Proving Consent Under the GDPR

“Consent Is Sexy” by Charlotte Cooper from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect on May 25, 2018. According to this new law aimed at protecting individuals’ privacy and their personal data, all companies that send commercial emails to any person living in the European Union must obtain a person’s consent to collect and process their data – and be able to prove it. This applies to anyone who collects and processes data from persons living in the EU, including non-EU companies.

The key to compliance is specific explicit consent.

Double Opt-In Required for Email Lists

If you have an email list, the GDPR essentially requires you to use double opt-in when adding someone to your list. This will help resolve the problem of companies adding people to their mailing list without consent.

So many times, when I’ve sent a question, bought a product, or dropped my card in a company’s drawing for an iPad at a conference, my inbox has been bombarded with the company’s newsletter and “special offers.” We all agree this is poor form, right? If I want to be on your list, I promise I’ll add myself.

It happened just this week. A new connection on LinkedIn sent me an email to invite me to coffee. While we were exchanging emails to arrange a meeting time, he added me to his list! When his newsletter hit my inbox, I let him know that adding me to his list violated Wheaton’s Law and he blew his opportunity to have coffee with me.

Under the GDPR, you have to verify you’ve obtained consent to send someone commercial emails. This also avoids problems like someone adding you to a list without consent as a joke or to annoy you.

Written Declarations of Consent

If the data subject gives their consent in writing – perhaps at an expo at a conference or by filling out a form on your website, you must explicitly tell them what they’re signing up for. Their consent must be obtained:

  • On an easily accessible form,
  • Using clear and plain language, and
  • Distinguishable from other matters.

This means consent cannot be buried in your terms of service or some other process or fine print.

Right to Withdraw Consent

One of the requirements of the GDPR is it must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give consent. Companies that comply with the U.S.’s CAN-SPAM Act know that every email  they send “must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.” Email services, like Mail Chimp, already have this feature by automatically including an “Unsubscribe” link in every newsletter its users send.

Here’s more on the consent requirements for the GDPR:

If you want more information about GDPR, please watch this site and my YouTube channel because I’m creating a substantial amount of content on this topic. You can also send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients). I use my mailing list to I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested.

You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

GDPR Compliance: Informed Consent Required

“Content Marketing” by Luis Osorio from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the new law aimed at protecting individuals’ privacy and their personal data. All companies that send commercial emails to any person living in the EU must comply with this law when it goes into effect on May 25, 2018 – including non-EU companies.

If you collect or process personal data from any natural person residing in the EU, the GDPR requires you obtain the person’s specific, informed consent that unambiguously indicates the person’s wishes or it must be given by a clear affirmative action.

When you collect a natural person’s (aka data subject’s) personal data, the GDPR requires you to do the following:

  • It must be done lawfully, fairly, and with transparency.
  • Data must be collected for a specific, explicit, and legitimate purpose.
  • The data collected must be limited to the data necessary for the purposes for which it will be processed.
  • You must erase or rectify inaccurate data without delay.
  • You must keep the data for a period that is no longer than necessary for the purpose for which it will be used.
  • You must protect the data subjects’ personal data with appropriate security measures.

Requiring specific informed consent, means you can’t hide the consent information in your terms of service. The data subject has to know what they’re signing up for and give their explicit consent to use their data. If you give people who visit your website the option to add themselves to your mailing list, that, since you won’t know where they live (especially if all they’re providing you is a name and email address), the sign-up form should comply with the GDPR requirements.

I suspect it also means that dropping your card in the bowl to try to win an iPad at a booth and a conference won’t be sufficient to establish explicit consent to add a person to your email list unless there’s verbiage adjacent to the bowl that doing so is a clear affirmative action of consent. Hmm . . . perhaps event organizers who have EU attendees should provide their expo vendors information about obtaining consent under GDPR.

If you want more information about GDPR, please watch this site and my YouTube channel because I’m creating a substantial amount of content on this topic. You can also send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients). I use my mailing list to I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested.

