If You’re Going to Represent Yourself

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“David and Goliath !” by Indyblue from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve received a number of questions from people who want tips about representing themselves in a lawsuit. I’ve also had the experience of being in a lawsuit where the opposing side opted not to have counsel. These are my recommendations if you’re considering appearing in a lawsuit in propria persona (“pro per”).  

Don’t.

The saying is true: The lawyer who represents themselves has a fool for a client. This is doubly, or triply, true for a non-lawyer who represents themselves, especially if the other side has counsel.

You will be at a considerable disadvantage from the start because you likely don’t know the processes involved in litigation or the civil rules of procedure that apply in that court. (Law students take at least one semester of civil procedure.) If you self-represent, you may often feel like you’re flailing while trying to understand the basics of being in litigation.

Your opposing counsel may have years or decades of experience, and will use it to their strategic advantage on behalf of their client. The court will be somewhat understanding of your disadvantage, but “I didn’t know” is never a valid excuse for any mistakes you make. You will be held to the same standards as represented litigants and lawyers

Check the Court’s Self-Help Website

Many court websites have a self-help section for people who are representing themselves. This webpage may have forms and guide about the process to assist you.

If you have a law library, use it! This may be part of the court or a law school. Make an appointment with the law librarian. They are there to help you, and I’m sure you won’t be the first pro per litigant to ask them for help.

Invest some time to learn about the claims in your case. Learn the elements of each one, what is the burden of proof and who has it (including when it may shift from one side to the other). Matching elements of the claim to evidence and supporting it with statues and/or case law is a large part of litigation.

Don’t Ignore Documents and Filings

Do not ignore any documents that are served on you via email or regular mail. Saying “I never received it” won’t save you if the other side followed the court’s procedure for service. These may be things like interrogatories, requests for admissions, and other types of discovery. Not responding to these may be detrimental to your case.

Additionally, there are limited times in which you can send such documents to the opposition, and if you don’t send these to the other side, you may lose precious opportunities to acquire information for your case.

Consult a Lawyer

Some people represent themselves because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer. I get that. The legal system is biased towards people who can afford counsel. The saying “You can get as much justice as you can afford” has a lot of merit.

Even if you can’t afford to be represented by counsel, you can still hire a lawyer that you periodically consult to help you create a strategy, craft your arguments, and prepare your filings.

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit, consult a lawyer immediately! The deadline to respond comes up fast, and if you don’t respond, you could lose by default. If you want to sue somebody, even if you want to represent yourself, you should still consult a lawyer to prepare an effective complaint.

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Why Contracts Have So Many Definitions

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Iron Horse Bicycle Race Durango Women 10″ by Eleaf from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This week, I had a chat with someone who was concerned about the media release provision in a contract to be in a cycling race. It said by signing up for the race, you give the organizers permission to use any video or images of you, your likeness, you name, and your biographic information for any purpose without need any additional information from you. He was worried that the race organizers could sell his life story without his permission.

I’ve seen this provision on every race contract I’ve signed – and it wasn’t one of the ones I altered. This type of provision is on lots of contracts, event tickets, even on A-frame signs around the state fair. Organizers want to use the photos from their event to promote the organization and its activities. They want to be able to make you their poster child if they snap an amazing photo of you. They want to be able to caption a race photo with “Chris Jones, 37, of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico . . .”

These organizers don’t want to sell your story to make the next Lifetime Movie. I know this because (1) they don’t know your life story and (2) they’re not in the business of sell stories for the next movie of the week.

This conversation reminded me of why contracts have so many definitions. Sometimes they start with pages of definitions. They help eliminate confusion and avoid disputes when questions arise down the line.

If there is a dispute about the meaning of a word in a contract, and both sides have a reasonable interpretation of it, the court will side with the person who didn’t draft the contract, unless the contract states otherwise. (Check your jurisdiction’s rules to see if the same rule exists where you live.)

Going back to the would-be racer, I told them if they had concerns about what a term in the agreement meant, they should email the organizers for clarification. (Never be afraid to ask questions about a contract before signing it.) If there’s a dispute later surrounding the meaning of the provision, they would be able to use the email response as the basis for their reasonable belief as to what it meant and to counter any contradictory statement by the other side.

If you’re in a situation where you need to create, draft, or negotiate a contract, please call a contract lawyer for help. (This week, my editor sent me an FYI email about a company in Columbia that is selling a “Pack Of Professionally Drafted Legal Contracts” for $24. I responded with “Let me know how that $24 contract holds up when challenged in court.”)

