Wondering how to keep your blog safe legally?
For example, how should you disclose affiliate links on your blog and on social media? What does ADA compliance mean? What is copyright, and how can you protect your work? Do you really need an LLC? How do you stay GDPR compliant?
These are just some of the topics I cover today with Maria Spear Ollis, a lawyer serving online content creators and bloggers.
Just reading that list above shows how complicated and overwhelming the whole thing can feel. That’s why I recommend you listen to this episode. Maria talks in easy-to-understand language so you can make sure to protect yourself without having to hire a lawyer, and without pulling your hair out!
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Welcome to the Blogger Genius Podcast brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.
Jillian Leslie 0:11
Hello, my friends. Welcome back to the show. This is your host, Jillian Leslie, I am a serial entrepreneur, a business coach, and a business translator.
I take what is working in blogging and online business right now. I break it down so; you can use all of these strategies yourself.
If you are planning to build a membership, I want to talk to you. This week has been incredibly fun for me, we are working with our beta testers for our new product called MiloTree Easy Payments.
This is the easiest way to collect payments from your members. And it’s also a very inexpensive way to do it. And I’ve been working one on one with our beta testers. And I think it’s really cool.
So, if you want to use our product, be one of our beta testers. Be in on the ground floor, I would be so psyched. Please head to milotree.com/betatester, and I will reach out to you and get you started and set up. This is the easiest way to start a membership.
For today’s episode, I have Maria Spear Ollis on the show. And I love what she calls herself. She says your friend with a law degree. So, what she does is she helps content creators, protect their businesses, there are some legal things you need to know.
And we go through it all. And what I love about Maria is she uses human language to explain what you need to pay attention to and what you don’t so that you don’t get in trouble with the law. Also, how to protect yourself with copyrights.
I think this is an important episode for anybody with any sort of online business. So, without further delay, here is my interview with Maria Spear Ollis. Maria, welcome to the show. I’m so glad you’re here.
How To Keep Your Blog Safe Legally
Maria Spear 2:18
Thank you so much for having me, I’m happy to be here.
Jillian Leslie 2:21
We are talking about something that for a lot of us, I think gives us a headache, which is all the legal stuff we need to know as content creators. So, I’m happy that you’re here to break it down.
Because to be honest with you, my audience just wants to make content, create beautiful things, share helpful advice. But there’s this whole back end of stuff that I think we all need to think about.
Maria Spear 2:50
Absolutely. And I’m all about, having a basic understanding. You don’t have to have a lawyer’s understanding of some of this stuff, but a basic understanding. So, you can, kind of quiet the what ifs and just know what you know.
And take care of the little things now so that if something happens in the future, you can bounce back quickly.
Jillian Leslie 3:13
So, can you share your background and how you got interested as a lawyer into issues around content creators, bloggers, online entrepreneurs?
Maria Spear 3:25
So, I have a creative background, I was a music student in college. And that’s what kind of led me to law school. I thought I wanted to do entertainment law and protect the musicians when Napster and all of that was a big thing. And that kind of evolved.
I did work in the music industry in Nashville for a little while. And then just really started loving small businesses and just helping people figure out what they could protect about this great idea that they had.
And we moved briefly from Nashville to Detroit. And when my son was born, I started thinking about industries that weren’t geographically tied down, and of course, the internet and online courses and content creating, and I’m just a lover of creative people.
It’s so, amazing to see some of the things my clients create. But I thought this is where I really want to be before COVID if you believe it or not.
I’m just kind of in this online world. Again, protecting creativity and protecting these brilliant ideas that people are sharing online.
How to Disclose Affiliate Links on Your Blog
Jillian Leslie 4:38
I love that. Now, let’s like go for it. What are the biggest mistakes that bloggers and online publishers and creators make?
Maria Spear 4:53
Well, there are a few and the first one that comes to mind has to do with disclosures. And, not just posts on Instagram, per se, but also on blogs themselves. I’ve seen a lot of folks do have like an affiliate policy or disclosure policy as like a section on the website.
But the FTC has said, that’s not really enough, because first of all, who is going to really go to that page? And second, if you think about finding something on Pinterest, you click on it, you go to the blog post.
There are some links in there, you’re not sure if there are affiliate links or not. What the law says is that any disclosure, whether it’s on a blog post, or on social media has to be clear and conspicuous. And that means that it has to be hard to miss.
