As freelance writers, we spend a great deal of time quickly researching topics we’re unfamiliar with and then producing articulate web content that makes it sound like you know what you’re talking about. A brief scan of several other informative websites often gives you background information and inspiration to write what your clients have asked for. You wind up putting together and submitting an article to your client and begin the process over again with a new topic and don’t think about it again. [Read more…]
The life of a freelance writer is relatively easy compared to others. While some of you may argue this point, I honestly think that we have a lot of freedom, and as long as we have the necessary self-discipline (and then some), we’re really in a sweet position.
One thing that we may overlook, however, is that we have legal obligations as freelance writers. Just like any professional doing his job, a freelance writer has to take the legal matters into consideration. Legal counsel Daniel Perlman highly recommends every freelancer to pay attention to legal obligations, which may vary depending on the setup of your business. There are, however, three major things that you have to consider. [Read more…]
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 primer in some of the critical legal questions you should be asking yourself to get ready for the possibility that, some day, you may find yourself in a dispute
Bear in mind that this isn’t a definitive list by any stretch, but is meant more to get you thinking about the types of things you need to ponder to be safe(r) online legally and the be read for when and if bad things happen. [Read more…]
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 a way to more quickly and cheaply handle disputes.
But are these clauses a good deal for writers? The answer isn’t very simple and a lot of it depends on the situation. However, to understand how these clauses might fit into your life, you first have to see know what they are and understand the positives and negatives that come with them. [Read more…]
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: Trademark.
In short, in addition to trying to find a domain in a very crowded field, you have to ensure that your domain doesn’t infringe on someone’s business name or mark, something else that is no easy matter. This is what makes it imperative to search your domains thoroughly before buying and, when you do find one that’s good, you need to take additional steps to protect it.
Domains are a minefield and, if you aren’t prepared for it, you can find yourself either in a world of legal trouble or, perhaps just as bad, having your rights infringed upon by others.
A Primer on Trademark
In order to understand the legal issues with domain names, one first has to understand at least a little bit about trademark.
Like copyright, trademark is an intellectual property, meaning that it is a limited monopoly over an intellectual creation. However, unlike copyright, trademark protects names, slogans, logos and other elements used to identify a business that don’t qualify for copyright because they are too short or lack the requisite level of creativity.
But where trademark can be more broad in terms of what it covers, protecting things copyright can not, it is much more limited in the protections it provides. Trademark is designed solely to prevent confusion in the marketplace. One doesn’t violate a trademark by simply copying the trademarked term, phrase, etc., but rather, by using it in a manner that causes confusion.
For example, simply mentioning Walmart, one of the most famous trademarked names, doesn’t violate the company’s mark. However, if you claimed to be operating an official blog or selling products with their name without permission, it would be as you are indicating a relationship with the company that doesn’t exist.
Likewise, if you created a new business called WallMart that was very similar in nature, it would likely be deemed an infringement as it is too similar and confusing.
Bear in mind though that this protection is very limited, specifically, it is confined to the marketplace for the trademark holder. Delta is both an airline and a faucet company, but those two have no trademark issue as they are in very different markets. Likewise, Apple Music and Apple Computers had only a minor issue, that is, until Apple Computers entered the music market.
The reason all of this impacts domains so greatly is because domains are, almost by their very nature, protected by trademark. They are short phrases used to identify a business (in more way than one) and don’t qualify for copyright protection (at least the vast majority of the time).
This means that, not only can your domain infringe on another’s mark, but you can have your domain infringed as well. As a freelance writer, and thus business owner, this is something you have to watch out for very carefully when getting started.
How Not to Infringe
Not infringing trademark with your domain is actually fairly simple, all you need to do is, when registering a domain, ask yourself three simple questions:
- Is There Another Business Name Similar to Mine? Try to find other businesses with a name simiar to yours, if you can’t find any, you can stop here.
