Why Getting Your Legal Ducks In A Roll Is All Important For The Course Owners & Website Owners In General!
In this episode WP-Tonic show we’re talking about the legal matters course entrepreneurs might not be aware of connected to their businesses. We’re talking to our guest Sarah Kornblet of Destinationlegal.com Sarah is an online attorney, business owner and passionate traveler and regular contributor on the Social Media Examiner website.
This weeks show is Sponsored By Kinsta Hosting
Cindy: Hello everyone and welcome to WP-Tonic Show. This is episode number 327. I’m Cindy Nicholson, the co-host of the show and I’m here with Jonathan Denwood. But I am excited to kick off the show today with a guest that I’m really looking forward to chatting with. So, today, we have Sarah Kornblet from Destination Legal. Sarah, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?
Sarah: Sure. Thank you guys so much. Excited to be here. I’m Sarah. I’m the owner of Destination Legal. I’m an attorney who works with coaches and other online business owners to help them protect their businesses and grow in a smart and savvy way.
Cindy: Awesome. Well, thank you, Sarah, and thank you for joining us. We also have Mr. Jonathan Denwood here today, the creator of the WP-Tonic Show. Jonathan, would you like to say hi and tell us what you’re up to?
Jonathan: I love you, Cindy. I’m Mr. Jonathan Denwood. I just love it, Cindy. Hi there folks. I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a support specialist with WordPress with an emphasis of supporting those that want to have a membership or a learning management website and want to get success. And before I push it back to Cindy, I quickly want to talk about one of our great sponsors and that’s Kinsta Hosting. And what is Kinsta? Kinsta Hosting is a premier WordPress only hosting specialist. I think they’re better than WP Engine myself. They’re premier hosting. They use Google Cloud as their framework and they offer all the bells and whistles basically, staging site, one-click backup, the latest version of PHP. So, if you’re a Developer type and you’re really looking quality hosting for your clients, I suggest that you go to Kinsta. And if you’re an entrepreneur or owner of a membership website or a Learning Management System, you need quality hosting if it’s going to be successful online. And I suggest that you look at Kinsta as well.
There will be all banners and other links on the show notes supporting this interview. They are affiliate links so not only would you be helping Kinsta out if you click on those, you will be helping the show out as well. And we host the WP-Tonic website and some of our clients on Kinsta and they’re just fantastic. So I’m just going to throw it over now to the better half of this show, to Cindy.
Cindy: Well, thank you, sir. So, as Sarah mentioned she’s an attorney for online entrepreneurs which I thought it made a lot of sense to bring her on the show today because it’s often an area that’s often overlooked when it comes to people creating online courses and membership sites. They’re worried about the technology, they’re worried about the content, but they often overlook all of the legal aspects they need to protect themselves. So I thought Sarah could give her perspective as to what we need to have in place in order to protect our passion as you say, Sarah. Before we get into that, maybe you can just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into what you’re doing today?
Sarah: Sure, absolutely. I started sort of as a traditional attorney at a law firm in Washington, D.C. About 6 months in, I realized it was not going to be for me. I could not see myself working towards this corner office partner track. I’ve always had a huge travel bug. So, after about 2 years, I was kind of lost. I knew I wanted to leave. I was looking at the Peace Corps and teaching English in Asia. Just all these things. I ended up sort of leaving that career path for a while and working in International Health Law which was completely different, but it gave me the ability to travel which was great. I got to go all over Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but I also, in that job, realized that traveling for work is not the same as traveling for fun.
So after a while, I realized that I just wasn’t happy and again, I couldn’t see myself doing this forever. I took to Google. I started looking at “Work while you travel. Travel while you work” and this was back in 2012 and it was the first time that something popped on my radar and that was called online business. I didn’t even know it existed. I stumbled across a couple of guys that were running businesses from their laptops living in Thailand. I started listening to their podcast and within 3 months, I had left my job, cashed in my 401(k) and was on an island in the Philippines learning how to start my first online business which was called the Bootstrap Lawyer which was similar to what I do now, but a little different as well. I was just starting out.
I didn’t know anything. So, in the past 5, 6 years, it’s been not an even road. I know that many of us in online business it goes kind of like this. So, I did some consulting work. I started a few businesses. But it wasn’t really until the end of 2015 when I started Destination Legal that things just really fit. I was traveling during this time. I was living in Europe and Asia meeting tons of online business owners and so many of them were coming to me with questions about contracts and trademarks and websites. As much as I fought it, because I was like I cannot be happy being a lawyer because I just associated it with misery, I was like there’s such a need here. And it was around that time that I also discovered the coaching world and again, just a huge need for legal help. People were scared. People didn’t want to go to big law firms.
