The 6 Things You Need To Know To Keep Your Blog Legal
Blogging is a pretty low-risk business, right? Typically, you’re not really providing goods or services to clients. However, you’ll most often find yourself in legal hot water after you’ve lulled yourself into a false sense of security, so it’s important to understand what you must do to stay legal. Below, I’ve laid out the 6 legal parameters to keep in mind to keep your blog legal- read on, and keep yourself legal!
1. Lay a Legal Foundation
When you’re running a blog, your biggest business-level concerns will be taxes. Leave it to the government- they’ll want to know when you are making enough money to tax! You need to do some research within your state and see what your state-specific requirements are, but generally speaking, you must start reporting your profits when you’re making about $400. Aside from taxes, you need to know when your state requires you to file a DBA, and when you should consider an LLC. I discuss this process much more at length in my business basics checklist for you here.
2. Name Your Blog (Legally)
The first thing you’re likely going to do is name the blog and start that website. However, legal issues can arise as early as that initial naming stage: if you choose a name that too closely resembles another business or blog, they could very well shut your blog down, and force you to rebrand entirely. That’s a situation you want to avoid at all costs!
A proper name check should start simply: check to see if the name you want to use is available on any and all social media channels that you think you might want to use in the future. Even if you just want to stick to Instagram for now, is your name free on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter? An easy way to check this is to go to https://namechk.com and search your availability.
Run a Google search: Look for names that an unfamiliar consumer could easily confuse with your own if searching for either party’s products or services. If there is a name that is vaguely similar that is in a totally different field from your own, you’re probably good. They key is just to think from the perspective of a consumer.
Run a statewide search: After you know that your name is free online, you need to know that its available in the state you’ll be doing business out of. You don’t need to run the search in all. 50 states yet- just your home state is sufficient for now. Go to the Secretary of State website for your state, and run a search. Practical tip: You can reserve your business name in your state for a set amount of days. This is a practical option in a scenario where you know you’ll want to file an LLC, but you aren’t quite ready to yet. Reserving your name will allow you to prevent someone else from taking that name in the meantime.
Search the USPTO office: It’s too soon for you to be thinking about trademarks yet, but you still need to run a search of the USPTO site. The USPTO site files all registered trademark names on the Federal Register and will be able to unearth names too similar to your own.
At some point, you’ll likely want to trademark your name so that you can protect it against infringers. Talk to an attorney about this- the process is confusing and complicated, and using a professional will be your best bet to success!
3. Make sure your website is legal
If you are paid to write about any products, get products for free in exchange for publicising them, or are an affiliate for any programs, the FTC will also require you to clearly disclaim that relationship. The wording of this disclaimer just needs to be simple- enough to let the reader know about that relationship. However, it must be contained on the same page, rather than a separate page of your site. The key is transparency- as long as your reader can read it and know it is a paid endorsement or an affiliate link, that is sufficient. Finally, if you are providing any sort of professional advice (such as medical advice, or a guest post by a licensed professional), you should include a disclaimer in your terms and conditions. I’ve written a guide that will detail exactly how to do each of these properly.
4. Have the right contracts in place
Do you have your own affiliate program, do you have brand reps, do you have any employees, contractors, or interns, or do you do any freelance writing? You must have the right contracts in place to protect your business in each of these scenarios. I’ve written extensively about why having the right contracts in place is the best way to protect your business, and blogs are no exception.
5. Copyrights, and using social media legally
Improper use of images is hands down the #1 way I see bloggers open themselves up to liability. An area where this arises commonly is in “blog roundup” situations, where a blogger will post their “Best of” roundups. Even though It seems harmless enough, and may even seem like it benefits the source of that image by providing positive exposure, in the U.S., the minute you press down on the shutter of your camera and produce an image, you now automatically own the common law rights to that image. That means every single photo that you see online is someone’s common law copyrighted image. Simply put, using someone else’s imagery without consent constitutes copyright infringement in the U.S. And although it sounds harmless enough, those courts are awarding judgments against people or companies who felt entitled to regram an image without permission.
So how do you use imagery legally? Either take your own images or use Creative Commons images or get the consent of the original owner, even if it is a large company. Just reaching out isn’t enough- you must actually get their consent.
In the same way that copyright laws protect the use of imagery, they also protect your original blog content (your images, words, and designs). In the same way that a photo is automatically copyrighted, your content is copyrighted the minute it’s created, which means you can protect your blog content from getting stolen. An easy way to start protecting your work today is to post a copyright notice on your blog, simply stating that none of the content may be used without your express consent.
6. Hiring (& taxes)
Finally, at some point, you’ll want to start outsourcing your work. Whether you are hiring an independent contract, an intern, or an actual employee, you need to make sure you do so legally. I’ve put together this guide for hiring an intern, and this guide for independent contractors to help you along the way.
Also, once you have started paying someone a certain amount (typically about $600 in most states), you’ll need to file a 1099 form. Again, you’ll want to stay on top of your taxes when it comes to hiring- the last thing you want is enhanced scrutinization by the federal government!
There you have it! All in all, running a blog is fairly low risk, as long as you stay aware of these legal guidelines. Do you need help finding documents to keep your blog legal? Head here for help. Have any questions? Let me know in the comments!