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How to Write a Decent Trademark Cease and Desist Letter

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Stop by tangi_bertin from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A friend recently forwarded me a trademark cease and desist letter he received and asked if it was anything they needed to worry about. Now, I always tell my clients to take such letters seriously, and give them their due consideration, but then I read this particular letter. It was possibly the worst cease and desist letter I’ve ever read. It was written by an entrepreneur, not a lawyer, so I automatically mentally cut the sender some slack, but still, it was bad.

If you’re in a situation where you suspected a competitor is violating your trademark rights, please get your lawyer involved. And if you’re going to write your own cease and desist letter, make it a decent one.

Make Sure Your Trademark has Likely been Infringed

A trademark has two components. It’s the name, logo, slogan, etc. that you’re claiming as a trademark plus the product or service on which you’re using it. (It’s possible for two completely different companies to have the same trademark, like Delta Dental and Delta Airlines.) For many companies, the first trademark they register is just the word or phrase that is the name of your company or product/service. This is called a “word mark.” It’s just words, no images, graphics, or sounds.

When you have a registered word mark and someone uses the same word or phrase, it’s not automatically a violation of your trademark rights. For example, Paris Hilton has registered trademarks for “That’s Hot” for “multimedia entertainment services” and apparel. These trademarks do not give her the ability to stop everyone from ever using the phrase “that’s hot,” as a descriptor. If a person is not using the word or phrase you registered as a trademark for their business, it’s likely not trademark infringement.

What to include in a Cease and Desist Letter

While I don’t endorse the idea of business owners writing their own cease and desist letters, it happens. If you’re going to write your own, these are some of the things I’d tell my client to include in their letter if they insisted on doing it themselves:

  • Provide the legal name of the person or company that owns the trademark,
  • Identify your trademark including the registration number and a screenshot of the trademark listing from the USPTO database,
  • Identify the alleged infringing activity, preferably with a URL and/or screenshot if it’s online or photographs if it is not, and
  • Clearly state what you want the recipient to do in response to your letter with a due date for compliance.

When to get the Lawyers Involved

If you encounter suspected trademark infringement, call your lawyer. Even if you want to send a cease and desist letter yourself, call your lawyer first. They can help you make sure there’s a real trademark issue that requires your attention and help you craft the cease and desist letter.

Many of my clients want to reach out to the alleged infringer to speak business owner to business owner, first. They want to send friendly but clear cease and desist letter, and give the other side a chance to resolve the matter “without having to get the lawyers involved.” I have helped write many a letter that included that phrase. The other side doesn’t need to know that I’m already involved.

If they don’t respond favorably to my client’s friendly letter, then I will follow it up with a strongly worded nastygram that demands that they cease all uses of my client’s intellectual property and failure to do so will result in litigation (or whatever consequences my client has selected).

My recommendation for clients is to refrain from making threats in cease and desist letters unless they’re willing to follow through with it. Otherwise, if the other side calls your bluff and you don’t follow through, you will lose all credibility and any further demand letters will likely be ignored.

If you threaten litigation in your cease and desist letter, be ready to pull the trigger if the suspected infringer doesn’t comply with your demands. Some people won’t take you seriously until a lawsuit has been filed. A lawsuit will force them to deal with the situation because of the court-imposed due dates or risk the effects of a default judgment if they ignore it.

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How to Legally Use User-Generated Content

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Selfie by dr_zoidberg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s a question I get from companies and their marketers: What are the legal dos and don’ts for using user-generated content? These are situations where a company wants to use a photo, video, or text created by one of their fans, usually from a site like Instagram, Facebook, or Trip Advisor. Many companies merely want to approach the person through the platform where they found the content they want to use and ask for permission to use it. While this strategy is convenient, it may not be in the company’s best interest.

Using Content Within a Platform

It’s easiest when a company wants to share someone’s post within the social media platform – e.g., sharing someone’s Instagram photo on the company’s Instagram. Many social media sites build this option into the platform where you don’t even have to ask for permission to share someone’s post on another’s account.  

Of course, I’m a risk-adverse lawyer so I tell my clients to review the terms of service first to see what happens just in case it turns out the person who created the post you shared didn’t have the right to do so and now you have to deal with the fallout. Depending on the circumstances, I might contact the person to ask the person if they took the photo (which would indicate if they’re likely the copyright holder), try to verify that the original poster is complying with the platform’s rules

Using Content Across Different Platforms

Here’s where it gets a little more complicated. These are the situations where you want to take content from someone’s post on one platform and share it on a different social media site, your website, or another third-party platform. For this situation, I recommend you have a contract drafted by a lawyer. You could have them create a template for you if curating user-generated content is part of your marketing plan.