So, it really should be at the top or at the beginning. Because someone might not make it all the way to the end. And there have been content creators that have gotten letters, warning letters from the FTC.
I have to think that the shoe is going to drop soon, because it’s been a little while since the last round. And it’s not something that you can’t do yourself.
It doesn’t have to be really technical sounding, it can just be a simple clear disclosure that you’ve got that this post was sponsored, or that you’ve got some affiliate links in this post. And that’s it.
Jillian Leslie 6:24
Let’s pick up for a second, I need to disclose any time I am making money from this blog post or this post on social media.
Maria Spear 6:35
Yes, and you don’t have to disclose how much money.
Jillian Leslie 6:38
But let’s say a brand reaches out to me, and I’m going to promote their product. So, in this post, you’re saying at the top of the post, I need to say this post is sponsored by Purple Mattresses, and if you click and purchase, I might make a small fee.
Was that the kind of text you recommend?
Maria Spear 7:06
Yes, and it can be a little bit different on social versus on the actual post, if there’s an actual blog post to go along with it. There’s no language that you just described as great. On social media, it doesn’t have to be that verbose.
They said hashtag ad at the beginning so long as it’s not with 10 other hashtags, but that suffices.
Jillian Leslie 7:25
Maria Spear 7:25
Because people recognize that.
Jillian Leslie 7:27
So, I can always on Facebook or on Instagram, I could put hashtag ad and I will be okay?
Maria Spear 7:37
Yes, and that would be okay.
Jillian Leslie 7:38
Okay. Could I do hashtag sponsored?
Maria Spear 7:42
Jillian Leslie 7:43
Can I do hashtag affiliate?
Maria Spear 7:47
Hashtag affiliate is fine. Hashtag partner is a little bit squishy.
Jillian Leslie 7:53
Could I do hashtag affil?
Maria Spear 7:56
Oh, no, I would say no, affil.
Jillian Leslie 7:59
Okay. So, for social media, that’s what I need to be doing. I do not need to write text that says this is a sponsored post or I could be making money or anything like that. Okay, so that is very clear.
On the blog. I need to write more than just hashtag. Can I do hashtag paid?
Maria Spear 8:24
Good question. I haven’t seen hashtag “paid” as much. And I don’t recall the FTC addressing hashtag paid. I think hashtag ad and hashtag sponsored are kind of more recognized and safer.
Just because I know that they’ve talked about those hashtags in particular. And the other thing to mention is there can be circumstances where maybe you’re not getting paid, but you were given something for free.
You also need to make those disclosures if you’re getting something for free. If you have a family tie to a brand that you’re promoting, that’s also considered. What the law calls it is a material connection.
So, is there some kind of connection between you and that brand that goes beyond just I like this?
Jillian Leslie 9:10
So, if I’m in a blog post, you recommend right at the top of the post, I am going to disclose this. Can I do a hash tag at the top of the post?
Maria Spear 9:24
In the blog post.
Jillian Leslie 9:25
In the blog post. So, we kind of covered how to protect myself on social media. But now what about on my actual blog? Because to be honest with you, what we’ve run into in the past is you put like this is a sponsored post from Purple Mattresses.
But when Google indexes your post, they might pull that as the rich text as the text for the post.
Maria Spear 9:54
Jillian Leslie 9:55
So, how much do I need to disclose in my blog and where can I do it? And I get your point that you can’t have it linked to a disclosure page like, hey, being very vague, “Check here for our policies.” And then you write to a link.
But do I have to put this as a sponsor post right at the top of the post? Could I put it right by the link? Could I put it in paragraph three? Could I put it at the bottom of the post? If it’s really clear, what is your thought?
Maria Spear 10:29
You can put it anywhere that it would stand out. So, if it’s not at the very top, maybe it’s a side not a pop-up, but something like a banner or something like that. Depending on the post and how they want to aesthetically put it out there.
But that’s the main thing clear and conspicuous that it’s hard to miss. Does that necessarily mean at the very top? No. And you can set that meta description too, so that Google doesn’t pull the disclosure.
Jillian Leslie 11:08
What it pulls into the search result.
Maria Spear 11:11
Jillian Leslie 11:11
So, really, what I hear you saying is, it needs to be obvious, there needs to be no question.
The mom down the street, who doesn’t really understand blogs and ends up on your blog and doesn’t understand how it works, knows that you as the content creator might be collecting money from the mom clicking on this link?
