What Bloggers Need to Know About Trademark Law

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There are three major types of intellectual property law: Copyright, Patent and Trademark. The distinction between the three can often be confusing and gray, but in general copyright protects artistic expressions (literature, movies, photos, music, etc.), patents protect ideas and inventions and trademark protects any “mark” associated with a business. However, trademark is very different from other areas of intellectual property. You don’t run afoul of the law simply by copying the mark itself but, as a tradeoff, trademarks can protect a much wider variety of things that would not fall under any other area of protection. Yet, at the [Read more…]

5 Legal Questions Every Freelancer Needs to Answer

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Over the course of this column, we’ve talked a great deal about how specific areas of the law can affect you and what some of the legal pitfalls of being a freelance writer are. However, today we’re going to take a look at the more broad legal questions every freelancer needs to answer in order to make sure that they are protected no matter what happens. So, if you haven’t thought much about your legal situation and the steps you need to take in order to be certain you’re ready for any legal conflict that may arise, here’s a quick [Read more…]

The Good and the Bad of Mediation or Arbitration

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We’ve talked a great deal in the past about the importance of contracts and being contract smart when doing freelance writing. However, even with a perfect contract and best of intentions on both sides, disagreements can arise. Dealing with those disagreements, unfortunately, can be very tricky. Jurisdictional issues can make it almost impossible to bring legal action against each other and, even if those issues aren’t present, the cost of litigation can be prohibitive, especially over smaller contracts. Because of this, one of the more common clauses clients put in their contracts is a mandatory mediation or arbitration clause as [Read more…]

Why You Need to be Careful with Your Domains

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If you’re just getting started in freelance writing, you may be staring down one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your career, namely what your business name should be and, thus, what your domain name should be. Picking a good domain isn’t easy and anyone who has done it recently can tell you what a brain-racking experience it can be. One has to come up with a domain that’s not taken, is short, easy to spell, catchy, explains the desired company and has good SEO. However, to that myriad of very real concerns, another one must be added: [Read more…]

5 Types of Freelance Writing Clients to Avoid At All Costs

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Most freelance writers are working hard to find and write for as many clients as they can. The more clients you have, the more content you’re writing, the more content you’re writing, the more money you make. But as great as it is to be to make more money, there are still some clients that just aren’t worth the trouble. Some are simply scam artists that want to take advantage of you, some are doing something illegal that could come back to bite you too and others may simply just drain off more time than they could ever be worth. [Read more…]

6 Tips for Avoiding Freelance Writing Scams

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Last week, we talked about 5 Common Ways Freelance Writers Get Scammed, nearly all of which centered around ways that unscrupulous clients attempt to get work from their writers without paying them. However, knowing what the scams are isn’t terribly important without an understanding of how to avoid them. Unfortunately, even though all of the tricks have the same premise and outcome, nuances in how they are executed makes it so that there’s no single “magic bullet” for avoiding them and most of what it takes to avoid such scams is keeping a good, clear head at all times. That [Read more…]

5 Common Ways Freelance Writers Get Scammed

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Ever since I started writing at Plagiarism Today and especially since I started this column, I’ve been hearing a lot from freelance writers who have been scammed or otherwise victimized by unscrupulous clients. Though the good news is that such bad clients are very rare in the big scheme of things, they are common enough that almost every freelancer, if they remain active long enough, will run into one or two over the course of their career. So how do you avoid being taken advantage of as a freelance writer. As we discussed previously, clients have the playing field tilted [Read more…]

Why You Want to Keep Your Copyright

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By now, we all know that, when signing freelance writing contracts, you need to be copyright smart and make sure that you aren’t giving away more rights to your work than you intended. But many don’t understand what the big deal about signing over copyright to their work is. Most freelance writers don’t resell the same work to several clients, and act that is considered to be very bad form when it is done without prior knowledge, and often times freelance writers never have any intention to ever return to the topic again. In short, for many freelance writers, once [Read more…]

5 Legal Questions to Ask Before Turning in An Assignment

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Turning in an assignment is the goal of pretty much every freelancer. It’s the moment where they can send their invoice, collect payment and, generally make a living. If you don’t reach this point regularly, you’ll likely soon find yourself looking for another career. That being said, the moment you turn in your assignment is also something of a point of no return. Once you send the email, share the Google Doc or otherwise turn in what you have completed, you’ve not only submitted that work for revenue, you’ve also distributed it to a third party, an important step legally [Read more…]

Whose Responsibility is Copyright Enforcement?

