Thinking about starting a blog for fun and/or profit? You’re definitely not alone… there are plenty of opportunities for new voices and the potential for enormous payout.
But I have to say — about once a week, some version of this message lands in my inbox:
I’m just about to launch a fabulous new blog! I’ve got plans for affiliate advertising and I’ve even created a few digital products to sell.
But I’ve seen other bloggers refer to the need for contracts and privacy policies. There doesn’t seem to be a clear guide as to what I actually need, and I’m confused! Can you help?
In the “old days” of blogging, no one worried about any of this stuff (even if they should have). But now that there’s money and intellectual property involved, it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
If not, that’s okay! That’s why we’re talking about it today after all.
I’m assuming that you’re up to speed on the technical aspects of running a blog — creating a website, running your social media... all that stuff.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the “legal-ish” you should pay attention to at each stage of your blogging journey.
Even if you don’t think you’ll ever become an affiliate marketer or sell your own products (or conversely, blog purely for your own enjoyment), I really recommend reading this post top to bottom. There is plenty of overlap in the legal requirements.
First off, congrats! It’s fun to start a new blog and see where it takes you! Now let’s make sure that you don’t step on any little legal pinky toes that might be offended.
As a blogger, you should learn these terms by heart:
Okay, these two are easily confused, but here’s the quick ‘n dirty:
Copyright usually applies to the things you create (ie: artwork, written content, etc.). Copyright applies as soon as soon as you get your idea out of your head and into a tangible form, but it can still be a good idea to register your work with the Copyright office.
A trademark refers to the thing that makes you identifiable to everyone else, like your logo, tagline, or the unique sign off you use for all your social media posts. It costs a lot more to register a trademark, but there advantages to doing so.
This includes those things you’ve created (and that get copyrighted, above), but also includes intangibles like any trademarks, patents, or trade secrets you may have.
This is easy to do inadvertently, so pay special attention to this one: If you share someone else’s words, photographs, art, etc… anything that they’ve created… without following that person or company’s terms and conditions, you’re guilty of infringement on their rights. (Yes, this even includes the uncredited image you found on Google. Just because it’s not credited doesn’t mean you can share!) But it goes both ways! You get to set your own terms for whether your content can be shared or not and what conditions the sharer has to meet.
Here’s the thing, when someone visits your site, they can leave little identifiers behind… things like their IP address, username, and email address. You’re required to let your visitors know what kind of information you collect, what you do with it, and who else has access to the info.
Woot! You’ve got an audience and now you’d like a return on your hard work with the products you’re sharing.
This phase is where you start having people pay you (or trade products or services) in return for being featured on your blog or social media accounts.
Here’s a checklist of must-dos when you're in this stage of blogging and business.
Did you clearly disclose that your links might be affiliate links, and might result in income for you? This needs to be posted clearly on your website as well as in each post that contains affiliate links. And, the disclosure should be in an obvious place, not hidden in your footer or at the end of the article.
If you spend enough time surfing The Contract Shop, you'll see that I disclose in italics at the beginning of my post AND I include an asterisk (*) next to any affiliate links.
Not only is this step legally required by the FTC, but it also helps you build trust with your audience. (You can snag my template here for less than your monthly Starbucks allowance.)
Do you have a disclaimer on each post that says it is sponsored content? (You need this even if the product was given to you for free, by the way.)
Basically, if you received something (or will receive something, in the case of affiliate payouts) in exchange for your recommendation, review, or feedback, you need to disclose it.
As you explore new partnerships and collaborations (like a podcast with one of your business besties), make sure you’re protecting your ideas and other information about your business! You can do this by using a non-disclosure agreement like this one.
Once you’ve decided a partnership is a good fit, you’ll both need to agree on all the details and set clear expectations. Things like timelines, copyrights, what fees you charge, and liability concerns need to be agreed upon up front… before something goes wrong. To protect yourself and your business, use a Brand Collaboration contract to put all those nuances in writing.
You’ve reached the Holy Grail of blogging-dom! That’s awesome! Let’s look at what you need once you reach this stage.
Make sure your clients sign a Terms and Conditions agreement… you know, so that they don’t request (and expect) a full refund 90 days later. This also lays out clear expectations for who owns the copyright for material that’s created (you or them) and what they’re allowed to do with the content of the course.
Once you start planning to expand your reach through paid affiliates who earn commissions, you’ll want to establish clear expectations: things like what the payment terms are and what liability each of you is responsible for. You’ll need something like this Affiliate Agreement.
There you go… now you’ve got a firm grasp on what legal requirements you’re expected to fulfill and which are a really, really good idea. Still have questions? Pop ‘em in the comments!
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