Maria Spear 11:35
Correct. You got it.
Jillian Leslie 11:36
So, don’t like the Kardashians get in trouble. Because they don’t always disclose that they lost this.
Maria Spear 11:43
Some of the Bravo housewives the same thing. Yes.
Jillian Leslie 11:46
Okay. And those people are making potentially a lot of money. I’m a small blogger. Not that I don’t want to, of course, play by the rules and live by the rule of law. But do I need to be concerned that the FTC, is going to come after me and take my house?
How to Make Your Blog ADA Compliant?
Maria Spear 12:18
I don’t know, I don’t have a crystal ball. I do know that things like ADA compliance, which we can talk about if you want to, but that used to be a little thing.
And now it’s a huge thing, in terms of making sure that your website is American with Disabilities Act compliant. So, that was something that used to be unknown on no one’s radar.
And now it is and so, it could be that tomorrow, the FTC, cracks down on it. And part of it is, kind of aftermath of fire festival and the rise of influencers and selling those tickets. Because it’s such an easy thing for you to DIY.
And it’s not like you have to get a lawyer on board and make sure your language is technically. It’s an easy thing that you can do for yourself to protect yourself.
Jillian Leslie 13:16
The only reason I say this, is I want to reduce the stress. Because I do feel like bloggers do feel like oh, my god, they’re going to come take my house if I don’t disclose everything perfectly.
And I guess what I want to say is, they’re really trying to crack down on the Kardashians. And you might get wrapped up in that, but not to really stress out. If you are really trying to be compliant. You’re doing a good job.
Maria Spear 13:48
Yes, yes, yes, yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t worry that they’re going to come take your house. Because what I can say is that the first round, it was a warning letter first. Like I said, I don’t have a crystal ball.
I would think maybe it will follow the same path. And so, you can only do your best and if you do something wrong, correct it.
Jillian Leslie 14:14
If you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars from your affiliates or your sponsored content, that’s when I’d be worried about my house.
If you’re making a couple thousand dollars from sponsored content or whatever, I would not be as concerned but I would be compliant and play by the rules. Because you don’t want to get caught up in something and have to pay legal fees and all of that.
Does that sound like something avoidable?
Maria Spear 14:40
Jillian Leslie 14:41
So, let’s talk about the whole disabilities thing because that kind of came up. A lot of times bloggers, freak out. Things come into the blogosphere world and everybody kind of freaks out.
And I would say that was something that I noticed that everybody’s going, “Oh my God, I’m not compliant.” So, can you walk me through what all of that means and how to be compliant?
Maria Spear 15:09
Yes. So, I can walk you through my basic understanding because like you said, it seems like all of a sudden, this is just like whoosh, like a big thing. The main thing that I understand is, well, a couple of things.
One, is that images with text, and by that I mean, a graphic that you create on Canva, that where the text is part of that image. That’s where you can get into trouble.
So, if it’s a button. Again, that you created in a graphic design platform and uploaded to your blog, you need to utilize that alt-text feature, to describe exactly what it is and what it says. Because that’s where a lot of websites are really getting into trouble.
And some of these lawsuits are very similar to copyright trolls, if you’re familiar with that term. Law firms who file 50 lawsuits a day. And so, they find something on a website, they act on it, and they file, and they just want to get paid to go away. That’s my understanding.
Jillian Leslie 16:25
Exactly, they want to settle that you’ll give them thousands of dollars so that they get off your back so that you’re not having to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Maria Spear 16:35
Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Jillian Leslie 16:39
Do you know of these lawsuits? Have any of your clients experienced them?
Maria Spear 16:44
Not any of my clients. I have some lawyer friends, though, who have dealt with some. Yes.
Jillian Leslie 16:50
Okay. So, this means that if I have an image on my blog, the alt-text is supposed to be for people who are blind or hearing impaired that it can read the text? So, it can’t be that I have a picture of a bowl of strawberries.
And I write strawberry shortcake recipe that this is like part of my strawberry shortcake recipe is this bowl of strawberries and I go yummiest Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Instead, I need to describe what this photo is, a bowl of strawberries.
Maria Spear 17:38
Yes, and part of it, they have said, if it’s a completely decorative photo. And so, a lot of times, the header image will be just something decorative, or even a stock photo or whatever it is. That’s not as important.
But if it’s something a recipe would be a great example, if it’s an image file that contains your recipe and you don’t have the recipe in text form. That’s a problem. Because there are programs, and you may have seen them with a little accessibility icon.