You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

If You’re Going to “Wing It” as an Entrepreneur

“Yay!!” by Subharnab Majumdar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Plenty of entrepreneurs start out as a person or two, a business idea, and a shoestring budget. They know their craft but have limited or not experience starting or running a business. They don’t know what they don’t know – and that’s what gets them into trouble.

Many entrepreneurs employ the “we’ll learn as we go” approach to operating a business. Often times these are smart people, but if they get too focused on doing their business that they don’t take care of business within their operation, it can lead to costly mistakes: thousands of dollars in legal expenses and painful heartache to try to fix a problem that was completely avoidable.

Real-Life Facepalm Moments
I’ve had countless times where a business owner comes to me for help and I cringe and think, “We could have helped you avoid this if you had come to us sooner.” This is just a sample of my facepalm moments as a lawyer:

KAWS “At This Time” Sculpture by Guilhem Vellut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

  • Owners who don’t create a business entity: put their personal assets at risk if the business gets sued;
  • LLC with multiple owners and no operating agreement: painful business “divorce” when things didn’t work out between owners;
  • Filing a trademark application with the USPTO that wasn’t trademarkable: the application might have had a chance if the description of the products and services was written more effectively;
  • Not filing a trademark and your competition files a trademark application that’s confusingly similar to or the same as yours: costly to make a claim against them and it may not be successful, which could force you to rebrand even though you were using it first;
  • Flawed customer contracts: doesn’t fully protect the company’s interests or address all likely contingencies;
  • Hiring a third-party contractor without a contract: if the person is hired to create an original work for the company, the company won’t own the copyright in what they hired the person to create and may have to pay to acquire it;
  • Working without a contract: so many problems. Whenever I get a call about a business deal gone bad, my first question is usually, “What does your contract say?” (Ideally, you want to be in a situation where, if the other side doesn’t perform as you agreed you can essentially respond with, “F*ck you, pay me.”)

If You’re Going to “Wing It”
If you are starting a business, my unsolicited advice is “Do your homework.” Invest the time to learn what goes into running your business and figure out what you don’t know. Reach out to established entrepreneurs to ask for their advice and avail yourself to resources in your community. In Arizona, we have dozens of these organizations like Arizona Small Business Association, Local First Arizona, and SCORE.

Even if you don’t think you can afford it, look into hiring a business and intellectual property lawyer for an hour. Bring them your ideas of what you want to do, and ask for their recommendations on how to make it happen. A good lawyer will respect your budget and tell you what you can do yourself and what you should hire a lawyer do for you. They can also recommendations resources to help you based on their experiences helping others.

If I’ve learned one thing as a lawyer it is that it’s easier and cheaper to prevent problems than to fix them.

True Story
Years ago, I worked with a new company where the owners hired me to create their operating agreement. I asked a lot of questions about things like intellectual property rights, compensation, and worst-case scenarios (e.g. disability of an owner) to create custom provisions for this document.

A few years later, the owners realized it wasn’t working out between then and decided to part ways. Their operating agreement dictated how they would address this situation, and they hired us again to revise the agreement to account for the exit of one of the owners. The process was professional, respectful, and cost-effective. I’m sure there were hurt feelings on both sides, but having this operating agreement helped the owners mange them and made for a smooth transition.

If you want more information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, you can send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients), and I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

The 10 Legal Commandments of Entrepreneurship

“Stained Glass Window Full of Light and Color” by Stock Photos for Free from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Link to www.stockphotosforfree.com/

Since becoming a lawyer in 2011, I’ve had the privilege of working with businesses on a variety of legal issues. Looking back at some of the most cringe-worthy moments I’ve experiences I’ve had and heard about from other business and intellectual property lawyers, I’ve come up with a list of the 10 legal commandments of entrepreneurship:

 

1. Thou shall have a business entity.

When you start a business, create a business entity – an LLC or corporation. Your accountant can tell you which option is best for you. By separating the business from your personal assets, you limit your personal liability if the business is sued. If you open a business without an entity (aka a sole proprietorship), you don’t have this layer of protection.

