Unsolicited Advice: Shut Up

“zip your mouth and shut up” by pHotosHo0x from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As a lawyer, clients come to help prevent or resolve legal problems. It’s my job to explore the pertinent facts of the situation, explain the legal implications to my client, present their options, and make recommendations. The decision of what to do is ultimately the client’s choice. When your lawyer recommends that you refrain from speaking about a situation publicly, that may be their polite way of saying, “Shut up. Anything you say will likely make your situation worse.”

What Not To Do
Today’s example of what not to do comes from Robert Scoble. After several women publicly accused him of sexual harassment and/or assault, he released a blog post entitled “No, of that I’m innocent.” In this post he wrote:

I have rejected my lawyer’s advice to not make a statement and in a spirit of healing I would like to address the issue head on with open and honest dialogue.

I’m glad he admitted that he was ignoring his lawyer’s advice. He went on to state what he called the “actual truth of the allegations” against him, naming his accusers, and calling out alleged misbehaviors of his accusers in their encounters with him.

If your lawyer is telling you not to talk about accusations against you, assuming you’re already in a hole. Stop digging.

Scoble also claimed he could not have sexually harass any of these women because he was never “in a position where I could make or break their careers.” Umm…that’s not how sexual harassment works. It can occur outside an employment, professional, or financial relationship.

Listen to Your Lawyer
When I first meet with a client, I explain that lawyer-client privilege applies, meaning I can’t repeat what I client tells me. The reverse is not true. I can’t control what a client says or posts when they leave my office. If I tell them not to talk about their case, it’s because I think that’s what’s in their best interest. As a third party, I’m not emotionally enmeshed in the situation. I can see the forest for the trees when they can’t and help move them towards the ultimate outcome they seek, and avoid pitfalls in the moment.

When it comes to internet posts, here are some of my general suggestions:

  • Think before you post.
  • Today’s righteous indignation may be tomorrow’s regret.
  • Ditto for drunken rants.

The internet never forgets. One post can cost you your career, marriage, or reputation. Even if you delete a post you regret creating, you don’t know how many people saw, copied, or downloaded the post before you deleted it. And there’s probably a copy of that post on a server somewhere.

If your lawyer advises you not to talk about something online or otherwise, don’t do it. There’s a good chance you’re setting yourself up for more pain in the future, and there are some bells that we can’t un-ring.

If you want additional information about the legalities of social media, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list.

Anthony Weiner Sentenced to 21 Months for Sexting: Processing My Thoughts

Chainlink Prison Fence by Jobs For Felons Hub from Flickr

This week, former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for “transferring obscene material,” aka sexting, with a 15 year-old. He’ll also have 3 years of supervision after he’s released, including internet monitoring, and will have to register as a sex offender.

According to reports, here’s what we know about this case:

  • He knew he was talking to a 15 year-old using various social media platforms.
  • He sent the teen nude pictures of himself.
  • He asked her to sexually perform for him on Skype.

Clearly his behavior was criminally and morally wrong.

Anthony Weiner
112th Congress
from Wikipedia

I’ve been mulling over this situation for the past few days, wondering if the punishment fits the crime. I asked friends who are teachers or the parents of tweens and teens for their reactions. Some said 21 months was too lenient, some said too harsh, and others agreed it was appropriate based on the available information.

I’ve watched plenty of episodes of To Catch A Predator where men engaged in similar online behavior with people they thought were teens, and then showed up at a house to meet them before being arrested. At the end of the program, they reported the sentences of these perpetrators, and often they were sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. Some only got probation. It makes me wonder whether Weiner’s sentenced was based solely on his interactions with this minor or his history of sexting.

It’s been sad to watch a charismatic up-and-coming Congressman destroy his professional life, his reputation, and his marriage because of his sexual compulsivity. The judge even acknowledged that Weiner has a disease. His past impropriety involved sexting with other consenting adults – not illegal, but not appropriate given his then-political position and being in a seemingly non-open marriage. Part of me wonders how his past behavior (where no criminal laws were broken) factored into the sentence.