- Are Our Businesses in the Same or Similar Market? Remember that a market is not just the business you are in, but also can be separated by geography if you only serve a specific region. Usually though, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
- If So, Could My Name Be Confusing? Finally, if there is a business with a similar name and a similar market, would others, either consumers or the other company, believe that your name is confusing or a deliberate attempt to exploit their reputation?
On matters of trademark, its usually better to be safe than sorry. Even if there is no actual infringement, having a name too close to a potential competitor just creates confusion and makes life much more difficult for both of you. It’s best to be as original as you can be, regardless of what the law actually says.
In short, it may be best to not bother with debating the law, just try to find a name that is uniquely you and has no possibility of being considered a trademark infringement.
How to Protect Your Domain
The flip side of the coin, however, is much more difficult. Many don’t see the benefit of being an original, especially when they aren’t trying to open a full business and, instead, are just trying to siphon off your traffic and reputation, such as with spammers and domain squatters.
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself. However, your best protection is the steps you take before you set up your site, namely purchasing all domains that are related to yours including any additional extensions, common misspellings and so forth. Though it might be expensive, most domain registrars offer package deals to keep costs down and spending a few hundred dollars can save you a lot of money down the road.
That’s because if someone does open up a domain similar to yours, the process for getting it revoked is the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), which can cost well over $1,000 even in simple cases and that’s before you tack on any legal or other fees you accrue over the process.
The UDRP is basically an arbitration system provided by the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to handle trademark and other disputes over domain names. The process, in cases of clear trademark infringement, usually results in the revocation of the infringing domain, but is expensive, time-consuming and difficult.
In short, you are much better off getting the domains to start with rather than having to clean up infringements later.
If there’s interest in the future, we’ll revisit these topics in more detail later, including how to monitor your domain for potential infringement and how to perform trademark searches to ensure you don’t accidentally infringe another person’s mark.
However, it is more important that we have a basic understanding of how trademark works and how it affects domains, which is what I hope this provides.
In the end though, the onus is on you, as the buyer of the domain, to both protect your investment and ensure that your registration doesn’t infringe. If you can be savvy about those two things, you’ll likely be fine when dealing with domains and, fortunately, neither is particularly difficult.
Still, one does have to be aware of the potential issues and, hopefully, now you are.
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private (However, please mention that it is a suggestion for Freelance Writing Jobs). This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.
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.
In short, it pays to sometimes just walk away from a client before they have a chance to cause havoc with your career and your life. Unfortunately though, spotting these kinds of clients before they become problems can be difficult. To help, here’s a brief, if incomplete, list of clients that you need to be on the lookout for and, if any try to work with you, you need to run away as fast as you can. [Read more…]
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 being said, there’s still a lot that you can do to avoid freelance writing scams and, specifically, here are six very smart steps you can take today to ensure that it doesn’t happen to you. After all, every writing job unpaid is money out of your pocket, time out of your day and, possibly, food off of your table.
It’s best to get wise now rather than learn a hard lesson later. [Read more…]
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 to their advantage on most legal issues. As such, litigation isn’t often practical in these matters.
This means that the best way to protect yourself from these scams is to learn what they are and not step into them in the first place. [Read more…]
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 they submit a work, they are done with it and probably won’t ever see it again.
But, while this is true, that doesn’t mean that you can simply toss the copyright to the piece aside and be done with it completely. Even if you never think you’re going to look at the work again, there are many reasons why signing over the copyright is a bad idea or, at the very least, something you should think twice about.
With that in mind, here are five very good reasons to keep copyright in the works you write for others. [Read more…]
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 and it is generally the final step before the work is sent out to the much broader public.
As such, before you click “submit”, it’s worthwhile to take a moment, evaluate your work and make sure that you don’t find yourself in any legal trouble for your work.
After all, the last thing you want is for something you submit to come back and bite you and/or your client after it’s published online. With that in mind, here are five questions you should ask every time you get ready to submit a new article, just to make sure you’re on the right side of the law. [Read more…]