They were worried it was going to cost them $5,000 for one contract. They didn’t understand what they needed. And so, what I really brought to the table with Destination Legal was just helping people understand. It’s one of my goals to make legal not so scary, to talk about it in ways that other people, normal people can understand because it is so important. As you said, a lot of business owners just kind of put it to the side and I think part of it is it’s overwhelming, you don’t know where to start and then the other misconception is just that it’s going to cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. And fortunately, that’s not the case.
So, for the past couple of years, I’ve just been digging in and building up Destination Legal and working with tons of business owners and like you said, it’s my passion helping others protect their passion because what I just hate to see if someone build a membership site or launch a course or launch this great product and then have it shut down for some sort of legal issue that easily could have been prevented.
Cindy: Yeah. Entering into the online world you’re just opening yourself up to a whole entire world there that you really need to be mindful of. So it’s helpful from your perspective to have that online perspective as opposed to just a lawyer you just may find on the street. So it’s nice to have that.
Cindy: That’s great. It’s really good to have people like you out there. That’s for sure. Our audience, they either are interested in creating an online course or a membership site, so what can you tell us about the legal matters that we want to protect ourselves when we are thinking about creating an online course or membership site? What kind of things do we need to make sure we have in place?
Sarah: Yeah. Great question. So, the number one most important thing is Terms and Conditions. This might also be called Terms of Purchase, Terms of Service. The name doesn’t really matter. What’s important is what is actually in the document. And this is a contract. It’s a legally binding agreement that you want your members or your customers to agree to at the point of purchase. So, any time you’re selling something, you want to have some sort of legal document in place, not only to protect the money that you’re making but also to protect yourself from liability, which you open yourself up to in any of these instances which I’ll talk about in a second.
But Terms of Service, Terms and Conditions. It’s, again, something that they would agree to at the point of purchase. We all do it by clicking here, by pressing Buy Now. I agree to these terms. We do it at Crate & Barrel, we do it when we buy on Amazon, anything like that. And so, this document basically just outlines the service that you’re offering. So, if it’s a course, it might include how many modules, are there videos, are you recording calls, how long do you grant people access, things like that. If you’re a membership site, it might include sort of the basics of what you would have on your sales page. What’s included in the membership site? Is there a Facebook group? Things like that. But then, for both of these, it also is going to include what’s the payment and refund policy, especially for membership sites, how do they cancel, is it an annual payment, what happens if they miss a payment, do they lose access to the membership site, things like that. And then, disclaimers.
Talking about liability are super important. And what disclaimers are, they’re just statements basically releasing you as the business owner from liability. So, if I have a membership site that is all about teaching Yoga. Maybe you’re instructing people how to lose weight through Yoga. Maybe you’re teaching other people to teach Yoga themselves. You have this great membership site. You put up some videos. I go out and I try your video and I end up with a broken ankle in the hospital and I might try to come and blame you. If you have these disclaimers in place, then that’s not going to go anywhere.
You might have a course on how to build your business through Facebook ads. I take your course. I read everything. I go out and run my first ad and somehow I end up with a $3,000 bill from Facebook in 24 hours.
I’m pretty upset. I’m going to come back and try to blame you. It’s not to say that people are mean or out to get business owners. But every once in a while you come across these people and you want to protect your business and your sales from them and disclaimers do that. Other things that are in Terms of Service are copyright intellectual property protection. So if you’ve put together this great course, you have all these PDFs and modules and content, you want to make sure that that’s protected. And so, the intellectual property section might outline what your customers can and can’t do with the information you’re giving them.
They can consume it for themselves but they can’t reprint it, slap on their logo and try to resale it. Other things are warranties, limitation of liabilities, we talked about a little bit. Something that’s often forgotten I see a lot in some of these terms are how to resolve a conflict. So you don’t want to end up in court no matter where you are in the world, so often these types of contracts will include dispute resolution, how do you resolve a conflict, perhaps through meditation or something like that. I like to think about these contracts as playing offense. It’s much better to play offense legally than to play defense.
This is also great customer service because it gives your members, it gives your customers a place to go if they have specific questions or if they come back to you with something, you have something to refer to. So if someone comes back and says, they’ve been using your service for 6 months and you have a 30-day refund policy, you can refer back to that. Also, something to point out is that the contract really is a starting point. So, if someone comes after 6 months and wants a refund, it’s your prerogative to give them that or not. But the contract sort of is a starting point for you to refer to.