UserWay is a great example. It’s a plugin you can put on your website, but it will basically read a website for someone that can’t see it themselves.
And so, if there’s nothing for that widget or for the computer to read, and the recipe is only on that image, that’s where you get into trouble.
Jillian Leslie 18:36
Got it. So, how do you recommend I not get into trouble?
Maria Spear 18:42
By reducing the amount of images with texts that isn’t readable on that image. And by readable I mean by the computer. And utilizing the alt-text feature when you’re uploading images to describe events.
Jillian Leslie 18:59
Pinterest was reading alt-text to populate the pins and have they stopped doing that? Do you know?
Maria Spear 19:07
That’s a really good question. I don’t know the answer to that.
Jillian Leslie 19:10
So, therefore for you, you’d go, “Oh, I need to write, strawberry shortcake recipe in the alt-text on all of my photos, even if it’s a photo of a spatula.”
Maria Spear 19:21
No. Because I would think that a photo of a spatula is a decorative photo. You’re not relaying information on your website.
Jillian Leslie 19:33
Maria Spear 19:34
But if it’s a photo that says click here to download recipe, then that’s a little bit different. That’s more instructional. It’s not decorative.
Jillian Leslie 19:44
So, decorative is okay. So, that’s good because I didn’t realize that. Therefore, bowl of strawberries, I don’t have to say bowl of strawberries. I could potentially say, strawberry shortcake recipe and I’m not going to get in as much trouble.
It’s when there is information that somebody who can see it or can use that information. And then if you go, okay, if I’m blind, then I’m not going to be able to capture that information because it’s on an image.
So, you can then take that text and put it in the blog post as well and you should be compliant.
Maria Spear 20:16
You should be. I would add that alt language. If you have an image of a recipe, I would add some alt language there too. But yes, you don’t want the only way that you’re relaying that information to be on that graphic.
And the same goes for video. If you have video, you want to make sure you have closed captions on your website for the video.
A Testimonial From a Happy MiloTree Customer
Jillian Leslie 20:39
Instead of me talking about MiloTree, I thought I would share what one of our happy customers Nicole Carr from, “Take It From Nicole,” had to say.
Nicole Carr 20:51
I absolutely, love the MiloTree app, I think it’s really cool. It was so easy to install for me. For someone who’s not a tech person, it was click, copy, paste, boom. And it was on my WordPress blog. I have it set up for Pinterest.
But you could use it for email signups or Instagram, it’s a great way to build your audience really inexpensively. And under $10 a month, I set it and forget it. And I just see Pinterest followers growing.
So, people that I’m sending from Pinterest to my site are then becoming followers and seeing more of my content. So, it’s a great way to take something that you’re already driving traffic to and to build social followings or email list.
Jillian Leslie 21:29
Thank you, Nicole for that awesome testimonial. And remember MiloTree will not slow down your site one bit.
Are there other things where bloggers, online entrepreneurs are making mistakes?
TIP: Don’t Use Music in TikTok or Reels You Don’t Have the Rights To
Maria Spear 21:47
More recently with TikTok and Reels. I have seen and it’s a little bit of a gray area but not so much, at least on Instagram where if you’re creating something sponsored not to use pop music or music that you don’t have the rights to in a reel.
And it can be confusing because some bloggers have that business account, some don’t some have access to music that others don’t have access to. So, you think well if the music is there, I can use it. But I would be very, very wary of that.
Jillian Leslie 22:39
Interesting. Oh, okay but you could buy music or create music and use that.
Maria Spear 22:49
Jillian Leslie 22:50
Maria Spear 22:50
Jillian Leslie 22:51
So, you could go to a site like I go to Melody Loops, and buy music that I then own the rights to, but I can’t use that Beyonce song.
Maria Spear 23:00
Right, you got it.
Jillian Leslie 23:02
Okay. So, that’s the third area. So, what other things would bloggers or creators miss that you know?
Maria Spear 23:14
The only other things are little DIY things, DIY meaning little protections you can put in place yourself to protect your content.
How to Deal with Copyright as a Blogger
And that’s as simple as making sure there’s a copyright notice on the bottom of your website, on every page or on any download that you offer. And copyright notices, the little copyright symbol the year and the owner, and that matters, actually.
Jillian Leslie 23:41
What is that? How does that protect me? Because we have it on our sites, and I don’t really know why we do.
