Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

Why Your Small Business Website May Benefit from a Creative Commons License

What small business owner wouldn’t love to see a bit of content he or she put up on the web, or a marketing campaign he or she launched on YouTube become known around the world? Especially if that content could generate just the right amount of new business! Everyone likes the idea of their content being shared, but no one wants to see their content stolen. This post will discuss the ways your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons explains what they do:

[Creative Commons is a] digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

You might be thinking, “but I have a copyright symbol in the footer of my website!” In fact, creative work is protected in the United States the moment it is created – it belongs in that instant to the author. But there is a lot more to copyrights and licensing than you might think. When you mark your website with the copyright symbol, as most small business owners do, you are reiterating in effect, that visitors to your site cannot use your content without your express permission. Adding a license to your content, or portions of your content, is a way to define what parts you are willing to share and under what circumstances. If that sharing leads to more business for you, you want to make sharing easy! A copyright, in effect, may have the opposite effect.

Social Sharing of Small Business Website Content

Just a side note – when I say sharing in this context, I am not referring to the share buttons used for social sharing of small business website content that link to social media and allow people to share your content on their social feeds. These types of shares actually belong to the social media site you connected your web site to; in this sense you “released” your ownership of that content in the specific form it takes when shared on the social media site. In terms of licensing, I’m talking about specific creative works of your own, from your site, that people may want to share in their entirety. Examples might include detailed, informative blog posts, infographics, tools or calculators you created, and apps that you authored.

When to Use a Creative Commons License

It’s not hard to determine when to use a Creative Commons license; if you are creating content online and want to see it shared outside of social media, you should probably license it. A Creative Commons license can be in helpful in a couple of ways: First, it provides you with a simple way to license the content so that the intended use is well documented, which protects your legal position. Second, a clearly stated license will offer reassurances to someone who may want to share your content, but would be unwilling to do so if your intentions about sharing are not clearly stated. If you have creations you want circulated on the web, where a thumbs up from someone else has more value than anything you could ever say about your own work, then you may want to use a Creative Commons license. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, once you select and apply a license, your newly licensed content will be included in the Creative Commons repository and can be searched, discovered, used, and shared by people who need content to share and are looking for exactly the type of content you have created! How much will it cost to have your content included? Creative Commons is free, but you have the opportunity to donate.

Which Creative Commons License You Should Choose

As with so many things where there are repercussions, the best answer is… it depends. Which Creative Commons license you should choose is determined by your intentions and situation. But don’t worry, CC has come up with a simple license picker to help you decide on the best license for your particular situation. If you get stuck, use the handy Creative Commons FAQ.

A Creative Commons license isn’t for everyone – but there are benefits in the right situation. If you need help understanding when and if your small business website may benefit from a Creative Commons license, or have other questions about your intellectual property, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209

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3 Things to Know Before Starting an Online Business

It seems simple – no lease to sign, no building to maintain or insure, fewer employees to manage. Online is easy, and starting up a new business is as simple as building a website! Only, it’s not. More often than not, I end up helping small business owners with issues they could have avoided if they had sought advice before starting an online business.

Based on the issues I am most often asked to address after the fact, there are three things I would advise a new online startup to understand before jumping in:

  1. What type of business form is correct for my situation?
  2. What type of control am I giving to my web developer?
  3. How will I terminate an advertising and promotions contract?

The Correct Form for an Online Business

The rules governing your information technology company, information services company, or online business are different than a traditional brick-and-mortar business. There are the typical business formation questions; should you form your business as a corporation or LLC, for example. But it is also important to understand the legal implications of having a brick-and-mortar store with an online presence, or even transitioning your brick-and-mortar store to being solely online. And while it may look more affordable to ditch the brick-and-mortar storefront for a website, your agreement with the company that creates and maintains a website for you is in many ways similar to a lease. Signing a contract with a questionable company can cause you just as much grief as bad landlord.

Controlling Your Online Assets

With the growth of the internet and information technologies, more and more businesses are based completely online. An online business can include online advertising, a social media presence, and online sales of physical products, all of which come with their own set of legal ramifications. Whether your business is an information technology business, IT services business, supplements its income with an online store, or is completely online, you will probably be signing contracts with web development firms who will help you build and maintain your website. It is crucial that you understand what you are agreeing to when you allow someone to build a website for you. I hear stories all the time from developers such as:

I was being asked to build a third website for her, after two previous contractors failed to deliver a finished product, or failed to deliver a quality product. When I attempted to set up her new site, I found the previous developer had moved her domain, which she had owned and had control of for many years. She had given them permission to do so, but she didn’t understand that she was giving up control of her URL when she did. In addition, the company she contracted with to build her previous site had been controlling and filtering her email. She spent days on the phone trying to end the contract and get her domain and email back, and she lost much of her email history, and all of her website content in the process.