 

2. Thou shall maintain your corporate veil.

Creating a business entity is how you begin to limit your liability, and you perfect that protection with a “corporate veil.” This means having a separate bank account and credit card for the business, and the business accounts pay for business expenses and your personal accounts pay for personal expenses. This creates a clear delineation between where the company ends and the person begins in terms of your finances. If the company is sued and loses, it’s clear which assets belong to the company and your person assets are protected.

 

3. Thou shall have a signed contract at the beginning of a business relationship.

When you are hired by a client or hire someone, start with a signed contract. A contract is a relationship-management document. It is your master document that puts everyone on the same page regarding their responsibilities. This will help you avoid confusion and resolve problems. When a client comes to me with a problem with a customer, I often start by asking “What does your contract say?”

 

4. Thou shall be thoughtful and careful about looking online for a contract template.

Looking at templates online is a good place to get ideas about terms you might want to have in your contract, but don’t indiscriminately use any contract you find. You don’t know where it came from or whether it’s suitable for your needs.

 

5. Thou shall take the time to fully read and understand a contract before signing it.

Never be afraid to ask questions or request changes when considering a contract offered to you. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand, because if you sign it and later regret it, you may be stuck with it.

 

6. Thou shall respect others’ copyrights.
Do not use others’ work without permission. Create your own original content. It’s ok to be inspired by and quote others, but add something to the conversation. If we’re talking about images, do not pull any image you find using a regular Google search. Seek out sources that provide licenses for use, including images available under Creative Commons. If there is an image you want to use that’s not available, contact the copyright holder and ask for permission. To date, I’ve never had anyone say, “No.”

 

7. Thou shall check the USPTO before branding a company or product.

When entrepreneurs think “branding,” lawyers think “trademark.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a database where you can see what company names, product names, and logos others have applied for and registered for their products and services. You don’t want to fall in love with, or invest a lot of time and money in, a branding idea to find out that it’s already been claimed by someone else.

 

8. Thou shall outsource your taxes.

Every entrepreneur needs an accountant. Let them do what they’re good at.

In the time it would take you to try to do your own taxes, you could make more than enough money to pay an accountant to do your taxes for you.

 

9. Thou shall consult thy attorney.

Even when you want to do things yourself, talk to your lawyer to make sure you’re not setting yourself and your business up for future problems. My most cringe-worthy moments as a lawyer have been problems clients created for themselves that we could have helped them avoid completely if they had told us what they were thinking about doing. It is easier and cheaper to prevent legal problems than to fix them.

 

10. Thou shall act with integrity.

Put your energy into your own business, creating quality products or services for your audience.

You don’t need to stoop to bad-mouthing the competing, using trademarks that are confusing similar to others, or ride other’s coattails by doing things like using a web domain that will allow you to pull an audience based on someone else’ popularity (e.g., cybersquatting). Be so good at what you do that you don’t need to use others to make a name for yourself.

One last note: If you’re an entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Accountants help you make money, lawyers help you keep it, and your peers will share their experiences so you can learn from them. If you are an entrepreneur, or have plans to become one, I hope you have people around you who can help you be successful.

If you want additional information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

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.)

FTC Rules: Easy to Follow, Easy to Forget

Happy Lawyers Unpacking our Barbri Books

I have the pleasure of speaking at Content Marketing World next month, in part, about the FTC rules that apply to advertising.

Disclose, Disclose, Disclose
The key to complying with the FTC rules for native advertising it to always disclose when you have a relationship with a company. That includes when you get a product for free, when you have a personal relationship with an officer of the company, and when you use affiliate links. In all of these situations, regardless of the platform, you have disclose when you are compensated for sharing an opinion or have a reason to be biased.

