Legally Speaking: What you need to know about collaborating with bloggers + small business owners. Read this to make sure you're legally covered when it comes to creative collaborations.

I’m excited to welcome my friend Jackie to the blog today – she’s a blogger, lawyer, and dog mom to some adorable pugs. When it comes to the legal side of blogging / small business, she knows what she’s talking about – so pay attention y’all! 

One of the things I love the most about blogging is the sense of community it creates. You get to meet so many other amazing bloggers and learn from one another. It’s super awesome. But every once in awhile, just like with anything else in life, it can turn sour. Although 99.999999% of the time, working with other bloggers is an amazing beautiful sunshine-y walk in the park, there is sometimes that 0.0000000001% of the time when things are gonna go south. Fast. (These “statistics” are super made up – but you get my point!)

So what do you do when a collaboration with another blogger goes bad? Today I’m discussing what you can do. And, more importantly, what you can do BEFORE working with someone to make sure it never gets to that breaking point.

Types of blogger or business collaborations

First, let’s look at some of the ways that our blogging relationships can go bad…

  • Your joint venture webinar co-host never pays you your share of the bundle proceeds (or she pays you less)
  • Your collaborator in a webinar ends up keeping the entire slideshow presentation and claims it as her own work
  • Your co-host keeps the webinar video but won’t send you a copy for your website or course
  • You write a guest post for another blogger and she never credits you for it – she takes your work and posts to her to blog as if its her own
  • You’ve agreed to be an affiliate for someone and then they never pay you

The list goes on and on, but you can see my point. The main issues here revolve around: money and attribution. The other person has either not paid you for your fair share of the work and/or has failed to give you credit or attribution for your work and is claiming it solely as her own work product. And none of us want to be in these sorts of situations.

What do you “own”?

So first let’s discuss who owns what, when you’re working with another person. This is based on US contract and copyright laws. So, if you are international or working with someone internationally, be aware that the situation may differ.

If you are working for yourself (meaning you aren’t doing the work as part of your work for an employer), you own your own work product. In the US, you don’t need to affirmatively copyright your work in order to own the rights to it (though having an official registered copyright can give you more legal protections, but I won’t be getting into that here). So once you create something, you own the rights to copy it. (Get it, “copyright”?) If you are working for an employer, they likely own that right. But in the blogger / small business owner context, you are probably the copyright holder.

Now the waters get a little muddy when you’re working with someone else (who isn’t an employee or coworker of yours). Whatever that other person creates – she owns THAT. So now who owns that slideshow or ebook or ecourse you co-created? Well, that’s not easy to untangle! It could be argued that you each just own what you created or you both own all of it. It all depends. The law is often retrospective – if a dispute came up, a court would actually look back in time to try to figure out what happened. And this can be a hot mess. And expensive. And time consuming.

You don’t want to get to that point. Instead of letting the court be retrospective, you should be proactive TODAY.

Protecting yourself before starting a collaboration

Once you’ve decided to work with another blogger, you should lay it all out there. You basically want to look forward into the future to try to foresee any problems that might arise. Is it possible the other person will keep the video of the webinar to sell and never give you a copy? Is it possible she will sell the slideshow or claim it as her own? Etc. Think of every scenario.

In order to safeguard against those nightmare scenarios, we want to have a very clear and detailed contract in place. Now, people get really scared when it comes to that work – contract. It sounds so big and legal and scary. It definitely can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A contract is basically an agreement that is a “meeting of the minds.” It’s where you have all the terms and information regarding your work together laid out. It’s your safeguard IN CASE something goes wrong.

A legally binding contract doesn’t need to be written on fancy paper or in a wordy document by a lawyer. It just needs to have all the info surrounding your working relationship. It doesn’t even need to be one piece of paper – an entire email thread can basically constitute a contract. So the best way to not have issues when doing collaborations is to have all the details ironed out BEFOREHAND. Creating a contract will keep you both accountable for your work and will also lay out how you’ll resolve any disputes. Here are some of the contract terms you should consider when working with someone else:

  • Division of work – who will be doing what
  • Timeframe and deadlines
  • Payment terms – who gets paid, how they get paid, when they get paid, etc.
  • Who owns the work once it’s completed – will you both be able to use the work or not
  • What to do if something bad happens – if someone can’t complete her end of the bargain, what happens?
  • Anything else you can think of that could be an issue. Seriously, anything!
  • Since I know that this can be a lot to remember, I created a quick downloadable checklist for you – use this anytime you work with other bloggers and want to make sure you’re including all the important stuff in your contract!

Collaboration-Contract-Checklist

What if a problem comes up?

Now that you have this contract in place, this should help keep you both on task. However, if an issue arises later on, the contract can save you. We all hope to never have to hire an attorney (even me and I am an attorney!), so attempt to resolve any issues directly with your collaborator. If you didn’t have anything written down (perhaps you had come up with your working arrangement via Skype or text messages that are now deleted), then it will be hard for you to say “Hey – you promised to pay me 60% and you only paid me 40%!” Nothing is in writing, so that’s going to be hard to prove.

But if you have your contract in place (which, I mentioned above can be something as casual as your series of emails), you can point that out to her. Everything is in black and white, which will hopefully quickly resolve any disputes.

Your last resort would be to contact an attorney if you can’t get resolution. Even in this situation, your contract will be a huge help since it will be something concrete instead of a “she said/she said” battle.

So there you go. The best way to avoid issues when working with other bloggers or small business owners. I’m so not a sports person, but really this is so true – the best offense is a good defense. Protect yourself before a problem arises and it should be much smoother sailing!

Collaboration-Contract-Checklist

Legal Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. I am not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failures to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.

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Jackie is an attorney and a blogger. She helps put the scary legal side of business into easy to understand terms for other bloggers and small business owners. She has built up her blog while working full time and aims to show other bloggers how they can easily do the same (it’s all about that time management!) Visit her (and her two sweet pugs) over on her blog, Jade and OakYou can also find Jackie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest