to copy small portions of a work for certain purposes such as scholarship or commentary. Under the fair use doctrine, you can reproduce a few lines of a sales letter without getting permission. However, to prevent hard feelings or threats of lawsuits, it's always best to ask.
Related: How to Make Money As an Expert
Always get permissions in writing. Relying on an oral or implied agreement is almost always a mistake. You and the rights owner may have misunderstood each other or may remember the terms of your agreement differently. This can lead to disputes. If you have to go to court to enforce your unwritten agreement, you'll have difficulty proving exactly what the terms were.
Trademarks protect distinctive words, phrases, logos, symbols, slogans, and any other devices used to identify and distinguish products or services in the marketplace.
There are, however, areas where both trademark and copyright law may be used to protect different aspects of the same product. For example, copyright laws may protect the artistic aspects of a graphic or a logo used by a business to identify its goods or services, while a trademark may protect the graphic or logo from use by others in a confusing manner in the marketplace. Similarly, trademark laws are often used in conjunction with copyright laws to protect advertising copy. Trademark law protects a product or service name and any slogans used in the ad, while copyright law protects the additional creative written expression contained in the ad.
Product Disclaimers and Insurance
To protect yourself fully and to properly educate your customers, you should always include publisher's legal notices and disclaimers in your information products and publications, literature, order forms, seminar materials, etc. Have an attorney review your disclaimer before you begin using it.
Related to disclaimers is consultant's/publisher's liability insurance. As an information marketer, you need to consider specific coverage for the types of claims that could come from your coaching, teaching or product-publishing activities. For example, someone who implements a business practice based in part on your recommendations through coaching or products and is unhappy with the results or loses money could sue you, even if he didn't correctly implement your advice.