Likewise, I wonder if Weiner’s position as a public figure played a role in his sentence. The judge reportedly sentenced him to 21 months in part to serve as a general deterrence. While I respect that one of the purposes of criminal punishment is to deter others from acting in similar ways, I question whether Weiner was punished for the law(s) he broke or to make an example out of him. The law says he could have received a sentence up to 10 years, and 21 months was within the range of jail time requested by the prosecution, so I’m not saying the judge or the prosecutor acted outside the scope of their position, but I still wonder how the judge came to her decision.

Of course, Judge Cote was there for the entire trial process, and I’m watching from the sidelines. I’m in no way questioning her judgment.

This whole situation has also reminded me of how little I expect a person to be rehabilitated while incarcerated. I’d rather see people convicted of committing crimes, in part due to an addiction, be sentenced to a long-term treatment facility followed by jail time with ongoing counseling.

The other thing this crime reminded me of is how important it is for parents to monitor what their kids are doing when they’re online. It’s not just an issue of where they go, what apps they’re using, what they say, and what pictures they’re taking, but also who is trying to communicate with their kids.

Regarding Anthony Weiner and his victim, I have no answers. I don’t know what the appropriate punishment should be for adults who are caught sexting with teens, or whether Weiner’s sentence was too harsh or too lenient. I hope I’m not the only person who was inspired to step back and consider what is the correct legal and social response to these criminal acts.

I’m constantly doing work related to internet law, so if you want to keep up with what I’m doing or if you need help, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my email list. (Please note: If you suspect you’re the victim of an internet crime, I will refer you to law enforcement.)

Model Release and Regret

“Subway Ballet” by J Stimp from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently, I received an email from a photographer (not my client) who had a question about the validity of model releases. As I understood the situation, he hired a model (over age 18) to do a photoshoot at his studio. The model was photographed nude for at least part of the shoot. The model signed a model release and was paid for her modeling services.

After the photoshoot, the photographer censored some of the images to comply with Facebook’s rules and posted them online.  The model saw the images and was upset. The photographer asked me if the model had any authority to force him to take the images down.

The Rules of Model Releases
Model releases are standard in the photography world. In most cases, the photographer owns the copyright in their work from the moment the photo is created, not the person in the photo, and the model owns the right to publicize their own image.

The model release transfers the model’s right to publicity in those images to the photographer, which allows the photographer to use the images per the terms of the release. Usually, when I write a model release or a model release template, the model gives the photographer permission to use the images in any way and for any purpose, without restriction.

In general, once the model release is signed, the model’s given up their rights. If the model later regrets signing it, there may be nothing they can do to “unring that bell” unless the photographer is willing to negotiate another agreement – such as a copyright assignment where the model purchases the copyright rights in the images from the photographer.

Think Before You Sign
If you are a model, read the model release carefully. Never sign the release without reading and understanding it. Many of them allow for unfettered use by the photographer, including the right to license the images to others. Treat the images as if they are going to end up all over the internet, on billboards, on products or marketing campaigns you hate. Chances are, that’s not going to happen, but it could.

I write not just as a lawyer, but also a model myself. On a number of occasions, I have written and signed my own model release. Models may give up substantial rights when signing these documents, so it’s not a decision to make lightly.

What Could Invalidate a Model Release
Even if the model release was written by a lawyer and appears to valid on its face, there are situations where a model release might be invalid due to the circumstances surrounding the shoot:

  • The model was minor (Depending on your state, minors may not be able to sign contracts or they can withdraw their consent upon reaching the age of majority.)
  • The model was an adult but lacked the capacity to enter into a legally binding contract. (These people usually have an appointed guardian to sign for them.)
  • The model was intoxicated. (In general, intoxicated people can’t enter into valid contracts.)
  • The model was forced to sign the contract under duress. (You can’t get a valid contract if you use threats or force to get someone to sign it.)

There can also be instances where the photo in question was taken outside the scope of the model release and so the model release does not apply.

I get questions every day about photography, image rights, and copyright. If you are a photographer or model (or aspiring to be one), it’s imperative that you understand these issues. Many disputes can be avoided with well-written contracts and accurate information. I’m constantly doing work in this area, so if you want to keep up with what I’m doing or if you need help, you can contact me directly or check out the other posts and videos I’ve done on the legal side of photography. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

How to have an Anonymous LLC

Anonymous by Poster Boy NYC from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s the easy answer: You don’t.

It may be impossible to own an LLC anonymously. There’s always a paper trail and financial records that eventually lead to you.