Maria Spear 23:48
Right, you just have it because you’re supposed to.
Jillian Leslie 23:51
I’m supposed to do it. And so, I do what I’m supposed to do.
Maria Spear 23:54
So, hypothetically, if someone infringes your rights to your website, and you’ve got your copyright notice on there you would be able to seek damages.
And damage is basically money. Money that you can get from someone else for infringing on your creative whatever it is.
If you don’t have a copyright notice, you can still go after them but they could claim what’s called Innocent Infringement. And that drastically reduces the amount of money that you can get.
So, let’s say from $1,000 to like $250. So, it doesn’t limit your ability to go after someone. In some cases, might not make it worth it depending on what you would have to spend let’s say to go after someone.
Jillian Leslie 24:40
So, let’s talk about that. Let’s say for Catch My Party we give away free printables. And we say something like “For like for personal use only.” And then we need to have a copyright like the “C” Catch My Party and the year.
Maria Spear 24:59
“C”, the year, the year it was published or released. And then the name of the owner. Yes.
Jillian Leslie 25:05
Okay. So, the “C”, the year and the name of the owner. But let’s say then somebody does steal my stuff, what do I do?
What to Do If Someone Steals Your Work Online
Maria Spear 25:17
Great question. And you have options. So, option one is trying to contact someone yourself. And it depends, is someone putting your photo on Instagram? Or are they literally selling something that you created? Varying levels of intensity, or seriousness.
You can always try contacting them yourself as a first step, depending on your comfort level. There’s also, if it takes place on a platform like Instagram, the option of a takedown request, it might be accessible through their copyright button.
I don’t remember exactly where in the app it is. But you can go in and basically link to the post, link to your content, say what happened, and Instagram should take it down. And that protects Instagram from, 1,000 copyright infringement claims, if they take it down.
So, contacting them yourself, doing a takedown notice, you can go the cease and desist route. I usually recommend that’s when you want to get a lawyer involved, because you want to be able to say, what the law says.
You’re entitled to what they’re doing and why it’s against the law. And then there’s filing a lawsuit, which is escalated even further, and then some people choose to do nothing. And that’s a very personal decision.
I would still say at least know what your rights are, before you make that decision. But it can bring up all kinds of issues of imposter syndrome to feelings that you’ve been copied.
And so, I’ve walked clients through it, they don’t want to go through the stress and the confrontation of it. And sometimes, you have to do, what you have to do to protect yourself, mentally too. So, those are kind of the main options.
Jillian Leslie 27:20
If I wanted to sue somebody, how much would it cost? Would I win? What is the cost to me?
Maria Spear 27:29
If you wanted to sue somebody, I would usually recommend starting with a letter, because sometimes it can get resolved very quickly. And even if you think well, I’m not a Kardashian or whoever, I’m not at that level, it is still so worth it.
Because I’ve done it for so many clients who thought, I can’t go up against huge retailer XYZ, and they come back to the table with five figures and settle it. And it’s more than anybody thought that we could recover.
But in terms of what it would cost for a lawsuit. It’s hard to say, copyright infringement lawsuit could go on for two, three years, depending on if the other side really wants to fight it.
So, that’s why I say starting with a letter is a good first step. If it’s that aggressive of a situation.
Jillian Leslie 28:20
Could I do this on LegalZoom?
Maria Spear 28:24
I don’t know if LegalZoom has cease and desist letters, I genuinely don’t know that. I would recommend against it. I say that because nothing against LegalZoom, there are some things that are fine.
I will say that when something is so fact specific, and that’s what copying is, getting around the circumstances of what happened, what you own, what you’re entitled to, you really want to be able to talk to a lawyer who’s done this a lot.
I don’t know the process that LegalZoom would go through to pair you with someone, but if something where too, like I said, being copied can bring up such stress and such emotion.
You want to be able to talk to somebody that you trust and get you through your options at least.
Jillian Leslie 29:16
And you don’t have to share your specific fees, but like around how much would I have to pay to get a lawyer to write a letter?
Maria Spear 29:28
I would say for a copyright infringement letter between $600 and $900 to send that initial letter. And then, are they going to respond? Is there negotiation? Is there a contract, then, maybe a little bit more time spent on all of those things?
I would say for less than $1,000 to send out that initial letter.
