Social media has become a great platform for creativity, content creation and entertainment.
And, for many, it’s a fantastic money-making opportunity.
Whether you’re on the way to becoming an Instagram influencer or a rising star on TikTok, social media can open up additional income opportunities through sponsored content.
It’s a great way to earn some extra cash (and maybe, one day, it’ll turn into your full-time career!). But, as your brand grows, it’s smart to start thinking about your legal set up. It’s never too early to start legally protecting yourself.
If you’re trying to make money off social media, you should be asking yourself:
- What does this mean for me legally?
- Am I running a business?
- What contracts will I be agreeing to?
- What happens if things go wrong later?
- How do I protect myself?
In this article, we’ll walk you through 3 key legal points to consider if you’re trying to make money off social media.
1. Let’s Get Down To Business… Do You Need To Formally Set Up As A Business To Make Money On Social Media?
If you’re looking to earn income in return for work you’re performing for others on social media (like sponsors or brands), you’re essentially running a business—and that’s great!
However, this is when you need to start thinking about your business structure and how you want to manage your social media activities.
As a first step, you should think about what structure you’ll choose for your business. Often, newcomers and first-time businesses will set up as a sole trader. This means that you’ll be running your business under your own name. Generally, you’ll need an Australian Business Number (ABN)—and you can use this when sending out invoices.
Setting up as a sole trader is perhaps the most practical option for influencers who are just starting out. It keeps your operating costs low, while still allowing you to officially operate as a business.
However, as your business grows, being a sole trader might expose you to increased risk as you engage with more people. In this case, it’s a good idea to start thinking about whether to register as a company.
Registering a company means that you set up an entirely separate legal entity that has limited liability.
Basically, running a company means that if you incur any business debts, your personal assets are generally kept separate from your business dealings. Conversely, being a sole trader means you’re operating under your own name and may be personally liable for your business debts.
Choosing a business structure depends on your budget and your plans for your growth as an influencer. But don’t panic: you can always change your business structure if your social media business evolves.
2. Content Is King… So Protect Yours!
As your platform grows, the more important it becomes to protect your brand and the content you’re producing.
This could mean protecting your social media handle (or the name you give to your platform), your style or your logo. You don’t want anyone else profiting from your platform!
In Australia, there are various ways you can protect your brand. As a first step, you might want to apply for a trade mark for your brand name or your logo. For example, if you’re starting to sell merchandise with your branding on it, you’ll want to make sure that you own the rights to that branding.
If your trade mark application is successful, you’ll have the exclusive right to that trade mark for up to 10 years. This means that if anyone else uses your trade mark without your permission, you can enforce your right to the trade mark against them.
Your content might also be protected by copyright. In Australia, copyright is ‘automatic’. You don’t need to manually register it. Copyright generally arises as soon as you express a creative idea in material form (for example, through uploading a video on YouTube or posting your digital art on your Instagram).
The last thing you want is someone copying your content and making money off of it.
To avoid this, you should make it clear from the very beginning that your work is your own copyright. For example, you could have a Copyright Disclaimer on your YouTube channel. This will make it extra clear that the copyright of the works belongs to you.
However, it’s just as important to avoid accidentally using someone else’s intellectual property in your content. You could face hefty penalties for infringing someone’s copyright or using their trade marked materials. For instance, you should be careful about using another business’ logo in your content or copying someone else’s artistic style.
The last thing you want is to enter into a legal dispute with another business over branding! If you’re not sure where you stand, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer.
3. Get Your Head Around Contracts
While you may not be at this stage just yet, signing contracts will be a huge part of your life if you start to make money from social media.
So, it’s important to understand what they mean for you.
One of the most common contracts you’ll come across are Influencer Agreements. This is the contract you’ll be given if a brand engages you to promote their products on social media as a ‘brand ambassador’ or ‘sponsor’.
It’s a good idea to make sure you have a good read of this contract before signing (or have a lawyer look at it).
Remember: you can still be legally bound to the terms of a contract even if you never actually read it!
If a brand provides you with a contract, it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. You should have a think about:
- Payment: How will payment work? Will the brand give you free products in return for your promotion, or will you also receive a commission?
- Intellectual property: If you create video content to promote a brand (which may contain their trade marked logo), who has the rights to that content?
- Cancellation/ Term: How long will you enter into this relationship with the brand? Will you be an ongoing ambassador, or are you doing a one-off promotion?
- Disputes: What happens if something goes wrong between you and the brand? What happens if a customer or follower is unhappy with the product you’ve promoted?
As an influencer, when you’re up against bigger brands, it’s even more important to be careful before signing contracts. This is where a lawyer should step in to help you understand how it all works.
Speak To A Lawyer
Though your brand might still be growing, it’s always a good idea to think about your legals sooner rather than later.
Whether you’re hoping to make money on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok or any other site, we’re here to help.
Our expert lawyers can help with setting up a business, protecting your brand, reviewing your contracts and more. Get in touch with us for a free, no-obligations chat on 1800 730 617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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