Burying Your Identity in Your LLC
Creating an LLC requires paperwork and money. The Articles of Organization that are filed with the State are public records. If you didn’t want to have your name on your company, you set up layers of companies that own companies that own your LLC so it would take longer to trace it back to you. You could also set up a blind trust where you are the beneficiary. That would keep your name off the public records, but there would still be documents somewhere that show the connection. (Because business filing are public records, I often recommend that clients not use their home address as their business address. There are many low-cost mailbox services.)

Even if your name is not on the company as an owner, there would still be the records of payments to you. It may require a court order for someone to gain access to this information, but it would be telling if the majority of payments from the company (or companies if you ran it through multiple entities) went to a single person.

When someone asks how to be an anonymous owner of a company, it raises a red flag for me about their motivations and their business activities. If a company or person is controversial or engaging in potentially malicious acts, it may raise enough eyebrows that someone will be motivated to take a closer look at its inner workings.

How to Run a Website Anonymously
Conversely, it may be possible to operate a website relatively anonymously. You would have to essentially divorce yourself from the website:

  • Use an email address for the website registration that isn’t otherwise connected to you. Don’t access this email using your phone.
  • Pay for the website with a pre-paid credit card.
  • Use a web hosting service that protects your information.
  • Only access the website using public wifi. Never access it from work or home.
  • Turn off your phone when working on your website – so the GPS in your phone will be turned off.
  • Consider using an app that masks or mocks your GPS location when you access the internet.

Even when you take all the precautions to be anonymous online, be prepared to be unmasked at anytime. Whatever you say anonymous, you best be ready to own it once your name and face are attached to it.

If you want a resource regarding the legal dos and don’ts regarding posts on the internet, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need legal help regarding internet privacy, you can contact me directly or a social media lawyer in your community. I post about these issues on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Should your Child have a YouTube Channel?

Tire Swing by RichardBowen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Tire Swing by RichardBowen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I recently spoke at a family law conference on how to get usable evidence from social media. Afterwards, a woman approached me and said her 11 year-old child asked to have YouTube channel and several his friends already had channels. She wasn’t sure if she should let him and asked for my input.

Google Says No
The easy and obvious surface-level response to this question is Google (which owns YouTube) doesn’t allow anyone to have an account that is under 13 years old. (That’s the rule for all social media accounts in the U.S., by the way.) However, there’s nothing wrong with a parent creating a separate Google account to use with their child to create content for a YouTube channel.

Teachable Moments and Skill Development
My first response to the idea of a child having a YouTube channel, is that it’s a great opportunity to develop their skills – both as a content creator and as a person interacting with others online. Before letting the child create video content, have a serious planning discussion with them about what they want to create, their motivations for creating it, and what topics/language are off-limits. All these things should be written down; it’s good practice for creators to have a thoughtful for plan for what they want to create. You can help your child develop their video editing and copyright writing skills, as well as learn the rules about using others’ content and doing product reviews online that comply with the federal rules.

The parent(s) should review the child’s final draft of a video before it is uploaded to their channel to make sure they’re following the rules. This is an ideal opportunity to talk with your child about the potential long-term effects of a piece of content, and how they would react if they receive feedback from peers or teachers about it at school. Also, you want to decide in advance whether you will allow comments on your child’s videos. It may be prudent to turn these off, at least at first. Allowing your child to post content online comes with the responsibility of being mindful about who is trying to interact with them – either through comments, email, or direct messages.

Safety First
If you let you child have a YouTube channel, regardless of their age, be sure you’re monitoring both what they’re communicating to others (publicly and privately) and what others are saying to them. If they are under 18 years old, you should have the passwords to all their accounts and their phone so you can effectively and closely monitor what they’re doing online. The younger they are, the more oversight they need. Use effective software to monitor and protect your kids. Here’s some real-life advice from geek parent Susan Baier about her experience raising a geek child:

I also strongly recommend that you read the books by security expert Gavin de Becker, especially The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift. If you want a resource about the legal dos and don’ts about social media for yourself and your children, I suggest you read The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. The lessons in there apply to all social media platforms, including YouTube. If you want to connect with me and my thoughts about children using the internet, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

FTC Compliance Friendly Reminders

Praise by bark from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Praise by bark from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bloggers, vloggers, and other social influencers frequently asked me about the rules regarding disclosure when partnering with companies and using affiliate links. With holidays (and therefore holiday gift guides) on the horizon, it seemed apropos to share some helpful reminder for how to comply with the FTC’s disclosure rules when you get free product or are compensated for providing a review.

