Are you taking your business to the next level and ready to make some passive income? You might have your content ready, your website geared up for selling online courses and your marketing / social media posts ready to advertise your course. But STOP and think….have you thought about the legal side of things?
These 9 tips will point you in the right direction on the legal side of selling online courses.
1. How do I protect my Intellectual Property (IP) in the UK?
You’ve spent time and money creating your online course content. It needs protecting. You don’t want someone else copying your course and passing it off as their own.
The legal protection here in the UK is the law of copyright. Copyright protects the expression of an idea - which in this case would be the actual words, drawings, diagrams and content of the course. The good news is that this type of intellectual property does not need to be registered. It exists as soon as you put pen to paper (or type text on your screen). You need to make sure that it is all your original work.
Firstly, you need to put a copyright legend somewhere on your work. This tells the world that you are the owner of the work. The copyright legend is just simply the copyright symbol, the year, your name / company name followed by the words ‘All rights reserved’. © 2023 Aubergine Legal Limited All Rights Reserved.
Secondly, you need to be able to prove the date the piece of work was created. This is because if someone copies your work you would need to be able to argue that they have infringed your copyright. One of the steps would be for you to prove that you created the work before them. Most people send themselves an email with the work and then simply file the email in a folder. This way you can use the date of the email as proof of when the work was created.
Finally, you can prevent a wider audience from looking at your ideas by using encryption software and passwords. Another way to stop blatant copying is to display your work in a way that cannot be simply copied and pasted - I believe there is software out there which prevents the ability for people to click copy and paste. Also, you could use water marks. You would need to speak with someone who has technical knowledge in this area for the best options.
2. Can I include others work when selling online courses?
If you are planning on using extracts from another person’s work in your course, you should be getting their prior permission to do so. Unless it’s only an ‘insubstantial’ amount of their work that you are using. In the copyright legislation ‘insubstantial’ is based on a qualitative and not a quantitative basis. Whether or not you need to seek permission you should always be acknowledging them as the owner of the work.
Does an exception apply? The copyright legislation has some exceptions when you do not need to seek permission from the copyright owner – for example, if your course is for training / research purposes and is not being sold for commercial gain.
3. Seeking permission from copyright owners.
Most of the time you will need to seek permission. As mentioned above there are some exceptions in which you can freely copy another’s work. Unless you fall within the exceptions or if the work being copied is insubstantial then permission will be required.
Having said that, it is always best practice to acknowledge another person as the owner of any work you copy in your materials.
Don’t forget that copyright in a piece of work only lasts for 70 years after the authors death. For example, Nineteen Eight Four by George Orwell is no longer protected by copyright. The author died in 1950 and so the book has not been protected for the last 2 years. Anyone can copy the work freely.
Interesting fact for any Peter Pan fans….the copyright in the JM Barrie book will last forever and will never expire. Lord Callahan passed an amendment to the copyright legislation to say that the copyright in the book will last indefinitely and all royalties will go to the trustees of the hospital for sick children, Great Ormond Street.
4. Can I use YouTube clips or others photos in my online course content?
As mentioned, you need to get permission from the copyright owner before reproducing in your work. Unless absolutely necessary I would steer clear of it, or make sure you have permission from the copyright owner. There is free / royalty-free music that can be used by anyone out there - best to use them if possible.
5. Do I need to Reference and Acknowledge others?
If using someone else’s work you need to acknowledge the name of the author. You can do this by using an asterisk and footnote.
6. Terms & Conditions of Sale – what needs to be in them?
If you are selling courses/content online then it is a sale of goods/services - in the form of online, downloadable content. If individuals are buying the content then you need to comply with all the consumers rules about selling goods/services at a distance. Usually, consumers have a 14 day cooling off period in which they can cancel/get their money back. However, for downloadable content, this right is waived when they start the download - and so this needs to be made clear in the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs). You also need to make it clear who you are, what the price is, how it can be downloaded, disclaimers about the content and how they can make a complaint if there is a problem with the course.
The T&Cs will be different depending on whether you are selling online courses to consumers or directly to businesses. If you sell to both, you need to have terms that set out clauses relating to both. Consumers have more rights and so you need to cater for them more in your T&Cs. You can be less favourable to business customers - which reduces the risk to your own business. For example, your liability clause does not need to be so favourable to a business than a liability clause to a consumer. Also, a business customer does not need to know about the waiver of the cancellation right - they only apply to consumers. You might think this sounds complicated! Well, some companies just have one set of T&Cs that are consumer friendly and allow them to apply to all types of customer - consumers and businesses alike. Other companies will have split clauses - with some wording applying to consumers and some applying to businesses. So a slightly longer set of T&Cs - but still all in one document.
Key points to remember - you need to make sure your purchase process involves the customer actually agreeing to your T&Cs to ensure a contract has come into existence (you need an I accept tick box linking to your T&Cs before they pay the purchase price).
7. How can I get customers to agree to my terms?
You need to set up the e-commerce experience so that they can’t physically pay until that box has been ticked - that’s your contract.
8. Online Refunds and Cooling off periods
Consumers buying online are entitled to a cooling off period of 14 days. However, two things to note here:
(1) Businesses that purchase online are not entitled to the same cooling off period.
(2) There are exceptions to the cooling off period - one of which is downloadable content. Once the download has begun then the cooling off period has been waived. You need to make sure your T&Cs have some terms about this to make it clear to customers. I would also have a tick box before the ‘buy’ button to bring this point to their attention before the purchase gets completed.
9. Don’t forget privacy/data protection requirements!
Here to help…
Aubergine Legal is here to help you set up the legals when you are selling online courses. I can draft T&Cs, check the copyright side of things and carry out reviews of your online sales experience to ensure compliance with the e-commerce rules. You will find a list of useful legal packages here if you’re just starting out.