I am looking to create an online course platform to provide free information about different subjects. I would be looking to hire independent contractors for this. The categories would be about personal growth, social media, job searching etc... I am looking to do this not to make money from selling these courses but providing resources to people who are less fortunate. A concern is that the instructors re-publish materials already created for other companies, course material is copied from somewhere else, or the material is inaccurate as some of my concerns. I would like to know how many other things I will need to address. If I use screen shots can I just claim fair use as there is no monitization of these courses?
Here are two outstanding sources for the legal issues that you are concerned about -- and all the issues that you haven't yet realized you need to be concerned about:
Bruce Burdick legal guides:
Bruce Burdick on Web-site businesses:
Anytime you work with independent contractors you should make certain to get proper references and understand that even the most thoughtfully drafted agreements will not matter if they cannot be enforced. For example, even if your contract has a clearly written indemnification clause that would cover you in the event your provider used infringing material, what good is this indemnification if that provider is sitting in a studio apartment in Pakistan?
Further, it matters not whether you make money on this and the fact that no money is made does not render your use "fair."
It probably makes sense to discuss with a lawyer in private so all your plans and objectives can be clearly understood. Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.
You will need to differentiate yourself from the crowd to have a chance in this crowded field. Specialized course content is one way. A great catchy brand name (servicemark) is another. A uniquely appealing advertising blitz is another. Celebrity endorsement is another. Corporate sponsorship is another. An IP attorney that specializes in startups and has empathy for them and interest in helping them even though their initial business model is flawed, is what you need. I have no connection with any NY firm, so I can objectively recommend several to you. Attorney Frank Natoli (www.lanternlegal.com) seems to fit your needs best. Attorney Maurice Ross or Richard Straussman would also be great. All are top contributors to Avvo and all have a mindset to help startups.
Are You Planning on Opening a New E-Commerce Website?
There is much you need to know as you begin your new business. I suggest you do not attempt to write your own legal policies. This is not where your training and background lie, and though you are probably as smart as an attorney, you do not have their experience.
Below is a checklist for legal issues I use for new e-commerce clients.
1. Business entity - Are you going to be a C corp, an LLC or a sole proprietorship?
2. Terms of Service - This is your contract with your visitors and is the most important item for any e-commerce site. A little work here brings big dividends in the future.
4. FTC guidlines - The FTC has been regulating business advertising for almost a century. All of their advertising guidlines apply to e-commerce sites.
5. Domain Name issues? Is your name available. Can you create a Trademark?
6. Trademark - Do you have a brand name free from conflict? Should you start with just common law rights? Should you register the mark, and when?
7. Copyright - If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Do you have a DMCA notice on your web site?
8. Do you need a DMCA policy?
9. Web Site security issues?
10. Do you need and have an EIN? You can get that for free.
11. Do you have employees? - If so you need written policies regarding their authority and use of the internet.
12. Do you know the difference between a "browser wrap" and a "click wrap" and which do you need?
When I discuss this list with clients other issues arise. Finally, I always discuss with my clients their need for good accounting services. An accountant's advice as you start up can save you many dollars in tax that you might not save if you wait to speak to an accountant until your first tax return is due.
I hope this list will give you pause to think about those issues for which you might need to seek professional advice.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
E-commerce (short for “electronic commerce”) refers to business which is conducted using computer networks, most typically the Internet.
A sole proprietorship is a business owned and operated by one person in which there is no legal distinction between the business and owner.
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