If I were creating a contract template for obtaining permission to use content created by a user or fan, I’d likely include terms such as:

  • The user owns the IP in the content: either they created it or they have permission to use it
  • The user has authority to grant the company permission to use the content
  • The user grants the company a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, sublicensable, paid-in-full, royalty-free license to the company to use the content for any purpose without needing the person’s consent or credit, including the creation of derivative works (or in the alternative, that the user grants the company a copyright assignment)
  • The user will reimburse the company’s legal fees and damages if it is accused of wrongdoing because the company used the user’s content

Such a contract would also include boilerplate verbiage, like a dispute resolution provision that states how the company and user will resolve disputes if one occurs.

Always Apply Reality

In any potential legal situation, be sure to apply reality. If a company wants to use a photo with two people in it, whoever posted the image may not be able to speak on behalf of the other person in the photo, and you may need release from identifiable people to avoid being accused of violating their right of publicity.

Additionally, it will likely take longer to get permission if you want to use images and other content across platforms. Be sure to build that into your timeline if your marketing plan involves using user-generated content.

There are also those who may question whether it’s worthwhile to have a lawyer create a contract for these circumstances. When there are no issues, a contract may seem superfluous; however, contracts are imperative in situations where there is a dispute and/or the parties forget the terms of their agreement. When you work with your lawyer to create you contract, make sure it has provisions that will apply to situations that are likely to occur as well as the worst-case scenarios.

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Side Hustle Contracts

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Do the Hustle! by Joybot from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Note: The links for Chris Guillebeau’s books are affiliate links.

I admire people like Chris Guillebeau who run with ideas and make stuff happen. He’s written a number of books, including The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. The most recent book of his that I wrote was Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days where he walks you through, day-by-day what you should do to launch a side hustle business. It’s a good book, but Chris and I disagree about how to approach contracts.

Day 14: Contract

Chris calls Day 14 “Set Up a Way to Get Paid.” This chapter covers selecting a payment system, creating invoices, and using simple contracts. For your contract, he says you only need to specify what you’ll do, how much you’ll get paid, when you’ll get paid, and “any protections you require.” Chris also says that that you can communicate all of this via email without needing a separate agreement document.

<cringe><shudder>

While Chris is technically right, I would never advise a client to operate their business this way. This is the type of contract that works when nothing goes wrong; however, contracts exist to save you in two situations:

  1. When there’s confusion about the parties’ obligations, and
  2. When there’s a problem or dispute.

Always Have a Separate Written Contract

If there is situation where lawyers are needed to resolve a dispute, the first thing I ask my client is “Where’s your contract?” If it’s a series of emails, and perhaps some text messages, and phone calls or conversations you claim occurred, the first part of my job will be compiling the terms of the agreement.

When there’s a single agreement, all the terms are in one place. And when the contract requires that all changes must be in writing and signed by both parties, it minimizes the risk of confusion or a he-said-she-said situation.

When you don’t have the terms of the contract in a single document, it opens the door for complications in the future. In many cases, it’s more cost-effective to have a lawyer create a contract template for your side hustle than to have to hire one to piece together the terms from the parties’ communications and actions. 

Minimum Contract Terms

In general, I don’t advise people to write their own contracts (unless they have a law degree or sufficient contract experience), but here are the basic terms I’d expect to find a side hustle contract:

  • Parties to the contract
  • Purpose of the contract
  • Payment terms, including what happens if the customer doesn’t pay (e.g. entrepreneurs who require ½ the fee up front and ½ upon completion)
  • Intellectual property terms – related to creation, assignment, and/or license
  • Where and how problems will be resolved, including the venue, jurisdiction, and which state law will govern
  • If/how the parties can make changes to the contract
  • “Entire agreement” – all the terms in the contract are in the agreement
  • “Severability” – if the contract has any invalid terms then the parties will throw those out and the rest of the contract will remain
  • A provision that states if a party chooses not to use a right granted by the contract, they don’t waive their right to use it in the future

When I approach a new contract for a client, I try to mentally walk through the customer’s journey and address the problems that the client is trying to avoid and pre-plan how you want to deal with problems when they occur.

Using a Lawyer for your Side Hustle

If you’re going to have a side hustle, I recommend you sit down with a lawyer for an hour. Tell them your goals and your budget. An understanding lawyer will tell you about the legal issues you need to be aware of, can do a quick trademark search to see if the name(s) you want to use are already registered, and they can tell you want you can do yourself and what tasks you should hire a lawyer to do for you.