Unfortunately, this is a typical and frustrating scenario I hear from newcomers to online businesses. Another stumbling block I see small business owners encounter as they enter the online world involves contracts with companies that offer to help with advertising and promotion.

Promoting Your Online Business

Promoting your online business comes with it’s own set of concerns, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to help you. Some contracts tie you to a service regardless of whether or not it performs well for you – in this case, what you don’t know about social media, advertising, and promoting a business online can really hurt you. Again, a trusted advisor who understands internet technologies, and online business promotion can really help here. Until you have some experience and know what works for you, ask someone who does to recommend a company that can do it for you, or train you to do it yourself.

Even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, you will face challenges as you enter the online world and perhaps encounter unscrupulous actors offering to help you launch an online business. An attorney can help you make sure that important assets, such as your domain name, remain in your control. It is also very important that a clear means for you to retain the contents and coding for your website exists, even if you choose to end the relationship with the contractor or company that builds it for you. These, and other concerns can be avoided just by getting a good referral to a reputable firm. An attorney with a strong background in IT and online business practice can guide you to reputable firms, and make sure the contracts you sign are fair.

If you need guidance concerning the formation of your online business, or help reviewing a contract with a web developer or firm offering to promote your business online, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209

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Colorado’s “Facebook Law”

For many businesses trying to sort through applicants for an open position at their company, it has become routine to run a Google search of applicants to find out more about them. This can quickly lead to finding their Facebook or other social media account, but did you know that some employers have begun asking for applicants’ Facebook passwords during interviews to look at their activity? In Colorado, you could face serious legal liability for such actions.

Trying to find out as much as you can about an applicant or employee is understandable. For businesses both big and small, nobody wants to waste time, energy, and company resources bringing someone in for an interview that will not be a good fit, but a line must be drawn. Many workers feel their personal privacy is seriously invaded when employers go digging into their personal online accounts.

With these concerns in mind, several states have begun passing laws to combat this practice. In may of last year, Colorado passed C.R.S. § 8-2-127, a so-called “Facebook Law,” which restricts employers’ ability to get social media and other personal online account information from applicants or employees.

While running a Google search and pulling up any publicly available information about an applicant or employee is permissible under this law, employers cannot suggest, request, or require an applicant or employee to disclose means for accessing their personal accounts or services (this includes usernames and passwords). Under this law, you also cannot suggest, request, or require an applicant or employee to change their privacy settings (to make their accounts public for example) or to have them “add” the employer or someone acting on behalf of the employer to their friends list. If an employee or applicant refuses to comply with these kinds of actions from an employer, then it is unlawful to penalize or refuse to hire them because of their refusal.

There are a few exceptions to this law, but aside from allowing the employer to freely view publicly available information, they are pretty narrow. Other exceptions include investigations pertaining to compliance with financial laws and regulations and the unauthorized download of employer proprietary information to a personal web-based account or website.

If you would like to discuss this or other legal concerns related to your employees or the hiring process, be sure to reach out to the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer, Elizabeth Lewis, 720-258-6647 or email her at Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com.

Anonymous no longer?

In a recent ruling by a Virginia court, the court ruled that Yelp.com, which provides online review from consumers for companies, had to release information about consumers who “anonymously” review companies. In the Virginia case, the owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Joe Hadeed, alleged that the reviewers of his site were not real customers and needing information about them to determine if they were real customers.  If the individuals leaving negative comments were actual customers, then the review would be protected under the first amendment.  However, if the reviews were not from customers then they would not be protected speech and Mr. Hadeed would be able to sue the reviewer. Mr. Hadeed requested information about the reviewers from Yelp; however, Yelp refused to disclose the information.

The court ruled that Yelp must reveal the names of the users to Mr. Hadeed because if the users were not customers then the speech was not protected speech. Yelp has stated that it disagrees with the ruling and that it will silence critics online. However, others hope that it will ensure that when businesses are reviewed, it is by actual customers.