It’s All About Transparency
The purpose of the FTC’s disclosure rules is transparency. When people consume content, they have a right to know whether the creator has a relationship with the company or product or whether it is 100% their independent opinion. Knowing that a person has a relationship with a company, which may or may not include financial compensation, will impact whether a person reads or view a post and how much weight or credibility to give it.

To comply with the transparency requirements of Federal law, social influencers must clearly and prominently label the content they were compensated to make as advertising to avoid misleading consumers.

Disclosure First
Many influencers put their notice that they were compensated for doing a post or that a post has affiliate links at the end of the content. This is likely insufficient to comply with the rules because consumers need to be informed before they form an opinion about a product that they’re reading a sponsored post or an ad.

In general, you should make a disclosure in the post itself and shortly before the reader receives the advertising message. The FTC recommends putting it in front of or above the ad’s headline. Additionally, the notice need to be clear and unambiguous language. To determine whether your disclosure complies with the FTC, consider your notice from the perspective of the reasonable consumer who’s seeing your content for the first time. Will he/she notice the disclosure statement and understand that they’re reading or seeing an ad?

The FTC says terms like “ad,” “advertisement,” or “sponsored advertising content” are likely to be understood but terms like “promoted,” or “sponsored by [XYZ]” don’t comply with the disclosure requirement because they could be interpreted as merely underwriting the content without influencing the statements made in it.

So what does this mean? If you write a review of a product that you got for free or got paid for writing the post about it, you have to disclose at the top of the post that you have a relationship with the company. If you use affiliate links, you have to clearly disclose those relationships as well, prior to posting the link. (In some circumstances, using the term “affiliate link” may be insufficient if the average consumer doesn’t know the difference between links and affiliate links. Yes, this happens – I recently attend a blogging conference where an attendee assumed that the terms “link” and “affiliate link” were interchangeable.)

Every Post, Every Platform
When you have a relationship with a company or are compensated for writing about a product, you have to disclose it to your audience every time you write about it – regardless of the platform it’s on or what device people use to access it. Every single time. (Yes, I know this is annoying, but it’s what the FTC requires.)

Disclosure is Everyone’s Responsibility
Everyone who is involved in the creation or distribution of native advertising should review the content to ensure that the required disclosure is present and that the material does not mislead the audience about the product or the relationship between the writer and the company. This includes middle men like ad agencies. If anyone is found to be in violation of the FTC rules about native advertising, they could be fined by the FTC – the company that created the product or service, the writer, and anyone in between who was involved – up to $16,000. That’s a stiff penalty for forgetting or refusing to disclose a relationship.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I recommend the FTC’s article, Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses. If you want to chat with me about these issues, like how to incorporate these requirements into website terms of service or contracts with third party content creators, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Someone Posted a Photo of Me Online Without Consent

Photographer by Robert Cooke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photographer by Robert Cooke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

People come to this site almost every day with questions about whether someone can post their picture on the internet without obtaining consent. Some people even ask if it’s a crime or whether they can sue.

Sue for what? Which of your rights have been violated?

Of course, each situation must be evaluated on its merits. It’s possible that a person is concerned with an intimate photo, a photograph that was taken in a bathroom, or circumstances where they are being harassed. I’m not saying that there aren’t situations where a person’s rights may have been violated; however, the frequency with which I get these questions makes me wonder whether most of these people have a legitimate legal concern or merely hurt feelings.

No Expectation of Privacy in Public
Remember, in the U.S., there is no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public (exceptions of course for places like bathrooms, confessionals, etc.). So, if someone snaps a photo of you that is less than flattering, and they post it on the internet, as long as they are not violating your rights, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Maybe they took a photo of you not putting your shopping cart away, walking around with your skirt tucked into your underwear, or texting while driving. I think there are much more important things to talk about in general and definitely that are worth of documenting permanently online; however, it’s not illegal. Just like it is not illegal to be stupid, it is not illegal to post stupid things online. The internet is full of stupid.

