ON CONTRACTS, INTERNET LAW + BRAND PROTECTION
For those of us who own and operate an online business, words like “contracts” and “trademarks” can trigger a flood of negative feelings: panic, dread, even fear.
Maria Spear Ollis would like to add another word to that list: relief. The Nashville-based lawyer devotes her professional life to bringing peace of mind to bloggers, podcasters, and online brands when it comes to all things IP protection, contracts, and Internet law. Her goal is simple: to best support female entrepreneurship by making the path to protecting and growing an online business affordable, understandable, and low-stress.
Listener’s tune in as Phoebe and Maria dive deep into the often murky landscape of intellectual property law, unpacking what it actually means to have protection over your creative work, what measures business owners can take to address issues like brand copycats, and most importantly, WHY it is so important for creatives to invest their resources (both emotional and financial) into securing legal protection for their brand.
Maria Spear Ollis
The product of your intellectual output is uniquely yours and deserves protecting.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
Maria helps online business owners protect their intellectual property (IP) and offers clarity and guidance on what can and cannot be protected under internet and IP law (intellectual property specifically refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artist works; and symbols, images, names, and logos used in commerce). Her goal is to help online entrepreneurs navigate their business practices so they don’t wind up in any legal trouble.
HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THIS CLIENTELE + TYPE OF LAW?
Maria was a music major in college, but she knew she didn’t want to live the endless audition lifestyle of so many graduating artists. At the time, services that enabled illegal music downloading (Napster, Limewire, etc.) were growing in popularity, so Maria decided to go to law school to help her musician friends protect their rights. She moved into her current practice after a stint in entertainment law. According to Maria, helping the online entrepreneur audience is exciting because no two ideas (or creators) are the same.
WHAT IS A LEGAL ISSUE YOU WORK ON THE MOST WITH CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS?
Maria spends a large portion of her time with clients clearing up common misconceptions about what can and cannot be protected under IP and copyright law. She tries to encourage all her clients not to wait until something goes terribly wrong before they start developing a working knowledge of legality. She emphasizes the importance of understanding contracts, in particular, to know how to defend your brand against copycats.
WHAT ARE SOME LEGAL ACTIONS PEOPLE CAN TAKE TO MAKE SURE THEIR BRAND IS PROTECTED?
First, Maria encourages entrepreneurs to shift their mindset when it comes to contracts, acknowledging how intimidating it can be to send or receive one. She notes how creating reliable documentation for typical business practices like work agreements, return policies, and lost package policies can reduce potential issues in the future. For listeners who may feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, Maria suggests starting with the areas in which their business tends to get “stuck” and think about what they’d need to have peace of mind. Besides contracts, she emphasizes the importance of copyrights (protection for creative works) and trademarks (protection for branding, such as business names and logos).
Maria Spear Ollis
Don’t let a [bad] situation stop you from doing what you love. A copycat business is not sustainable and is a sign of someone with no creativity.
WHY SHOULD A BRAND WANT TO DO ANY OF THESE THINGS?
Maria says the motivation for protecting one’s brand ultimately comes down to one’s mission. In the wrong hands, a person’s creations can be used to mobilize ideas and causes they don’t agree with. Maria also reminds listeners that the product of their intellectual output is uniquely their own and therefore deserves protecting.
HOW EXPENSIVE ARE THESE LEGAL PROCESSES?
It varies. Trademarks can be expensive, especially on the federal level. Copyright, on the other hand, is much less expensive and there are different tiers/options available to applicants when registering.
WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEONE COPIES A CREATIVE’S DESIGN?
Maria lays out various scenarios and outcomes. If a big corporation copies a design or work, she encourages listeners to speak to a lawyer and assess their options, as most large companies will want to settle to avoid an unappealing PR issue. For those who are registered, Maria suggests contacting them directly, referring to takedown protocols available on most social media platforms, or getting an attorney involved. Ultimately, there can be major differences in outcome when chasing down copycats depending on whether you have something properly registered or not.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MUSIC IN TIKTOK/REELS + ANY RELEVANT LEGAL CONSEQUENCES THEY ENTAIL?
HOW CAN CREATIVES FIND AFFORDABLE LEGAL HELP?
In some cities, there are organizations of volunteer lawyers who specifically serve artists (resources like https://www.probono.net/ can help connect creatives to such lawyers in their areas). Note that many of these services do have income requirements, so take time to research to find what best meets your needs.