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8 Legal Protections You Need for Your Online Course

Woman smiling with text overlay "8 Legal Protections You Need for Your Online Course"

You’ve spent so much time creating an amazing online course for your clients. You created copy, a sales page, videos, and maybe even handouts or worksheets. But do you have any of it protected? You might not realize what you need to do to protect your business and your content until it happens. I hear from so many of you how you didn’t create a policy in your business until after you’d already been through some disappointing situation. Not anymore! You put all of that time and effort into creating your course, so today we’re chatting all about the legal info you need to protect that online course or program.

So let’s get started!

Legal Protections You Need For Your Online Course

1 // Protect Intellectual Property

As a business owner and online course creator, you’ll want to protect your logo, course name, and materials for your digital product. You want to protect these for a few reasons…

  1. You worked super hard to create this amazing course, so don’t give it away.
  2. So no one else ‘steals’ or copies your content and passes it off as her own.
  3. So your course enrollees don’t pass around your hard work to people who haven’t paid for the course.
Protect intellectual property

For your logo/course name/tagline, you’ll want to think about trademark registration. You can register the actual logo (design) and the course name, as long as it’s A. trademarkable (yes, that’s a word) and B. isn’t being used by someone else already. You can typically find out if someone else is already using the course name or tagline by searching the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) database and performing a thorough online (Google, etc.) search.

If you’re super serious about your course, you might want to think about talking to a local attorney and establishing an attorney-client relationship with them that is rooted in trust and mutual commitment to your business. They will be able to perform an extensive search for you and can let you know whether your name/logo is likely to be approved by the USPTO.  The USPTO doesn’t approve all submissions and you don’t get a refund if your submission is rejected <— FUN FACT

As for your materials (course handouts, worksheets, copy, etc.), you’ll want to put a copyright mark on all of them. For that, you’ll put the © [year of publication] [legal entity name aka. registered business name]. So, for example, mine would be: © 2017 Sam Vander Wielen LLC. You can also formally register your copy written materials (again, they have to be copyrightable) with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Protecting users' privacy

2 // Protecting Users’ Privacy

You’ll need to protect your enrollees’ privacy (online) by having a privacy policy on any website or landing page that collects peoples’ info to sign up or get on your list. You’re likely tracking visitors info, collecting their email addresses, and seeing what they click on. Any one of those triggers the requirement for a privacy policy.

3 // Taking Payment

Since you’re taking payments on your site or online course platform, you’ll want Terms of Use to protect yourself from any issues with hacking on peoples’ payment info, credit credit numbers, or anything in between. In the U.S., any merchant (that’s you if you take credit card payments) must be PCI compliant.

4 // No Sharing

This is one example of where sharing isn’t caring. Through your Terms of Use, you’ll set a policy about what users need to do to protect their course username and password. If they’re irresponsible with it, they could jeopardize not only your content but getting your site or payment portal hacked.

You’ll also want to make it clear in your Terms of Use what your policy is on purposefully sharing their login info with a friend (who didn’t pay for the course). Most of my clients create a no-tolerance policy and lay out the rule for removal from the course.

5 // Can I Get A Refund?

You need a clear refund policy, in writing, before users purchase your online course or program. Do you have a 30-day money-back guarantee? Is it no questions asked? Do they have to prove they tried a certain number of modules? These are all things you’ll need to spell out.

Also, if you decide to allow refunds, be clear about how many days in which someone can request one, who they contact to get it, and whether any fees are returned as well.

6 // Must Play Well With Others

I know it seems obvious, but it’s important to spell out your “rules of conduct” in your Terms of Use. For example, if I ran a self-care or intuitive eating program, I’d want to make sure I spelled out several rules about not judging, shaming, harassing, or embarrassing other members of the group when they share questions or stories.

You can also set out your policy on conduct in the course’s Facebook group, membership portal, or group calls. Can people promote their services or products to the group? Can they invite other people in? What is your policy if they post or share spam? Many is the times I’ve had people slide into my blog comments with bogus attorney advertising, and I don’t want that for myself or my readers, and neither will you!

7 // Disclaim Liability

This is where we get into the legal mumbo jumbo. Lucky for you, my DIY legal templates have all this language built-in (no need to worry about legalese like “terms and conditions”, or “for informational and educational purposes only” – it’s all in there for you!). That way, you don’t have to search around for legal advice for hours online only to copy and paste something you’re not even sure is right.

Any course should include a disclaimer of liability from the outset. A disclaimer of liability is included in the Terms of Use template. It does what it says — disclaims or “denies” liability or responsibility for nearly anything that happens as a result of someone’s participation in your course.

8 // Medical, Fitness, or Business Disclaimer

Unlike the disclaimer of liability, which addresses your liability to others who purchase the program, a medical, fitness, or business disclaimer is more like a ‘warning’. It lets people know that they should check with their doctor, medical professional, accountant, or lawyer (depending on the type of course you’re running) before implementing or attempting any of the information sharing in your program. This is extremely important from a legal perspective and, of course, it’s built in to all of my Terms of Use templates.

There are so many more things you’ll need to protect your online course or program, but I thought these 8 are a great start. Also, that’s why I created the Terms of Use template for you — so you don’t have to worry or spend hours searching and reading outdated or incorrect articles online. The key takeaway is that this is something you’ll want to do before you launch your course or anyone buys it from you. You want to protect your hard work and content. Plus, fingers crossed, let’s hope your course becomes a huge success! You’ll be so happy you preemptively protected it : )

What questions do you have about what you need to do to protect your online course or program? What are your concerns or challenges with doing so? Tell me in the comments or write to me!

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