Building and establishing a brand can be extremely exciting for new business owners. You think of a name, get a professional email address and get straight to social media. An area that is almost always forgotten about is the legal protection your brand needs.
These legal aspects only contribute to the credibility, validity, and professionalism of your brand. Without taking into consideration these legal matters, you could set yourself up for some potential costly problems in the future.
It is incredibly important to note that we are the furthest thing from lawyers. It is so important to make sure anything surrounding contracts, legal documents or any area of legal matter be consulted with a lawyer.
Register Your Business Properly
First things first, you have to register your business with your local government to meet tax requirements as a business owner. You do not have to register your business within your state and can then operate as a sole proprietor, but this means your social security number is then used instead of an employer identification number and your legal name is used in lieu of a business name.
You will have an unregistered business but still have to make sure you are meeting the tax obligations of running a business.
If you want to operate your business with a legit business name with particular benefits, then you can register as a DBA (Doing Business As to remain unregister but have a business name), an LLC (Limited Liability Company that protects you personally from any liabilities), or an INC (S or C Corporation which allows you to go public or global and issue shares).
Choose the Name Wisely
The last thing you want is to be accused of trademark infringement because your name is similar or exact to another business name. This happens when proper research is not conducted before choosing your name and is a costly mistake.
Some states have particular guidelines that you must follow when registering your business name, but regardless it is always best protocol to do a basic internet search to start followed up by a trademark database search.
In order to do a trademark search you can utilize the United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Electronic Search System website: tmsearchuspto.gov. This allows you to type in your desired business name and see if any active trademarks come up within the entire United States. If you live in any other country, I advise contacting your local government or utilizing an online service that allows you to register your business properly in your country or province.
Get Your Logos, Designs, and Brand Assets Trademarked
We live in a world where people can infringe upon anything that is posted online. While it isn’t legal, the ability to screenshot, remove a background and repost as their own design is shockingly easy.
If you follow any graphic designers online, you’ll take note that they frown upon creating and using logos built on Canva because of this. There is zero ability to trademark a logo design utilizing the elements available on the site. Many use the same elements therefore making it impossible to be unique and stand out in all of your differential glory.
When it comes to trademarking your logos or any designs, slogans, phrases, etc. you are essentially protecting your assets from being used, copied or stolen by anyone else. This also goes for products you sell.
The goal is to protect the intellectual property that encompasses your brand identity.
We saw a great example of copyright infringement when Drake and 21 Savage created a “counterfeit” Vogue cover for the promotion of their new album “Her Loss’.
There are multiple issues here that led to the two artists being sued like utilizing branding without permission, conveying a “Her Loss” x Vogue collaboration, leading consumers to believe a special issue was being released, and ultimately creating a perception that Vogue was endorsing or supporting the album which was not the case.
This is where content creation gets tricky. Good intentions for the sake of creativity and entertainment might actually be putting you at legal risk.
Fonts + Typography Licensing
There are various licenses when it comes to purchasing assets online for personal or commercial use and this especially includes fonts. Regardless of where you buy a font from, there are levels to the licenses that are established based on how you plan on utilizing the font. Depending on the type foundry and the commerce site in which you purchase from, the licenses may differ.
Some general license options are personal use, commercial use or an extended commercial with specific parameters pertaining to each.
Some licenses are based on use (ie, websites, products for sale, apps, e-publications and more) while others are more generalized.
It is crucial for you to know what you will be utilizing your license for, and understanding that anytime your usage changes or you have multiple uses needed (for example using on a website and on an app) you must purchase the correct license at that time. This means purchasing more than one license.
*Bonus tip, if you have a website designed, unless you buy out the design rights, you must keep the website design credit on your site (usually placed in the footer)
Reposting content can be tricky and needs to be paid attention to. We are encouraged to share and repost content, but there are ways to do so that keep you away from mistakenly dabbling in copyright infringement. This goes for user-generated content as well.
It is imperative for you to always obtain permission to repost content. Especially user-generated content.
If you repost someone’s post to your stories on Instagram, you are safe as you have essentially created a “backlink”. You have provided full credit to the owner of the content with it taking viewers straight to the owners’ profile.
Anything beyond that must obtain permission. This is why brands create branded hashtags or hashtags for specific campaigns. When a consumer uses a specific branded hashtag, they are ultimately giving permission for that content to be utilized and promoted.
Outside of these suggestions we also recommend working with a lawyer to make sure your contracts, agreements, terms and conditions and privacy policies are all legally sound and binding. The main objective is to make sure you are protected at all costs.