Three Things You Need To Know To Keep Your Calligraphy Business Legal

When I was in college, I ran track with a guy who later became an engineer. Anytime we would walk into a new building or stadium, while we’d all be surveying the track, his eyes would quickly go up- silently assessing the structure of the building, and the layout of each beam and pipe.

We used to tease him about that, of course, but now I find myself doing the exact same thing when I meet new business owners. They’ll be telling me all about their business, and my mind will silently be running through a checklist- what liabilities are they susceptible to? Is their business legally sound? As my favorite law school professor told me, as lawyers, we’re trained to “walk into a cocktail party and see the ghosts in the room that go unnoticed to everyone else”.

And of course when it comes to calligraphy businesses, if we’re being honest, they’re not the riskiest business of all time. That being said, the entire reason why I became an attorney for creatives was because of my own experiences running my calligraphy business. As is typical for most creative business owners, I didn’t set out on running a business in the first place- sharing my work online led to me picking up a few projects, which snowballed into a business. And while running a calligraphy business was pretty low-risk, yes, they require some of the most detailed contracts in the creative industry.

So…what do you need to know to keep your calligraphy business legal? Three major things:

 

1. Make Sure Your Business is Established Legally

Start at the most basic level: is your business established legally? You need to decide if you need a DBA or LLC- I break down the how to’s here & here. You’ll probably want an LLC sooner than you’d think- it provides unparalleled protection for your business. Next, you need to run through the steps I’ve compiled for you here: Get your EIN, get any permits and licenses that your state may require, and file a DBA if you are working under a trade name.

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Photo by Brett Heidebrecht

Make Sure Your Website is Legal: Chances are, after you starting selling your goods or services, you set up a website. I’ve created a checklist for you here to see if it is legal, but the nuts and bolts? If you are collecting email addresses (you need to be), using Google Analytics, or selling anything on your site, you need a Privacy Policy. You also need terms and conditions, and terms and conditions of sale. These documents are actually contracts between you and the user of your site. They’ll set out important terms such as your return policy, and rules for use of your site (for example, this is where you’d set out that people can’t use graphics, text, etc from your site). Clearly, pretty important!

2. Intellectual Property

This is a big one when it comes to calligraphy businesses, and it will arise in three primary ways:

  1. Trademarking your name: this blog post discussed trademarks in more detail, but after you have established a business and know that you want to keep it up and running, it may be time to trademark your name. The decision to trademark isn’t one to take lightly-it won’t be a cheap process, and will take at least 6 months to complete.

  2. Using social media legally: This fall, I’ll be bringing you quite a bit of content on this topic, but in short? Don’t regram someone else’s photo until you have received their permission to do so. Otherwise, you’re committing copyright infringement.

  3. Speaking of copyright infringement, calligraphers need to be careful of the pieces they are calligraphing. Are you selling prints/mugs/etc with someone else’s trademarked or copyrighted information? That can include song lyrics, phrases, or movie quotes. Make sure and do your due diligence before you start selling or creating any of these goods.

 

3. CONTRACTS

This is a biggie when it comes to calligraphy. No matter what stage you are at in your business, a strong contract is one of the most important ways to protect your business. When you have a business based upon client interactions, every project can present its own unique problems. There’s no immediate gratification involved, such as, say, website design, but a professional contract is the first layer of protection for your business. Its purpose is simple, yet vitally important. Having professional contracts in place is like putting a seatbelt on your business: not something that you may appreciate immediately, but something you’re grateful for when it does its job.

 

Believe it or not, my calligraphy template is one of my most detailed contracts, just because there are so many elements to your agreement with your client. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll just use examples from my own business. For example, on one wedding, I had to do hundreds of place cards. About 200 cards into the project, I got a text from the bride saying that she had wanted to change the ink color. Of course, this is a simple and easy thing to cover in the contract, but thank goodness it was in there, right?

Here’s my prime example: For another wedding, I was tasked with creating these large acrylic seating charts.

 

So there’s one thing to keep in mind, and that is that when you are creating an alphabetized seating chart, you can’t really begin until you have all of the RSVPs back, which is typically in the last two weeks before the wedding. So, you’re already under somewhat of a time crunch.

I labored over these beauties for hours upon hours, and I have to say, I was pretty proud of my work. Then, it came time to transport them. I’ll spare you the details, but one of them cracked three times while transporting them to the venue. The last one cracked as we were trying to finish the installation. This meant that I had to redo the seating chart three times in the last two days before the wedding.

What is my point in all of this? If you are a calligrapher, while of course you need to take the proper steps to establish a legal business and stay mindful of intellectual property concerns, the majority of your legal concerns will center around the strength of your contracts. It is crucial that you have a strong contract that will cover situations such as risk of loss in transportation, or even risk of loss by the mail carrier. How can you be sure that your contract will protect you? Find an attorney you trust to review your existing contract for you, or, find a contract template that you trust. 

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