Jillian Leslie 29:52
Got it. Again, also it’s not cheap. And you’re right. There is a lot of emotion and one thing that if people get my newsletter, I have an email where I talk about how much it hurts when somebody copies you, that there is that pain, and that it is shocking.
And that I always say, but you’re the creator. And so if you can create this, you can create more, you’re infinitely creative. And that is something that somebody who’s stealing from you doesn’t have, like, that’s your secret. That’s your superpower.
And to kind of lean into that, but it doesn’t take the sting away. It still hurts. Like you go to Etsy, and you see your free download being sold by somebody, and you go, oh, my God, that’s happened to us or pins on Pinterest.
And you’re like, “Wait a second, that’s my hard work.” It’s very shocking.
Maria Spear 30:49
Yes, for sure. And like you said, it’s not a sustainable, someone who’s not creative and who’s building their whole, business on others, creative materials, it’s not sustainable, they’re going to run out of steam.
Whereas, you as a creative individual, just keep creating don’t let a copycat, stop you from doing what you do.
Jillian Leslie 31:15
And I think that there’s a gray area where somebody I like to call it has been “greatly inspired” by what you’ve done. So, it’s not a straight up well, they’ve copied my design exactly. But I had this great idea.
And they would not have necessarily come up with this on their own. And am I protected legally, if that’s the case?
What Is Protected and What is Not Protected?
Maria Spear 31:41
Great question. And that kind of comes down to idea law, because a pure idea is not something really that’s protectable. One of the examples I’ve been going to lately is, Amy Porterfield and Jenna Kutcher, two great online marketers.
They both have online courses about building your email list, that is a very big idea that they’ve each executed very differently. If you want to use a blogging example, as an example, for a plant based plant based pasta sauce that you’ve created.
Again, that’s a very big idea. And there are some things when it comes to recipes the ingredients are not necessarily protected.
But again, there’s idea, big picture idea, and then there’s what makes it yours and what you add to make it you and to customize it beyond just that big idea.
Jillian Leslie 32:41
Okay, and so what if somebody, though, is taking my specific thing, I have found this way to solve a certain problem in a very unusual solution. And then all of a sudden, there are all these copycats? Am I kind of screwed?
Maria Spear 32:59
I mean, what you’re describing is kind of a method. And a method is a little bit of a squishy territory. Now what you can protect is what text and what images and what videos and what else did you create and put on paper, so to speak.
If they’re taking those things, then you’ve got some legs to stand on.
Jillian Leslie 33:22
Got it. So again, squishy. And lean into that you are infinitely creative and keep creating.
Maria Spear 33:31
Yeah, and keep an eye out for copy and paste, because like I said, the text and what you’ve actually created are definitely protectable.
Jillian Leslie 33:43
Okay, and it’s funny because I do teach, be inspired by the people you look up to. See how they’re setting up their sales page. Are there things that you wouldn’t have thought of that you can then incorporate in your sales page?
So, it’s weird because on one hand, I’m like, definitely be inspired by the Amy Porterfields. Those people in the world because chances are, they know a little more than you do.
They’ve run more tests and stuff, but it hurts when somebody then steals something that is very close to our own hearts or our own kind of creative spirits.
Maria Spear 34:19
Do You Need an LLC as a Blogger?
Jillian Leslie 34:20
So, let’s talk about LLCs. What is an LLC? Do I need an LLC? How do I structure my business? Again, my fear is always they’re going to take my house, how do I structure my business so nobody can take my house?
Maria Spear 34:35
That’s great and LLC is a great way to lessen that fear of someone taking your house. So an LLC, and the technical process is a little bit different state by state.
But in general, it creates this new person except the person is a business and anything that happens surrounding your business. So, you post about a project and someone does it and they get hurt, and they somehow have a claim against you.
Even though they followed your directions, or maybe they didn’t follow your directions. Any claim against your business is limited to that LLC assets or the LLC’s property.
That means that LLC bank account, and any other maybe physical property, if you have equipment or something that pertains to your business, anything that that LLC owns.
That means that your personal bank account, your home, your dog, whatever your personal, assets are, are protected. Now, you want to make sure not be, meshing the lines between the two.
You don’t want to spend, personal expenditures on the LLC’s credit card and that kind of thing. But that’s the main purpose of the LLC is to separate out you as a person versus your business. So, that if some claim happens on your business, you’re personally protected.
Jillian Leslie 36:05
So, do you recommend that for anybody starting an online business to at least be an LLC?