A Few Final Thoughts

Thinking about what missteps I’ve seen companies inadvertently commit, here are a few extra tidbits of information:

  • The terms of service for a website, online course, or mobile app are contracts. Write them or have them created with care.
  • Please don’t rip of another company’s terms of service and just change out the company and product names. That’s a recipe for trouble. You don’t want to represent that you do things that you don’t. I’ve also seen situations where the company’s terms of service says that it’s governed by New Jersey law and the company has no connection to that state. (The company they stole the terms from was in New Jersey.)

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Legal Checklist to Protect Online Entrepreneurs

Labib Ittihadul from Flickr (Public Domain)

I was recently asked to create a list of what legal steps an entrepreneur should take if they operate solely online to protect their business. The person who asked appears to be primarily a YouTuber. Here’s the list I created for him: 

1. Consider having Two LLCs. One is a holding company for the intellectual property and licenses the IP to the other LLC to use it. This way if the holding company is sued for infringement, there are no assets to be collected if the holding company loses the lawsuit. We recommend this tactic for many businesses, not just online entrepreneurs.

2. Create an Operating Agreement if the LLC has more than One Owner.  Yes, this includes if you go into business with relatives, best friend, or romantic partner. This is a master document that lays out how the company will operate, each person’s obligations and responsibilities, and how the owners will address problems when they occur.

3. Move your Website to a Server Outside the U.S. The reason for doing is if there is ever a court order against the website, it will be more difficult to enforce if the website is house by a company outside the U.S. and not bound by U.S. law.

4. Register your Trademarks with the USPTO. So many legal issues could be minimized or avoided if every company properly registered their trademarks. This could include company names, product names, event names, logos, and slogans. When you have a registered trademark, you can stop a competitor from entering the marketplace while using a trademark that is confusingly similar to yours. If you have a strong international presence, it may be wise to register your trademarks in multiple countries.

5. Create a Copyright Strategy. Many professional content creators do guest posts for and collaborations with others and allow guest posts on their sites. It’s best to have contract templates for these situations that include clarification about who owns the copyright, what the other person gets, any limitations regarding the content, and an indemnification clause if appropriate.

Additionally, your copyright strategy should address when and how you can use others’ materials. You should have an understanding about fair use and where to look for materials that come with a license to modify the original as well as a license to use it for commercial purposes.

6. Consider Registering your Copyrights. You do not have to register your copyright to get your copyright rights, and you do not have to register everything you create; however, it’s beneficial to have the discussion about what you might want to register. You are required to register your copyright if you want to sue for infringement. Additionally, I frequently recommend registration to people who want to license or sell their copyrights.

7. Create an Action Plan for Addressing Suspected IP Infringement. Decide how you want to respond to suspected infringement before it occurs, so that you or your lawyer can be prepared to respond based on your desired outcome when it happens. Depending on how you want to respond, there may be things you need to do before the infringement occurs to best protect your rights.

8. Have a Contributor Contract Template. This is the contract you will use with people who contribute content to you, your site, your channel, or a social media account. It will state what rights each party has to use the content – most likely that they own it, and they grant you a license to use for certain purposes. It should also have an indemnification clause to protect you in the event you’re accused of violating another person’s IP rights or other legal wrong by using what the contributor provided to you.

9. Have an Influencer Contract Template. This is the contract to use when brands hire you so that the expectations on both sides are clear, and you state that you comply with FTC regulations. (You should probably have internal documents about FTC compliance as well.) Companies that hire influencers may have their own contracts that they want to use, but having your own template will help you analyze their contract to see how well it addresses your needs and concerns.

10. Create Website Terms and a Privacy Policy. These documents may need to comply with U.S. privacy laws, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and manage the expectations of visitors to your website. Many of the new privacy laws interfere with how many companies collect and use others’ personal information. These issues are complicated. Many people copy another content creator’s terms and privacy policy, but that could be a recipe for disaster if what you use is insufficient for your needs.

This may not be a complete or comprehensive list of legal steps to take to protect your business. It’s always best to consult a lawyer who understands the legal implications related to your business, preferably someone to specializes in business, intellectual property, and internet law. Hopefully this list gives you a place to start to evaluate your legal needs as a professional content creator or online entrepreneur.

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GDPR: How to Handle a Data Breach

Photo by Christoph Scholz from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Every company that sends commercial emails to people who reside in the EU or process their data has to comply with the new privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law has specific rules about how companies have to respond when a data breach occurs. It’s so much better than the current rules in the U.S.

