Legal Aspects of Your Business: Copyright, Trademarks, & Contracts

Courtroom One Gavel Photo Credit: Joe Gratz via Compfight

My least favorite part of running my business is doing the books. I understand the importance of doing them each month, but they always seem to get pushed down to the bottom of the to-do list. My most favorite part of running my business is educating creative entrepreneurs about their legal rights. For some of you, this is the part of running your business that you keep pushing off. Just like I can't put off my books forever, it's a pretty sure bet that you will encounter legal issues at some point. And hopefully being on top of the basics will make that interaction much less painful.

To help you be a little more proactive about getting your business in legal shipshape, I'm going to be writing a series of posts dedicated to discussing some of the most common legal interactions creative businesses face. I will arm you with the tools and checklists to make this process less daunting. To start, I'm going to outline each of the main issues that you need to tackle: opening and running a business, copyright, trademark, and contracts. I'll dive into each topic thoroughly in upcoming blog posts:

1. Opening and Running a Business

In this post, I will focus on a basic list of legal items that businesses need to open and run. Not all of the items on this list may be relevant to your business. For example, if you operate as a sole proprietor, you won't need to prepare a partnership agreement, operating agreement, or articles of incorporation. Requirements also vary depending on the type of product you are making, so we will discuss what you might need to investigate to determine if a specialized license is required for your business. For example, those of you creating garments in California might need to obtain a Garment Manufacturing Certificate.

2. Copyright

In most creative businesses, copyrights are the most valuable asset. More importantly, understanding copyright law and your rights are critical to protecting this asset. In my Copyright post, I will help you develop a system to not only determine if you should be registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, but how to monitor the use of your work across the Internet. Finally, this post will give you resources to tackle the most cost-effective tool in the Internet copyright enforcement toolbox, the DMCA takedown notice.

3. Trademark

Most creative enterprises fail to understand the value that their brand holds. They think that trademark laws only apply to big companies like Coca-Cola or Apple. However, just like copyright, monitoring the use of your brand is very important. In my Trademark post, we'll discuss how to select a name so that it has the strongest trademark protection, how to monitor the use of your brand, and finally, when it might be the time to make the leap to registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

4. Contracts

My post on Contracts will cover one of the easiest ways to protect your creative empire: having a contract in place. I know that many of you squirm when you sign a contract. But contracts really just outline the terms of your relationship and define a process for what happens when things go wrong. For example, your contract should define what you are and are not providing or what happens when someone shoplifts a piece of jewelry from one of your consignment retailers.

Share with us below some of the legal items that you keep pushing to the bottom of your to-do list, so that I can hopefully give you the tools to make those tasks seem more manageable!

**I'm a lawyer so my insurance carrier likes me to use disclaimers. The information in this post is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. I am not your attorney and this post is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.**

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Kiffanie Stahle lives in San Francisco and is the founding partner of Stahle Law where she provides copyright and trademark services to creatives of all kinds. She tries to make law a little less scary by giving her clients the tools they need to understand their legal rights and when to get assistance rather than forging ahead on their own. She loves to take photographs and occasionally will show them in public. You can find Kiffanie on Twitter (@kiffaniestahle), on Facebook, and at StahleLaw.com.

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