Maria Spear 36:11
I recommend it. And what I recommend is okay, kind of think through your business and think through the risks. What do you do? Are you creating something a physical product on Etsy and selling it? Is there some way that someone could get harmed?
Are you more of an advisor, where you blog about, business operations or finances or someone? The risk there is, giving bad advice or doing something to harm someone’s business.
So, look for the risk and say, okay, to this little internal audit of how likely is it that something’s going to happen? What would it cost me if someone was hurt? Or for the worst nothing would happened.
So, that’s what I recommend someone go through. Because do you need to form it right away when you first start your business? Maybe, maybe not. Again, it depends on where the risk is. So, asking yourself, where’s the risk?
But eventually, it’s not a bad idea, especially as you start making more and more money.
Jillian Leslie 37:20
Got it. So, if I’m a food blogger, there isn’t a ton of risk there?
Maria Spear 37:26
Jillian Leslie 37:27
So, wait until I have money, let’s say to set this up. It’s not that expensive to set it up.
Maria Spear 37:34
If you’re a food blogger and you have a video where you’re teaching people how to use a chef’s knife, ooh, that’s a little bit different than just sharing recipes. So, you have to involve the risk.
Jillian Leslie 37:47
Okay, I hadn’t really thought about that. But that’s interesting. So, maybe the recommendation is start your business. When you start making money think about separating this off as an LLC.
So, that nobody can come and take your house, or your dog, your cars, and that you’re protected that way. And all states are a little bit different. But again, it’s not super expensive to set up an LLC. So, it might be worth it down the road.
Now, are there other structures that you recommend people use for putting together their business beyond LLC, which is limited? What is it?
Maria Spear 38:29
Limited liability company.
Jillian Leslie 38:30
Yes, there we go.
Maria Spear 38:35
In 11 years of practicing law, I have formed countless numbers of LLC’s and maybe one Corporation. And some of it is tax specific. So, you might want to talk to a CPA about your own special tax circumstances.
But a limited liability company is more flexible, there’s no meeting minutes and shareholder meetings and things like that, in order to be complying with the law. So, I like the LLC.
How Do I Stay GDPR Compliant?
Jillian Leslie 39:09
Got it. Can we talk briefly about GDPR?
Maria Spear 39:13
Jillian Leslie 39:15
What is GDPR? Why do I need to care about it?
Maria Spear 39:19
Oh, the GDPR went into effect, I think in 2018. And it was a privacy regulation that came out of Europe. And it applies to any website that can be collecting information from an individual in the EU.
That does not mean EU citizens, it means any user interacting with your platform in the EU. To summarize it’s an opt-in mechanism. So, users have to consent to the way that you’re going to use their information. Does that make sense?
Jillian Leslie 39:59
Yes, it does. Definitely. And really, you need to disclose. So, for example, like the way that I feel like bloggers where they run into GDPR is, get my free dowload. Give me your email address and get my free download.
“What are you going to do with my email address? Once I’ve gotten the download, you need to tell me that you are going to put me on your mailing list. And so you can’t just be emailing me now.”
And I go, “Wait, I don’t know who you are. Why? How do you have my email address, you need to specifically state, get my free download.” And then let’s say they get it, it says, “And I will be adding you to my email list.”
Maria Spear 40:43
Exactly. They need to know what they’re agreeing to by giving you their email address.
Jillian Leslie 40:50
And are there any other places where I need as a blogger or a creator to really think through GDPR.
Maria Spear 40:59
So, it applies to how you’re collecting information, it also applies to how you’re processing information. So, if you are using an email marketing platform, FLOTUS, Kartra, whatever it is, MailChimp.
And you’re tagging and sorting people. And this applies, by the way only to personal identifying information. So, like an email address. It might not apply to what kind of browser they are using.
Because there are lots of different things that Google Analytics can tell us. So, part of the GDPR is that the user has the right to know not just how you’re collecting and what you’re going to do with it.
But what you’re doing with it beyond just putting them on an email list. So, they can technically ask you, how are you using my data, they can ask you to erase it. They can ask you, to restrict maybe don’t send my information to advertisers, or whoever it is.
It’s called portability, if you’re sending data to another company. So, there are a few things that the GDPR says the EU, the individual has the right to access or the right to know.
Jillian Leslie 42:22
Do you put this in your terms of service on your website?