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If you work as a freelance writer long enough, it’s bound to happen: Something you’ve written will be infringed. Whether it’s marketing copy being lifted by a competitor, a blog post pilfered by a scraper or something else altogether, the work you were paid for will be used by someone else unlawfully. But putting a stop to it can actually be very difficult. There are three parties involved, the infringer, the client and yourself. The dynamics between the three of them are, at times, complicated. So who has the responsibility and/or the ability to enforce copyright in freelance-created works? The [Read more…]

How to Get Your Contracts Signed

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We’ve talked at great length about why you should always have a contract for your various jobs and some of the terms you need to know when looking at a contract, but there remains an odd challenge when dealing with contracts, getting them signed. The reason is that the process of signing a contract was not really designed for the digital age. Traditionally, signing a contract would involve two or more people sitting around a single sheet of paper, agreeing to the terms on it and signing their names. While that works great when the people involved are relatively close [Read more…]

3 Grim Legal Realities Freelancers Need to Accept

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In an ideal universe, the law is there to protect both parties in a contract equally. The freelancer and the client would both have guards to prevent the other from doing something unscrupulous or somehow taking advantage of the other. Of course, in an ideal universe, justice would be free, it would be immediate and it would never make any mistakes. Unfortunately though, we don’t live in a perfect world and, in many regards, that legal playing field is very much tilted against the freelancer. Not only do clients, typically, have more money but the global nature of the Web [Read more…]

Be Contract Smart: 7 Copyright Terms to Know

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One thing nearly every freelance writer is going to have to do is sign a contract. Contracts, when written well, protect both the freelancer and the client by avoiding any confusion and preventing anyone from giving up any rights that they didn’t intend. But as necessary and as useful as contracts are, they are often filled with terms that can cause confusion. Many freelancers, intimidated either by the size or the seeming complexity of their contracts often just sign them with little more than a cursory glance. This is a poor move that can cause a freelance to sign a [Read more…]

5 Legal Concerns To Watch in 2011

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As we get ready to turn over the new year, we get a chance to both evaluate what 2010 meant for us and what we want 2011 to look like. But while we each are making our personal evaluations and decisions, we also have other shifts and changes around us. For example, the Internet is a constantly-changing environment, with trends, sites and companies rising and falling in a strage chorus, all of it affecting our profession. Another area is the law and legal issues. Though it has something of a reputation for being fixed and static, nothing could be farther [Read more…]

Why Social Media is No Legal Safe Haven

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One of the reasons that the Web has become a legal minefield is because it deals with laws and ethics that, prior to its creation, almost no one had any reason to know. Before the Web, the only reason to understand libel, privacy, copyright, trademark and other areas commonly associated with mass media law was if you were a journalist, a publisher or someone else involved in some form of media. The average person just didn’t have the means to really reach a large audience, not without filtration, making the laws fairly pointless to know. But now, with the Web, [Read more…]

Why Having a Pen Name Can Be a Risky Move

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Having a pen name is one of the oldest traditions of being a writer. Even Homer, the famed author of the Illiad, is more of a mythical figure than a real person. Writer’s select pen names for a variety of reasons. Some feel their “real” lives might be harmed if it is known what they write, others just think a new name sounds better and still others want to try two different writing styles or subjects without interference from past works. In fact, even publishers can demand an author use a pen name, as was the case with J.K. Rowling. [Read more…]

How to Avoid Legal Trouble With Your Portfolio

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Every freelance writer should have a good online portfolio, a place to showcase their best works and examples of the kinds of writing that they do. However, creating a portfolio is not as simple as choosing the best writing that you’ve done for your clients and putting up copies or even snippets on your site. Not only might this be considered bad form on the part of your clients, but there may be legal issues that prevent you being able to do so. So as many of us begin to look toward the new year and seek out ways to [Read more…]

Should You Appoint a DMCA Agent for Your Site?