Cindy: And so, if somebody does come back to you after than 6 months and you do have this Term of Purchase already established, what do you recommend they do?
Sarah: So you can either just point your customer to this, “You agreed to this. I’m sorry you’ve passed the refund point.” Or you can give them the refund. At that point, it’s almost like a customer service question for the business owner. But at least if you have the contract, you can say, “I’m sorry you’ve missed the refund.” If you don’t have that in place, it means you have no refund policy and then you really do have to give them the refund or else they’re going to try to charge back and all that kind of stuff.
Cindy: So the Term and Conditions. Any other documents that you think or anything else you should have in place if you have these courses or membership sites?
Things like that. And then, we have Terms of Service and disclaimers for your website. Now, this gets a little bit confusing because people call Terms of Service website terms, Terms and Conditions, but it is a completely different document than the Terms of Purchase for your membership site or course. This is specifically for your website, for your newsletter, for your blog. And what the website terms do is they sort of set the guidelines for what people can and can’t do with the information on your website. Just like you might be putting out content for your course, you’re likely also putting out content for your website, whether it’s a blog, a video, a newsletter. And just by putting out that content, again, you’re opening yourself up to liability.
So Terms of Service say what people can and can’t do with the information. They include those disclaimers to protect you from liability. They include some copyright information. Again, dispute resolution if someone wants to bring a claim against you. So, again, the website is sort of a separate house that you want to protect just as much as you want to protect your course or your membership.
Jonathan: That’s great. We need, Cindy, to go for our break actually Cindy.
Jonathan: So, we’re going to go for our break folks and we’ll be back and we’re going to delve some more with Sarah on all the legal side that you tend not to want to think about but you should be. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.
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Sarah: Yeah. So that’s a great question. I wish I had an amazing answer for you, but as you know, in the wild, wild west of the Internet, it’s hard to do that, but there are a couple steps you can take. So, content meaning the blog post, the PDFs, the modules, the videos, anything that you’re creating for your course or your membership site is protected automatically under Copyright Law. And copyright is the same in virtually many countries and what Copyright Law says is that if you create something and you put it out into the world, you publish it, whether it’s on your membership site, on your blog, on Facebook, you own it automatically and you get to say what can or cannot be done with it.
So someone can’t just come and take your blog post and put it on their website. Now, we know that people do that, so how do we actually protect it as you asked. So, even though copyright protection is automatic, if you don’t register your copyright, then you can’t legally take action against someone. So, I’ll talk about that in a second, but there are a few steps you can take no matter what. The first is if you see that someone has stolen your content, reach out to them. A lot of people, once they get caught, they will stop and they’re kind of mortified and they don’t want to be called out on something like that. If that doesn’t work, you can send a cease and desist letter, which is basically written by an attorney, strongly worded, scary language to get them to take it down which says, “If you don’t take it down, then I’m going to take further action.” You can contact the website host that is hosting the stolen content and let them know that they’ve infringed upon your copyright and you need to take down that website.
So that will work assuming you can track the website and it’s not some company that’s kind of off the radar in China, which does happen. So those are the steps you can take up to the point of registration. If you register your copyright, whether you’re in the US or Canada or the UK, you can register specific chunks of content with the government. And what this means is you file an application, you might submit your entire course at once, you might submit a quarters worth of blog posts, you might submit an e-book, you might submit 10 videos and what this does is it registers a copyright with the government and then that allows you to actually sue somebody for copyright infringement if it’s stolen and in the US, you automatically will get monetary damages. So you automatically will get money.
We see this a lot with images. People taking images and using them and not realizing that they were somebody else’s and a year or 2 down the road, you get a letter from an attorney that that picture that you used of a pickle 3 years ago on your blog is going to cost you $7,000. And so, there’s no defense for this. If you’re caught, you have to pay. So there is some benefit to going that extra mile of registering your copyright in your country and that’s often accepted by other countries as well. And so, if you have a book or a course that you really want to protect and take that extra step, then you might look into registering. It’s not something you need an attorney for. In the US, it’s a simple application. It’s like 35 or 50 bucks each time and it’s something that might give you a little bit more peace of mind.
