Being strong isn’t just an important aspect of fitness, it’s an important aspect of being a business owner. As an attorney for entrepreneurs, I have had the pleasure of working with a few people in the fitness entrepreneurial space and no one understands the importance of building a strong business quite like them. So, rather than write about some far off topic in intellectual property or contract law I figured I would put together a little Q & A of the most frequently asked questions I get from those of you interested in getting your business legally protected and stronger every day.
PS feel free to search #buildingstrongbusiness on Instagram, you’ll find a lot of my posts and a lot of information!
Where do I even start?
Don’t worry, if you’re just starting out or have a great idea for a business but haven’t started just yet and you’re completely confused as to where to start legally speaking, you’re not alone. I get messages and calls regularly with the “I have no idea what even matters” statement. There are a lot of ways I can go with this depending on the type of business you have, where you are in the process, and what your long-term goals are but I will answer this question with the most likely scenario.
Set up a business entity! The type of entity you chose is going to depend on a variety of things but generally speaking forming an LLC is a great way to go. If you plan to take on investors, or are really thinking big a C corp or an S corp might be right for you, but that is something for you, your lawyer, and your CPA to discuss. Setting up an entity is important if for no other reason than to protect you from personal liability. If in your line of work there is a chance that someone will sue you for something having that personal liability protection will keep that person from reaching your personal assets. The in’s and out’s of business entity formation could be a series of articles so I won’t get into it here but put it on the list of things you need to consider when building your business.
Do I need a contract if I am working with my best friend?
I love this question. The answer is yes. If you’re working with your mom, your best friend, your own dog (ok maybe not dog) you will want a contract in place detailing the relationship and the goals you are trying to accomplish.
Not only do you need a contract in place between you and any “partner” but you also want contracts in place between you and anyone who works for you or any third parties that you might end up working with. All of these contracts will be similar in that they should explain what the relationship is, who is doing what, when money is being paid, what happens if someone breaches the contract and termination options. If this is a contract between you and an employee or independent contractor language protecting your intellectual property and confidential information will be important too.
If you do nothing else when you first start your business at least have contracts in place. This won’t keep you from being sued or stop problems from arising, but it will give you something to look to when that happens. Even if it is a simple document handwritten by you, that is better than nothing at all.
I have an idea, can I trademark/copyright/patent it so no one steals it?
I know you have a million-dollar idea, but that’s not how this works. You cannot do any of the above for an “idea.” Patents have a minor disclaimer to that but for purposes of this article, and the types of ideas coming into my office the answer is no.
You cannot protect intellectual property until it is fixed in a tangible medium, or developed and ready to be used in commerce if not already being used. People are very concerned with ideas being stolen by competitors and rightfully so, however, IP registration won’t necessarily stop that from happening in the beginning. What you can do if you are speaking with investors or working to find a partner for your business idea utilize non-disclosure agreements and incentivize people you are speaking with not to steal your idea. Will an NDA keep them from stealing it? No, but it will allow you to recover some damages if they do. If you’re working in the tech world, NDA’s are not as widely used or accepted, but in most other industries they are used often.
My side hustle is getting bigger, and now my employer wants in what do I do?
So this one is a bit trickier in that the answer could be you do nothing because your employer has some rights in your “side hustle.” As awful as that sounds if you signed an employment contract and your employer had you assign rights to anything you create that is related to the work you do. And determining if the side hustle is related to your current job can be months if not years of costly litigation.
Here are a few ways to tell if your employer might have rights in your work. It was created during the course of employment or with your employer’s resources. Steer clear of working on your side hustle in your downtime at work, and do not by any means use a work computer or other resources to work on it. Also, when you first get hired somewhere please please review the employee contract for assignment language and get clear on what the employer is seeking the rights to. If your main job and your side hustle are very similar in type of work, you will have a more difficult time keeping the rights to your work so keep that in mind.
I am not saying it is not possible to develop a thriving side hustle while working full time for another company. It is definitely possible. What it will come down to is your status as an employee vs an independent contractor, what you have been hired to do, what the contracts say, and how you developed that side hustle. To be yours and yours alone, that side hustle needs to be on the side, as far away from your day job as possible both literally and figuratively.
Someone keeps stealing my content how do I handle this?
First things first, you need to figure out how you can and cannot use content or images from the internet that aren’t yours. Lucky for you I wrote a blog on this recently so check that one out first.
The reality is, people aren’t sure what they can and can’t use so it is highly likely that at some point in your business building career you will find that your content has been usurped for use by someone else. I recently had a makeup artist tell me her entire website has been copied word for word image for image more than once. So here are the basics of what I think you can do.
- Utilize all notices. Those copyright and trademark symbols we all know and love aren’t just for decoration, they’re for letting people know your material is yours and you intend to protect it.
- Send a nice letter to the person stealing your content (after documenting the infringement of course) and ask them to take it down. Sometimes that works simply because the other person didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. But if it doesn’t…
- Send a not so nice letter telling the person you will take legal action if they don’t want to take the content down. Be sure to continue to document any infringement or use of your content.
- File a DMCA takedown request with the website hosting the stolen content. I’ve written about this too. It’s a pretty simple process and almost all websites have a mechanism for filing this.
- If none of the above works, get an attorney involved to send a cease and desist letter.
- And if none of that works, you may need to file a lawsuit (so be sure your copyrights are registered).
Content theft is a huge issue on the internet and with the way we do business today it is an occupational hazard, but it doesn’t have to be as harmful as it could be if you take steps to stop it.
This is just a short list of questions…
Honestly, we would be here for days if I went through all of the types of questions I get regularly. These are a good start though as I get some form of the above almost daily. I have a tendency to tailor my articles and other content based on what I am asked about most, so for more just click through my articles, posts or my YouTube videos. If you have questions for me or need help with anything you read today never hesitate to send me an email at Shannon@montgomerypllc.com and let’s be honest, I can always use inspiration for my content so ask away!
I hope I can help in #buildingYOURstrongbusiness.
Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic