I am currently working with a wonderful group of people to get their membership site up and running and of course, legally protected. Membership sites are becoming more and more popular amongst the online entrepreneurial crowd particularly influencers who have a large following and are looking for ways to monetize what they’re putting out.
A membership site allows you to provide premium content, knowledge, and help at a lower price point than a one-on-one service might cost allowing you as the entrepreneur to impact more people. It’s a win-win! But, before we get too excited, there are many things to think about before you launch. Business entity formation, contracts, and intellectual property to name a few. Today we’re going to check out what your contracts should look like, and how to protect the intellectual property that your membership site will have.
Terms of Service
First and foremost, you are going to want to make sure that your site has a terms of service that is detailed to your membership site and your offering. And, you’re going to want to make sure that each and every person that signs up for your site has to proactively accept these terms before their membership begins. To check out the best way to make something like this legally binding on your customers, go back and read this article.
Your terms need to cover quite a bit of information (this is not an exhaustive list) but here’s some of the main things to think about:
o Pricing structure and payment terms
o Refund policies
o Renewing the membership
o Membership site permissible uses by site members
o Intellectual property protections (more on this in a second)
o What is included in the membership (the more detail the better)
o Any necessary disclaimers
o Liability waivers if necessary
o Dispute resolution
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Your terms and conditions or terms of purchase are going to be dependent on what your site does, and how you want to handle things. So, of course, work with an attorney to draft these up and do an audit of the site pre-launch to make sure they’re presented the right way!
Intellectual Property concerns
To quickly recap, intellectual property (IP) is the content you create, your brand or product name, and even the goodwill of your company. When it comes to a membership site you are going to be creating and providing a ton of content to your members, that’s the whole point right? And we want to protect that content as well as the name of your site!
Your terms of service agreement should cover this issue (but we won’t stop there). Your agreement should clearly state that you are claiming all the rights in your work. Every video, picture, PDF, module etc. is copyright protected whether you get a copyright registration or not, so no one else can use it. Let your members know in the agreement that they are not allowed to take, use or distribute anything from the site and if they do you will have legal recourse for this.
I also highly recommend getting the main things your site offers, registered with the Copyright office. This application is much easier than a trademark application and much cheaper (usually $35.00). And I do think it is something you can do on your own, if you have time. So all of your modules, or big teaching aspects of the course should get registered. You need the registration if you want to sue someone for copyright infringement i.e. stealing things from your site, so don’t delay on this one.
Avoiding Trademark Issues
Finally, I have talked about this at length and if you flip on through the trademark section of my blog you’ll find many articles on when to register, why and even a bit of the how. For today I am going to stick with this, do a proper trademark search before you decide on the name for your membership site and your new business venture. You do not want to run into an issue where you are infringing on another’s trademark rights.
You can perform a Google search, and even a search of the USPTO’s website but if you don’t know what you’re looking at it won’t help you much. Determining whether or not something runs the risk of infringing on an existing trademark is a multi-part analysis that an intellectual property attorney can easily help you with. This is one of the steps in the process of building your membership site that I suggest you don’t skimp on. Hire a professional, and save yourself time and money down the road.
When it comes to starting a membership site it can be fun and exhilarating. It is just like any other business so you need to take steps to set it up right the first time, and keep it protected as you build and grow! If you’re working on a membership site and need some help, send an email to Shannon@montgomerypllc.com and let’s work together to get you moving!
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.