This case highlights other issues that have been present about Yelp, namely issues with “hidden” results and the number of inaccurate reviews on the site.  At this time, there is no news about whether Yelp will appeal the decision so online reviewers should be aware that reviews should be accurate and truthful because they may not be as anonymous as you think.

If you are a business that has had issues with possible inaccurate reviews online, please contact me, your Denver Business Attorney, Elizabeth Lewis at 720-258-6647 or elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

What is the Marketplace Fairness Act?

The Marketplace Fairness Act was passed by the U.S. Senate on May 6th and is currently pending vote in the House of Representatives. The MFA would enable state governments to tax online retailers generating $1 million or more in a fiscal year.

The Marketplace Fairness Act is not a federal sales tax but a uniform framework for state governments to enforce their own sales tax laws on interstate exchanges. If the bill is passed in the House of Representives and enacted by President Obama, who has already indicated support for the legislation, states will have to follow basic rules as outlined by Rick Burgess if they do not join the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement:

  • Notify retailers in advance of any rate changes.
  • Designate a single state organization to handle sales tax registrations, filings, and audits.
  • Establish a uniform sales tax base.
  • Establish a way that a retailer can pay sales tax at a different state’s rate for sellers in that state.
  • Provide free software for managing sales tax compliance
  • Hold retailers harmless for any errors that result from relying on state-provided systems and data

The bill has rallied supporters and opponents alike. Among the supporters are state and local governments who can expect increased tax revenue as well as The National Retail Federation -the worlds largest retail trade association. The NRF has urged Congress to pass and implement the MFA. In a letter distributed to members of the Senate, NRF Senior Vice-President, David French states:

“As the retail industry evolves and digital commerce becomes a more prominent portion of total retail sales, it is critical that the tax laws not discriminate between businesses based on how their products are distributed…The Marketplace Fairness Act addresses the crisis by removing the constitutional limitations on states’ authority to collect sales tax from out-of-state sellers.”

Ardent opponent of the MFA Terri Alpert, a well-respected CEO in Connecticut who has built two top-shelf brands that generate more than $14 million in sales every year sat down with Forbes magazine to discuss why she is against the bill. The most vocal proponents claim that the MFA is an attempt to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers but in reality it is: “a way to consolidate sales and power in the hands of the biggest retailers and to crush the little guys with an administrative burden that no small or even medium-size company can handle” according to Alpert.

In regards to the $1 million dollar revenue cutoff exemption Alpert adds that “for most people, that sounds like a pretty large business. But retailers work on very small net margins, often 5% or lower. So the typical $1 million seller may have one part-time employee and may be earning about $50,000 a year!”

The Marketplace Fairness Act may have more difficulty passing through the Republican majority of Congress than it encountered in the Senate. For now, only time will tell how the Marketplace Fairness Act will play out. In the event that you have any questions about the pending legislation or any legal business matters, contact your Denver business attorney Elizabeth Lewis at 720-258-6647 .

Identifying Internet Scams

Today was a great day – rain was falling in our state which had been dry for weeks.  It was the beginning of a great week.  We had just celebrated the Fourth of July and I had been on a slight vacation – partially by chance and partially due to health.  I was glad to be back to a full work week.

However, my first week back to work was quickly brought down by a phone call.  This person alerted me that someone was using my information to sell items through kijiji.com.  This person is stating that she is an attorney located in Denver Colorado and must sell items through kijiji (the Canadian version of our Craiglist’s) such as instruments and machinery. The person is saying that the buyer should go through a site called sell2pal and submit all the money in advance and then the items will be shipped to them.

I have never sold on the kijiji website.  I have also never sold to anyone in Canada. Needless to say, this made me realize how easy it is to become a victim of identify theft.  So, in addition to saying if you are buying large items though kijiji I recommend you don’t if it is through someone saying they are an attorney in denver named Elizabeth Lewis, I recommend in any case you do the following:

  1. Never send money up front – especially large sums of money.
  2. Make sure you know who you are dealing with.  If you are going to be making a large purchase, the person should have a name, number, address, and other information that is verifiable.
  3. If you are making a large purchase and must put money down, have an agreement to go through any escrow agent to hold the funds before delivery of the item.
  4. Lastly, if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is.

And, finally, if you get contacted by someone saying they are lizzyhome at gmail.com, run the other way.  I’ve never gone by Lizzy and am not selling items in Canada.  Use some common sense.  Do some research.  Call the supposed person you are buying from.  And, no, I am not selling anything at this time – especially not to anyone in Canada!