Simple Steps To Legally Protect Your Online Course

22 Sep, 2021 By Bobby Klinck
Simple Steps To Legally Protect Your Online Course

If online courses are a part of or are the core of your business, or if you’re planning to explore course creation, this post is for you. When you’re creating online courses, it’s important that you take care of the legal stuff to ensure that you avoid trouble in the future.

That’s why we’re going to cover what you need to know: naming your online course, protecting your online course with a course agreement, and other agreements you need to set in place to protect your business.

If you already know you need to learn more about the legal stuff for your online business but don’t have the budget for a lawyer yet, I’ve got the perfect solution for you: my FREE training called Online Legal Foundations. This course is part of my completely FREE program, BADA$$ Online Marketing University (BOMU). Stop buying more courses and enroll in BOMU where you can get the training and support you need to build and market your online business.

Choosing A Name For Your Course

When you’re picking the right name for your business, you need to make sure that no one else has exclusive rights to the name you have chosen. Obviously, if someone else is already using that name, then you can’t use it. 

But what if the name is similar but not quite the same as the one you’ve chosen? In general, this is one of those areas where it’s not really worth the risk. If someone else is already using a course, podcast, or blog name that is very similar to what you’ve chosen and it would lead to confusion, then you should choose a different name. 

The easiest way to avoid this trademark drama is to do a trademark search. All you have to do is visit the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and navigate to the trademark section. TESS is the electronic search system for trademarks. Search the exact name or something similar in the registered marks.

Other Places To Search

It’s also a good idea to perform a Google search and go multiple pages deep to check for existing course names that are the same or similar to what you’ve chosen. In addition, search for social media handles and domain names. You’ll want to focus not only on the exact name but also check things that are similar. 

If you’re unable to find anyone else who’s using the same name, you’re good to go. Now, what if you found something similar? The next question that comes to mind should be: will people find it confusing and think it’s the same? How do you determine that?

Some lawyers might say that there’s no problem with using a similar name, but there’s a catch. They can’t offer you any guarantees. It means there’s still a chance, regardless of how small it is, that you’ll be sued. Ask yourself if it’s worth taking the risk. You can always come up with a much better name… one that won’t get you into trouble.

Legal Issues When Creating an Online Course

You also need to be aware of some additional legal issues that you may come across when you’re creating an online course

Copyright Issues

Always remember that when someone creates any kind of creative work, they hold the exclusive right to copy, reproduce, display, and promote their work. Anything you find online, whether pictures, videos, audio, or written content, they’re all copyrighted. You can’t use it without a license or some form of written permission from the person who owns the copyright for that particular creative work.

  • Images – You need to get a license for any image that you use in your online course. You can’t simply use or save any photo you find online because that’s copyright infringement. You need to find a reputable source that will provide you with licensed images. Pexels and Pixabay, for example, are free image resources, while paid options include Shutterstock.
  • Music and Video – You can’t just use any music for your online course. You also need to find a source that provides licensed music for personal or commercial use. The same goes for video. You can’t take a video from the internet and add it into your online course as a video itself. You need to get permission first.
  • Screenshots – Take my website, for example. Everything on it from the words, to the design, and to the arrangement of all the elements you’ll find on my website, you can’t screenshot any of it and include it in your course without permission. If you can’t get permission from the person to use their content, you can’t use it in any way. It’s a basic rule that you should not break.

Intellectual Property Rights

This might sound obvious, but you need to make sure that you own the legal rights to the material you use for your online course. If you’re working with contractors, employees, or guest teachers to create the content of the course, you need to have them sign a written agreement that will transfer the rights of the material over to you. This way, you’ll own, or at least have an irrevocable right to use, the content forever and without any exception, once you’ve paid them for their service.

Terms And Conditions For Course Agreements

When someone buys your online course, you should include a check box that they can click on if they agree to the terms and conditions of your online course.

Guarantees and Disclaimers

Your course agreement must clearly indicate whether or not you offer any guarantees. It must also include a disclaimer.

What They Get and What They Pay

You also need to lay out what they’ll get when they purchase your course and how long they will have access to it. And if there comes a time when you need to take the course down, you’ll have to set in place instructions on what they can do (e.g., downloading the course within a given period of time).

You should also have a section on what they pay, whether it’s full price or a payment plan, and what will happen if they don’t make a payment. You need to lay it all out clearly in the course agreement.

Refund Policy

A lot of entrepreneurs have a show-your-work type of refund policy in which consumers will be entitled to a refund if they can show that they have done X, Y, and Z. If you follow this kind of refund policy, you must clearly specify what your clients need to do to qualify for a refund. It should be clear, specific, and concise so that there won’t be lots of questions and disputes.

Dispute Resolution

Your course agreement must include a dispute resolution clause that says if there’s a dispute, here are the steps that need to be done. Will you go to court? Will you go through arbitration? These are only a couple of the questions that need to be answered as you create a dispute resolution clause in your agreement.

Other Agreements You May Need

Remember that there should always be a written document for every agreement or relationship that’s important to your business. Here are the most common agreements that course creators will use at some point in their business.

Contractors

You’ll likely have contractors working with you when you’re building your business or preparing for a launch. You need an agreement that transfers the rights of the assets they create to you. In addition, your agreement should clearly indicate what services they’re providing and how much you’ll pay them.

Guest Teachers

You should also have a written agreement with guest teachers. If you’re working with a guest teacher to create training content that will be included in your course, you must have an agreement in place that says they transfer the rights for the material to you.

Testimonial Release

If you plan to add testimonials to your online course, you need to pay attention to the right to publicity. This area of law says that every person has the exclusive right to decide how their name, image, and likeness are used commercially. So if you’re working with guest teachers and you want to use their testimonials to promote your course, you need to get a written agreement or written consent from them.

Affiliate Program

You also need to have an agreement set in place if you have an affiliate program. It must include all the specifics like how much, when, and how they will be paid. It should also say whether there are limits on where they can promote the products as well as the things that are allowed and prohibited.

Protect Your Business

These are the basic things you need to know about how to legally protect your business if you’re a course creator. Make sure that you choose a name for your course that doesn’t have a trademark. Pay attention to copyright issues and intellectual property rights. Lastly, don’t forget to set in place all the agreements that you’ll need if you’re creating an online course for your business.

Join my FREE signature program BADA$$ Online Marketing University (BOMU) and learn how to build and market your online business and make sure it’s legally protected. 

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Bobby Klinck

Harvard Lawyer and Online Entrepreneur