So What Do You Do?
Well, if you truly believe that you’ve been the victim of a crime or that your rights have been violated, contact the police or buy an hour with a lawyer to review your situation. You may be in a situation where your legal rights have not been violated but the posting itself and violates the terms that apply to the site where it was published. In that case, reporting the image to the website administrators may be sufficient to get it removed.

If it is purely a situation where you are merely angry or upset, and the person won’t remove the image when asked, let it go. If you’re embarrassed by your behavior, don’t do it again. If you’re in a situation where the image shows up if someone Googles your name, you can try to bury it by manipulating the search algorithm. Hopefully it’s not a situation where you screwed up so badly that the image or situation is going to dominate the search results for years to come.

On the Flip Side
If you’re thinking about snapping a picture of someone, check your motives. If you’ve taken a picture and you have the impulse to share it online, double and triple check your motives. What are the benefits of sharing this image? Are you being vindictive? If the situation were reversed, would you want an image of you in a similar situation posted? What if the person in the picture was your parent or significant other – would you post it then?

The person in the photo isn’t the only one at risk of losing face. Do you want to be the jerk who not only took this photo, but also shared it? You could harm yourself as well as the other person.

What is socially inappropriate and what is illegal are often two drastically different standards. My rule of thumb for this situations is the same: Think before you act. Think before you post. If you want to talk more about internet privacy or social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Creeper Cosplay Video | Is That Legal

Gradisca Cosplay Photo Contest 2014 by chripell from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gradisca Cosplay Photo Contest 2014 by chripell from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A contact at Phoenix Comicon sent me a link to an amateur video from this year’s event. Apparently it’s feuled quite a bit of discussion regarding the legalities of shooting video at pay-to-attend events.

My initial thoughts about this video: It’s creepy.
This guy knowingly and intentionally videorecorded women without their consent and posted the compilation online in a way that objectifies them. It’s all about their bodies. Did you notice he taped at least one woman while she was walking away from the bathroom? Eww! And what’s with that disturbing music with women crying on it? This guy is right up there with creepy yellow coat man from the 2010 No Pants Light Rail Ride.

What made this video so disturbing? Greg Benson of Mediocre Films does videos of women in cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con and I’ve never had an issue with it. I watched one of his videos from last year for comparison:

I don’t have an issue with this video for several reasons:

  • He obviously gets consent from the women to film them. There’s no hidden agenda.
  • He interacts with these women. Even when he’s enjoying the beauty around him, Greg treats these women like people, not a peep show.
  • The video has a dual purpose – one of which is showcasing these stunning costumes. (Hey Greg – if you do another video like this, would you please call it “Women of Comic Con” instead of “girls?” It’s a better embodiment of these women’s badassery.)

So is Creeper Guy’s video from Phoenix Comicon illegal?
Probably not – at least based on the footage posted. It’s not illegal to be a jerk.
If he had a ticket to the event, he wasn’t trespassing. The polite thing to do at a con is to ask permission before taking photos of attendees, but it’s not required.  He could have been a guy walking around looking like he was shooting general footage of the event, which lots of people do.

So far he’s not running ads on the video in question, so he’s not publicizing anyone’s image without permission. Phoenix Comicon is an event that’s open to the public to attend so there’s no expectation of privacy on the expo floor.

Is what this guy did vile? Yes.
Should he be banned from future Phoenix Comicon events? Perhaps, but that’s not my call to make. With a crowd of over 80,000 in attendance, it would be easy for someone to slip in.

However, instead of dealing with this situation from purely a legal perspective, I encourage the community to be aware of creepers at events like Phoenix Comicon. If you see someone leering at others or doing vulgar things like filming people’s asses as they walk, call them out and/or report them to event security. If you see someone being harassed, report that too and support that person. We have an obligation to keep an eye on each other.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the view, as long as you can do it appropriately. Remember, cosplay is not consent.

This is an issue impacting the entire geek/con community. If you believe you are the victim of a crime at a con, contact law enforcement for assistance. If you have questions about social media law or internet privacy that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Checklist for Social Media Influencers

Selfie Stick by R4vi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Selfie Stick by R4vi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Some people, including a lot of average joes, have such a strong social media following that brands want to send them free products to review or to partner with them for a native advertising campaign. If you are lucky enough to get such an offer, you need to understand the rules and read the fine print closely to make sure you’re not setting yourself up to be accused of an FTC violation. Don’t count on the other side to educate you. As we saw in the Lord &Taylor situation, companies who seek to partner with social media influencers don’t always know and follow the rules themselves.