These rules even apply on social media platforms, including Instagram and Twitter. Usually using the hashtag “#ad” is sufficient to comply with the rules. The purpose of the rule is to let the reader know about your potential bias before they form an opinion about the product or your review.

The fine for violating these rules are harsh – up to $16,000 per violation under the current rules.

See you in Cleveland!
I have a goal of finding a way to climb this thing.

So Easy to Forget
These rules are simple to follow, and it’s also super easy to forget to remember to include the proper notice in a post. I had first-hand experience with this over the last few weeks.

My colleague and I teamed up with Barbri to study for the California Bar Exam. They gave me my study course for free (I split the cost of my colleague’s course with him) in exchange for writing a weekly post about what it’s like to study for a bar exam while practicing law. We did 11 weekly posts, and I’ll write one more when we get our results this fall.

Early in each post, I repeated verbiage that disclosed our relationship with Barbri – that was easy enough. Where I had trouble was remembering to include “#ad” on every social media post. It’s easy to forget to remember to include those three characters. There were many mornings where I had to edit my posts or delete and re-do tweets to add in “#ad.”

I recently learned I’m not alone. According to research, 37% of publishers do not adhere to the FTC rules for labeling the material as sponsored. I’m curious to see if the FTC is investigating or fining content creators who don’t follow the disclosure rules.

I’m super excited to talk about the FTC rules and how to write effective contracts for content creators at Content Marketing World. It’s one of my favorite events on online advertising. I’m just as ecstatic about speaking as I am about learning from my fellow presenters.

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 mailing list, by subscribing here.

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.

Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon | Contracts Matter

Lightsabers Long Exposure by Brian Neudorff from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Phoenix Comicon nearly started with a bang – literally. On the first day of the con, Mathew Sterling, arrived at the Phoenix Convention Center with a loaded shotgun, three handguns, and knives, allegedly intending to kill actor Jason David Frank and police officers. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Following this incident, Phoenix Comicon changed its rule for the event and banned all prop weapons. Likewise, it instructed vendors who sell prop weapons to wrap them when completing a sale. This is where the problems between Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon began.

Ultrasabers sells replica lightsabers and was a repeat vendor at Phoenix Comicon. There was a dispute between the two, resulting in Phoenix Comicon demanding that Ultrasabers pack up their booth and vacate the premises on the Friday night of the con. It’s unclear exactly what transpired between these two companies. Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon each released a statement about this matter.

As a lawyer, one of my first thoughts when I heard about this situation was, “This is why contracts matter.” For full disclosure: I don’t represent either party in this matter. I didn’t write this vendor contract. I haven’t even seen it. I’m just an outsider looking in.

Contracts don’t exist for when things go right. Contracts exist for when things go wrong. A contract is a relationship management document; it helps prevent and/or solve problems between people in a relationship. It’s imperative that contracts are written with a thorough scope, and that the recipient review it thoughtfully before signing it, because if things take a downward turn, the contract will be the roadmap you rely on to achieve a resolution. Whenever a client or prospective client comes to me with a contract dispute, one of the first questions I ask is, “What does your contract say?” Footnote: The most common response I get to this question is, “We didn’t have one.”

In regards to Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon, I don’t know what actually happened between the two or whether this situation is resolved at this point. I hope this issue was a reminder, or perhaps a wake-up call, to people who participate as a vendor or performer to read their contracts carefully before signing them. If you sign a contract and you later regret it, there may be nothing you can do to change the rules of that relationship at that point.

If you have questions about your contract needs, 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.

Can You Afford to be an Entrepreneur?

Money Unfolding by CreditCafe.com from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I decided to launch this law firm, a good friend and fellow entrepreneur/lawyer warned me: “You’re going to need 6 months’ worth of money and 12 months’ worth of patience.” He was right. Fortunately, I had nearly 3 months from deciding to opening my practice until our first day in business, which gave me time to research and formulate my offerings and tap into community and professional resources to get my business off the ground.