Report the Breach to Supervisor within 72 Hours

When a data breach occurs, the employee must report the breach to their supervisory authority without undue delay, and where feasible, within 72 hours of learning of the breach. This notice must include the likely consequences of the breach and the measures the company is taking to mitigate the potential adverse effects.

The only exception to this rule is if the breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons. The company doesn’t have to report the breach if it’s will not likely cause harm to those impacted.

Report the Breach to Consumers

In addition to reporting the breach up the chain of command, the company, without undue delay, must notify the people’s whose data was compromised if the breach is likely to result in a high risk to their rights and freedoms. The law doesn’t specify a number of days or a rubric to determine what is notification “without undue delay.”

Companies should notify the effected persons unless it would require a disproportionate effort. In that case, notification may be made by public communication.

There is an exception to this requirement. The company does not have to disclose that the data breach occurred if the personal data would be unintelligible (e.g. encrypted) to whomever stole it or if the risks have been sufficiently mitigated that adverse results are unlikely to occur.

These new requirements are fantastic. These will hopefully eliminate the problem of companies waiting weeks or months to disclose to impacted consumers that their personal data was hacked.

You can learn more about this aspect of the GDPR here:

Remember, if you are subject to the GDPR, you must comply with this law by May 25, 2018 when it goes into effect.

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: Protecting Personal Data

Image by Descrier from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the new privacy law that goes into effect on May 25, 2018. Every company that sends commercial email to the European Union must comply with it, even if you’re not located in the EU. The purpose of this law is to obtain consent before using a person’s personal data and to adequately protect it.

Protection by Design and Default

The GDPR requires that you take adequate precautions to protect the personal information entrusted to you. The law does not specify exactly what you must do protect this data beyond the requirement that you take the appropriate technical and organizational measures considering the cost, available technology, and why you are processing individuals’ data. The level of security should correlate to the level of risk related to the nature of the data and what you’re doing with it. Additionally, you should only process the necessary data to fulfill your purpose for doing so.

Another requirement of GDPR is that the people who have access to the data subjects’ information are only permitted to process it per the data controller’s instructions. This is a rule that every organization should have: only those who need access to the data subject’s information should have it, and it should be limited to only for the tasks for which they need it.

You can learn more about these requirements here:

Maintain a Records of Processing Activities

The GDPR requires certain companies to maintain a record of all their processing activities. These companies fall into one of two categories:

  1. Companies that employ 250 or more persons.
  2. Companies whose work with data subjects’ information presents a high risk to the data subjects’ rights, or the companies process data that falls into one of the following special categories:
  • Racial or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade-union membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person
  • Data concerning health
  • Data concerning a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation

As a company with no employees (just me running this show) and the only information people give me are their email address and name, I don’t have to maintain this record. If I did, it would only be a list of newsletters I sent and the service I use keeps my list protected behind a password.

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: Full Disclosure Required

«Via sicura» by Falk Lademann from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m all about preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as it applies to content marketing. This rule applies to every company that sends commercial emails to anyone in the European Union. (If you don’t know where everyone on your list is located, assume at least one of them lives in the EU.) We’ve already talked about how, under this law, when you want to add a person to your email list, you must get their specific informed consent and you must be able to prove that you obtained their consent to be on your list.

The GDPR requires, when you obtain this consent, to provide the person (aka data subject) with the following information:

  • The identity and contact information of the controller of the data subject’s information or their representative;
  • The contact information for the data protection officer (if applicable);
  • Your purpose for processing the data subject’s information and legal basis for doing so;
  • The period of time the data will be stored;
  • The data subject’s right to request erasure or corrections of their data or to restrict the processing of their data;
  • The data subject’s right to withdraw their consent;
  • The data subject’s right to lodge a complaint with the supervisory authority; and
  • Whether the data subject giving their information fulfills a statutory or contractual obligation.

If you want to process the subject’s data for another purpose, you must tell the person in advance, and when a person’s data is processed for direct marketing purposes, the data subject has the right to object at any time.

At the first reading of these requirements, my first thought was that the signage at conferences where vendors collect business cards would have to become much more complicated to comply with GDPR. I thought about how this firm will comply with these requirements. People voluntarily add themselves to my email, so I don’t know where they live. I will be adding double opt-in consent for my email list, and I believe the most effective way to comply with these requirements is to include this information in the confirmatory email.

You can hear more about these requirements here:

We have to comply with these rules by May 25, 2018 when this new rule goes into effect.

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.

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.