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Freelance writers don’t just write for their clients. Most have sites of their own where they both post for themselves and, due to the increasing interactivity of websites in general, accept comments, postings and other material from users. However, this creates a new legal problem for freelance writers, namely what happens when their users violate copyright law. It might seem odd to be held accountable, even in part, for infringement that your users undertake without your permission or even knowledge, but the law does allow for that to happen in certain circumstances. To make matters worse, certain copyright holders have [Read more…]

5 Lessons From the Cooks Source Case for Freelancers

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If you’re a freelance writers, there’s a very good chance that you’ve been following the Cooks Source case for the last week or two. To recap what happened, Monica Gaudio, a freelance writer, discovered that an article she had written on the history of apple pies had been used in its entirety by a small New England magazine entitled Cooks Source. Though the use was attributed, making it a copyright infringement and not a plagiarism, she was understandably upset and sought an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. The editor of Cooks Source, Judith Griggs, [Read more…]

5 Simple Legal Mistakes Freelancers Commonly Make

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For a freelance writer, there is a lot of legal ground to cover. Copyright, trademark, privacy, libel and contract law are just some of the areas any freelancer needs to be familiar with to ensure that their rights are protected and they stay on the right side of the law. The reason is that, in addition to signing deals and getting payment for a service, you are creating content that will be distributed to a global audience. This puts a lot of responsibility on you and everything you right to be accurate, non-infringing and non-invasive. Still, we are all human [Read more…]

A Primer on Creative Commons

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Unless you haven’t been paying attention, you’ve probably at least heard of Creative Commons or seen its licenses around on various sites. However, there’s a great deal of misunderstanding regarding what Creative Commons Licenses actually are, how they function and what their purpose is. For a freelance writer to decide if they should license some of their work under Creative Commons, they first need to understand thse things as well as how to correctly use CC-licensed conten. Fortunately, the big idea behind Creative Commons is fairly easy to explain and the actual application is even easier to understand. All one [Read more…]

Derivative Works: Creations That Look Familiar

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One of the most common questions I get asked about copyright law is “How much do I need to change in (insert creation name) in order to use it without infringing copyright?” Whether they are asking because someone reused their work or they are thinking about doing it to someone else, these people are usually asking the wrong question. Likely misled by rumors of a 10 percent rule or something similar, many think there’s some magic number that lets themselves or others skirt copyright law by creating a new work from an old with minimal work. Unfortunately, these people often [Read more…]

How to Register Your Website’s Copyright

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In last week’s column, I talked about one of the most important decisions every copyright holder has to make, whether or not to register the copyright in their works. The conclusion of the article was that there is no single correct answer but every creator should be aware of the benefits of registration and make a decision for themselves. However, if you do decide to register your site, you are immediately faced with an ugly problem. The copyright registration system, despite some recent modernizations, is still geared almost solely toward the types of content that existed in the 80s and [Read more…]

Should You Register Your Copyright?

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Ever since the Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect in 1978, copyright has been granted in a work merely by fixing it into a tangible medium of expression. This is a fact we already covered. However, the fact you have all of the rights over your work does not mean you have the ability to enforce them. In the United States, an additional step is required if you want to take legal action over copyright infringement, you have to first register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. This has caused many content creators on the Web, including freelance writers, [Read more…]

Is Your Work Really a Work for Hire?

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Many freelance writers don’t fully understand copyright law and mistakenly believe that the fact they are paid for a work means that they don’t hold the copyright in it. In short, since they were hired to do a particular job, that the work becomes a work for hire and they also transfer copyright in the work to the buyer. However, that is very rarely the case. Though the language is very confusing, simply being paid to create a work does not make it a work for hire under the law. Rather, the law actually only caused a work to be [Read more…]

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