Maria Spear 42:28
Jillian Leslie 42:35
Maria Spear 42:36
But basically anyone that you work with that is helping you with processing data, or looking at analytics, or sending your marketing emails.
You will say that we work with businesses that help with our email marketing with our analytics, with Facebook advertisements. You would say how it is that you use that information.
Jillian Leslie 43:10
Maria Spear 43:20
Yeah, that’s great.
Jillian Leslie 43:22
Maria Spear 43:26
Jillian Leslie 43:27
Okay, perfect. And now my final question, what if I want to hire people to help me as independent contractors? What do I need to know to protect myself legally?
How to Protect Yourself When Hiring Contractors
Maria Spear 43:41
The number one thing that you need to know when it comes to independent contractors is this default rule of copyright ownership. So, especially for bloggers, who are all kind of an inherently creative.
If you’re bringing on someone that’s maybe a video editor, or doing anything creative, the default rule is that the contractor owns what he or she or they contribute or change.
So, if you want to be sure that you own, your rights to whatever it is that they’re assisting with or creating for you. There’s got to be something in writing that transfers that ownership from the independent contractor to you.
Jillian Leslie 44:22
Interesting. Okay. Well, that is very helpful. Well, I feel like I covered a lot of territory. And hopefully we’ve covered it in layman’s terms so that you, as a blogger or creator do not have to think a lot on this.
But you know how to protect yourself in all of these different areas. Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you think bloggers definitely need to know?
Maria Spear 44:51
I think we talked about the copyright notice. A lot of people don’t know that you can use the TM symbol also. You don’t have to have a registered trademark in order to use the TM symbol with your trademarks on the banner of your blog.
Even on Instagram if you want to, but using that TM symbol to show that you consider this to be your trademark is definitely something you can do yourself that adds a little boost and protection.
Jillian Leslie 45:19
Let’s say like the name of my business.
Maria Spear 45:22
Jillian Leslie 45:22
So, everywhere I use the name, I would put a TM?
Maria Spear 45:26
You don’t have to use it everywhere. I would say use it where it’s the most visible as a brand. And then if you have it, kind of in paragraph and you’re talking about you don’t have to use it every single spot.
Jillian Leslie 45:39
But just have it there?
Maria Spear 45:42
Jillian Leslie 45:43
Okay, so that’s good. Anything else?
Maria Spear 45:48
I think the main thing in terms of blogging is, don’t be afraid to create and to put your things out there. Even though there are copycats, yes.
We talked about this, it’s not sustainable to build a business on copying and so don’t get discouraged. And just keep going.
Jillian Leslie 46:12
I love that. Okay. So, Maria, if people want to reach out to you, if they have questions, legal questions, or want to find somebody to help them with whatever problem they are having, how can people reach out to you?
Maria Spear 46:29
I am on Instagram at speariplaw.
Jillian Leslie 46:33
Can you spell that?
Maria Spear 46:35
Yes, Spear S-E-A-R-I-P as in property laws. Speariplaw.
Jillian Leslie 46:43
Maria Spear 46:45
Yes. And my website, spear-ip.com.
Jillian Leslie 46:48
Wonderful. Well, Maria, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Maria Spear 46:53
Thank you so much.
Jillian Leslie 46:55
I hope you found this episode clarifying. I definitely did. And I liked the way Maria was able to explain these nuance laws in layman’s terms. And I will continue every so often to do episodes like this, so that we all stay within the rules.
And if you are planning to start a membership, I want to talk to you. Head to milotree.com/betatester and I will reach out to you.
And this could be a membership in a private Facebook group, Zoom lessons, a paid newsletter, there are so many different ways to do it. And I can help you get paid. So again, milotree.com/betatester.
I think this product could be a game changer for your business, and I’ll see you here again next week.
Other Blogger Genius Podcast episodes to listen to:
- What You Need To Know To Protect Yourself Legally as an Influencer With Danielle Liss
- How to Write a Killer Blog Post with Ease + FREE Checklist with Jillian Leslie
- How to Grow Your Traffic with the New Google Update with David Leslie
Imagine a world where growing your social media followers and email list was easy…
If you are looking for ways to grow your community whether that be email whether that be social media, right now head to Milotree.com install the MiloTree app on your blog and it will do the work for you. Let it do the heavy lifting for you.
Let it pop up in front of your visitors and ask them to follow you on Instagram Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, join your list, check out the exit intent but really get your community growing. And we’d love to help you with MiloTree. And I will see you here again next week.