Jonathan: Would you also advise a lot of people when they’re setting up an online membership site, that they probably should do that in a business entity, i.e. a limited liability company or a corporation?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. So, having an LLC, a corporation, a company in your country is certainly an important step to take. It’s not the first step. I see a lot of people getting stopped in their tracks because they’re like, “I’m not a company. I can’t do anything yet.” That’s not true. You can put up your sign. Once you make a sale, you are officially a business owner. You don’t necessarily need that in place to start your membership site. But I absolutely would suggest having that in place within the first 6 months to a year. Some attorneys will say after you’ve made your first $50,000. Because what that does is it gives you a layer of legal protection. It separates your personal and business asset. If you’re doing something like trademarking or copyrighting, you want that to be in the name of your business because that can also then become a saleable asset. So, if you build up a brand and you own the trademark, then you sell your business, you want to be able to pass that along.
Jonathan: Thank you for saying that and also putting that part in that you should look at this at the right stage after you’ve proven the concept of the business, it’s generating some income, that’s when you should look maybe to put it as a limited liability or a corporation. I think that was a fantastic point, Sarah. Another question is, when I was talking about copyright and protecting your brand, this is a grey area, isn’t it? I’ve people totally lift somebody else’s website and I’ve seen people totally lift somebody’s courses. I mean the whole course or multiple courses. They’ve absolutely copied the images, the videos, everything and it’s on somebody else’s website. But I think there’s also a grey area and I just want to see what are your thoughts about this and if you agree or disagree with me because you’re the expert? I’ve also seen people say, “Well, you copied this article.” But when you checked over it, it’s not been plagiarized at all. Am I correct in saying you can’t copyright general ideas though? Am I right about that?
Sarah: Yes, you are right. You cannot copyright an idea. So, I do get that question a lot and I recently just came across a woman in a group that was like, “This woman is taking my Facebook post every day and a day later posting them in her own group and she’s changing a bit of the words, but a friend of mine noticed that it is my work.” And she was like, “What can I do?” So, you’re right. You can’t copyright an idea. Think about that in terms of business. There would be no Lyft because Uber would have said, “Well, that’s our idea.” So, unfortunately, you can’t copyright an idea and it is kind of a fine line between what is plagiarizing, what is, you know, if someone picks your course and takes it over, that’s pretty black and white.
But if they take your course and they change a lot of the words and do some things, it’s a little bit of a tougher sell. But again, if you’ve registered the copyright, there are some tests and things that can be done to show how many of the words like is it substantially similar, things like that. But you are correct that you can’t just, unfortunately, there’s some saying like, “No idea is new” or something like that.
Jonathan: Well, it’s to find balance, isn’t it Sarah?
Jonathan: Because if it was so restrictive, it would destroy any kind of intellectual discussion and it would be quite damaging, so the law has to find a balance, doesn’t it?
Jonathan: I think I agree with you, especially if you have copyright and also protected your brand. The way I think this is helpful is when it’s grossly obvious that they’ve just lifted blatantly course content from your course and are commercially selling it.
Jonathan: To me, that’s a totally different level, isn’t it? That’s blatant, isn’t it?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I’m still shocked the nerve that some people will have. I’ve had clients, we’ve worked on their trademark and built this brand and they’ll come to me with some, even this happened one time. A previous employer just took their name and basically their website and started a new one. Luckily, if you have some of the trademark and some of these protections in place, you can get them to take it down. But I’m always shocked at kind of the nerve that some people will have.
Jonathan: Right. I think we’re going to come to the end of the podcast show. Sarah’s kindly agreed to stay on and continue the discussion, which you’ll be able to watch and listen to on the WP-Tonic website and YouTube channel. Sarah, how can people find out more about you, your knowledge and everything about you Sarah?
Sarah: Absolutely. You can head over to destinationlegal.com. You can find me on Facebook at Destination Legal. I also have a group where I talk legal and travel usually, with a glass of wine at Cocktails and Contracts. You can find me over there.
Jonathan: You’ve sold it to me, Sarah.
Jonathan: You’ve sold it to me, Sarah. It sounds delightful. Cindy, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to Cindy?
Cindy: Well, people can find me at TheCourseWhisperer.co. So if you’re looking to create a course and need some help in terms of the content creation, that is my zone of genius that I can help people with.
Jonathan: Yeah. Cindy’s fantastic at that. And if you need help to get your Website up and running and deal with all the technology headaches, come to WP-Tonic. We have a number of services that we can offer to somebody looking to build their first membership site or support existing membership sites. That’s what we specialize in. We’ll be back next week with an expert in marketing, legal, anything that might be able to help you with your membership site, marketing in general or WordPress. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.
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