Other entrepreneurs aren’t that lucky. They may not have the time and/or money to consult counsel prior to launching a new venture. Even on a condensed time frame or on a shoestring budget, your legal needs should be part of the discussion and plan.

Full-Time Venture Needs Financial Backing
If you want your new venture to be your full-time job, you need to be prepared for the potential financial strain that comes with that undertaking if you don’t have a spouse or other income supporting you in the meantime. You may have the gift of time, but you can only operate your business as long as you have income or savings to cover your bills. I don’t recommend jumping into a new venture without some type of financial safety net.

For entrepreneurs starting with a side hustle, you have the opposite issue. Your regular job can pay your bills while you develop your business, but it limits how many hours you can work. And depending on your circumstances, you job may not provide much money to put towards your business after paying your bills.

Make the Business Fund Itself
While every business needs some seed money to get started, make your business fund itself. When you decide to start a business, make a list of all the services, equipment, and supplies you think your company needs. Then step back and categorize each item as “Must Have” or “Nice To Have.” Ask a trusted colleague or friend to review your list and challenge you on what you need.

Many businesses don’t need much to get started. When I started this firm, I only needed an LLC, client contract templates, computer, scanner/printer, website, email address, phone number, and business cards. I gave myself a limited budget for supplies, bar dues, and to pay for my LLC and my accountant, and after that, I didn’t buy anything for the business until the business could afford it. (Even if my personal account could afford it, I made myself wait until the business could afford it.) It forced me to be scrappy, creative, and thoughtful about how I spend my money. It’s something I recommend to other entrepreneurs, including seeking out low-cost and free options when appropriate.

Prioritize
I regularly receive emails from people who need help with the legal side of starting a business, and some of them claim that they can’t afford an hour of legal services. Sometimes I wonder if these entrepreneurs didn’t do any research into the expected costs of a consult, contract, or trademark when creating their business budget. (When people can’t afford my firm, I’m happy to provide referrals to other options and/or tell them what things they can do themselves – like filing an LLC with the Arizona Corporation Commission. The forms and instructions are online.)

A fellow entrepreneur suggested that these potential clients don’t see value in paying for quality legal services. That sounds plausible. Many new entrepreneurs are focused on their expected success that they don’t want to ponder the what-if scenarios. In many ways, quality contracts and other legal services protect you when things go wrong. You often don’t need to rely on them when things go right.

My recommendation for all new entrepreneurs is to meet with a business accountant and a lawyer to make sure you’re starting out on the right foot, and that you understand the legal implications of your venture. If you have questions about business needs, 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.

Copyright Notice Done Right

Copyright Notice on Burn

Last weekend, I watched a documentary, Burn, about the Detroit Fire Department. (It’s an intriguing documentary film about these amazing people and how the economy’s crash impacted these firefighters and their community.)

As a lawyer, one of the things I liked about this film was the simplicity of its copyright notice. It had the standard FBI and Interpol warnings (which play through while I’m grabbing a snack), but this last notice caught my eye. It said, “This copy of ‘Burn’ is licensed for Private Home Viewing Only. Any other use is prohibited.” The notice went on to state how to request permission for other uses.

One of the complaints about the use of legal verbiage in everyday life is that it’s often too long to be worth reading, it’s filled with complicated legalese, and it’s in a tiny font. (How many times have you accepted the terms on a site without reading it?) This notice combats everything that’s wrong with the current systems:

  • It used plain language.
  • It was short.
  • It was readable.

A ten year-old could read this and understand what it means. I have never met a ten year-old that’s tried to read the FBI warning before watching a movie.

This notice made me smile. I wish more creators do things like this when declaring their rights and informing others how to seek permission for different uses. Sometimes complicated legalese is necessary, but generally not in mundane situations. Legalese in everyday life should use everyday language.

I’m an advocate of writing contracts and notices in plain English and keeping them as short as possible while still being effective.  If you have questions about your copyright and contract needs, 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.