If I were presented with an offer to do a product review or be part of a native advertising campaign, these are some of the questions I would ask in regards to the offer.

Influencer-Company Relationship
What is the company asking me to do?
What is the company giving me in return?
Is there fair give-and-take between both sides? (If not, it’s not a valid contract.)
Are expectations and deadlines clear?
Who is my point person at the company if I have any questions?

FTC Compliance
Does the offer require that my review be truthful?
Does the offer require me to give an accurate review of the product? (Bonus points for companies that require reviewers to write what they like and dislike about the product.)
Does the offer require that me to disclose my relationship with the company – both in my review itself and also any promotions I do about the content on social media (i.e., use #ad or #sponsored)? (The FTC requires this so if the company doesn’t want you to do this, turn and run. They don’t know the basic rules about native advertising.)

Intellectual Property
Does the offer clearly state who owns the copyright in what I create under the agreement?
By accepting the offer, do I grant the company certain rights to use my work?

General Legal Provisions
Is there a written contract? (It’s avoids confusion when all the provisions are in a single document and has  provision that states, all the terms of this agreement are in this contract.)
Is there a severability clause so if one provision is illegal, the rest of the contract remains in place?
What are the rules for modifying the agreement?
Which state law governs the agreement?
If there’s a problem between the company and me, how will we resolve it?
Under what circumstances will the agreement be terminated?

Final Words of Wisdom
Contracts are relationship-management documents, ideally written to protect both sides. If a company offers me a contract with provisions I dislike, I request changes. (I’m the queen of changing liability waivers.)

And if there’s a word or provision you don’t apprehend, ask! Don’t sign a contract that you don’t understand, because as long as it’s legal, you’re stuck with it.

If you are a serious influencer and get offers to do product reviews or participate in campaigns, treat your social media activities like a business. Consider hiring a lawyer to create a contract template for these situations when the other side doesn’t have a written contract. At the least, use this checklist to do a preliminary review of the offers you receive.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

Treat your Blog as a Business

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you are making money from your blog, or you want to make money from your blog, you have a business. Treat it like the business that it is. You are no longer a hobbyist; you’re an entrepreneur.

Form a Business Entity
Creating a business entity is a relatively straightforward process. In general, it takes paperwork and money. Check with your state’s corporation commission or the secretary of state office to determine how much it will cost – because they significantly vary from state to state. If you have questions about whether you should form a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation or whether you should form your business in your home state or elsewhere, as your accountant. Most clients I work with in Arizona opt to form Arizona LLCs.

The purpose of having a business entity is to protect you (the person) from liability. With a proper business entity, if the company gets sued, only the business assets will be on the line. Your personal assets (home, car, stuff, dog, etc.) will not be at risk.

Separate Bank Account and Credit Cards
You begin to protect yourself from liability by forming a business entity. The way you perfect that protection is by having separate bank accounts and credit cards for the company. You need to have a clear delineation between where you the person ends and the business begins. This often referred to as maintaining the “corporate veil.”

When you receive money as income, make sure business income passes through the business accounts. Additionally, when you spend money, use your personal accounts to pay for personal expenses (mortgage, groceries, etc.) and use the business accounts to pay for business expenses (office supplies, webhosting, etc.). To steal a line from Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

See your Accountant
Unless you’re a CPA, no entrepreneur should do their own taxes. You can probably make more money if you take the time you would need to do your own taxes to work on your business while someone else does your taxes for you. Having an accountant has saved me a lot of time and headaches. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold.

I love my accountant. He makes doing my taxes so easy. He’s been there to answer all my questions about what can and can’t claim as business expenses and what other information I should track, like mileage.

If you’re new to operating your blog as a business, or if you’ve been doing everything on your own up to now, do yourself a favor and hire a lawyer for an hour. Have a consultation to educate yourself about the legalities of running your business. As an entrepreneurial blogger, you want to be familiar with business formation, contract basics, privacy, copyright, trademarks, and the FTC rules regarding promotions and product reviews. There is a lot to know, but it’s not so complicated that a lay person can’t grasp and apply the concepts.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.