October 28, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Happy Friday! I’m sure you’ve all got awesome Halloween’ish plans for the weekend. Before you get gussied up and OD on candy, check out my suggested reads from around the web this week:


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October 3, 2011

3 Reasons To Create Your Own Characters and Leave Other People’s IP Alone

I have some really strong feelings about intellectual property (IP) in the design world. On one hand, I think some people are too quick to claim they invented the wheel. On the other hand, it’s totally irritating to watch my competitors trying to make a quick buck off another artists’ creativity, when it’s a legitimate case of infringement.

Yesterday I stumbled across a crafty business who’d based their entire branding around very famous fictional trademarked characters. The characters were not old classics in the public domain like Alice in Wonderland’s crew, they’re characters created in the last 30 years by companies that are currently running their own businesses based on those creations. The designs couldn’t even be protected by parody, they were just blatant cases of infringement. Here’s why this is a bad idea:

1. It could ruin you financially
If you’re caught using someone else’s characters without licensing, you could be sued and you probably won’t win. Being on the wrong side of an IP lawsuit can cost you a fortune. You could be on the hook for your legal fees, the plaintiff’s legal fees and damages. These costs could ruin your business and your personal finances. If your plan is to fly below the radar and not get caught, think again. Anything can be found on the internet.

2. It limits your ability to license
Licensing can be big bucks for designers and illustrators. If you create you own world full of original characters, you can license your creations. The beauty of licensing your original creations is that all you have to do is iron out the licensing details and let the money come in. The licensee handles all of the product manufacturing and sales. This can be a terrific income stream for an artist. If your designs are based around other people’s characters, this option is off the table for you. You can’t license what isn’t yours in the first place.

3. It weakens your brand
Successful consumer brands often strengthen their branding with original characters. This is true of clothing companies (think Paul Frank and his monkey), fast food chains (who could forget Ronald McDonald and his friends?), Travelocity (think Roaming Gnome), etc. The list of brands that have benefited from creating original characters is endless.

When you base your all of creations on other company’s characters, it weakens your brand. At best you’re seen as a one in a million licensor of a famous brand’s creations. At worst you’re seen as an intellectual property thief with no original ideas.

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June 9, 2011

What Weinergate has in Common with Your IP Dalliances

Filed under: Legal Issues — Tags: , , , , , , — Meredith @ 9:04 am

The media is totally atwitter over the Anthony Weiner scandal. (In case you live under a rock in the US or overseas and don’t know about this, the short story is this: a US congressman was engaging in some cybersex with women online and sending tawdry photos of himself to these ladies. One of the photos got out and ever since, it’s been a media frenzy, with people calling for an end to his career.)

What does this have to do with your business?
I actually see a parallel between Weiner’s mistakes and the mistakes small business owners make with intellectual property (IP). Regular readers may remember that back in February I did a series of articles covering common issues with regard to intellectual property and creative entrepreneurs. I interviewed several legal experts and came away with two clear points:

1. IP law has some gray areas, some areas that aren’t intuitive and often the law doesn’t even matter, the people with the most money are usually the victors.

2. The easiest thing to do, when it comes to IP is keep your nose clean. Don’t instigate trouble if you don’t have to.

This is a lot like Anthony Weiner’s situation. He may or may not have broken the law, though signs right now point to no laws being broken. Whether he broke the law or not is beside the point. His embarrassing behavior is wreaking major havoc on his private and professional life. The same would be true if it came to light that you were doing something with someone else’s intellectual property that was deemed unsavory, either by the public or the IP rights owner.

So here’s my argument for taking stock of your current product offerings, and making double sure you’re not doing something that could land you in trouble:

1. There’s a good chance of getting caught eventually
Anthony Weiner probably thought no one would ever know he was messing around online. Similarly, if your plan to skirt IP law is that you won’t get caught, think again. When you put something online, either privately or on your website, there’s every chance the things you put out there will get seen by unintended audiences.

If your plan to sell bootleg Hello Kitty necklaces is something along the lines of “No one really knows about my little old Etsy shop”, think again. Nothing is safe from Googling eyes and if you’re doing something questionable, it will probably get noticed eventually.

2. Just because it’s “legal” doesn’t mean it’s not going to cause you legal headaches
The frustrating thing about our legal system, at least in the US, is that just because you haven’t broken a law, doesn’t mean people can’t make your life difficult. Even if it turns out Anthony Weiner has broken no laws, he’s already wasted so much time and energy on this nonsense. This is time and energy he could be spending on his job as a congressman.

Getting back to you, imagine you are technically on the right side of the law, at least in your opinion. Imagine you think what you’re doing is protected by parody or first sale doctrine. That won’t prevent an overzealous legal team from harassing you and taking you to court. Even if you could win, imagine the personal and financial toll fighting would entail. Imagine how time consuming a legal battle would be. Do you really want to waste your time, money and energy on that?

3. Just because you get away with it, it doesn’t make you less scummy
Let’s imagine the investigation against Anthony Weiner is not able to turn up any evidence of illegal activity. Will it make much of a difference for him? Legal wrong-doing aside, he’s paid a pretty hefty price in terms of his reputation and this could completely end his career. People are going to associate him with sending lewd photos to strangers for a long time to come.

If your business is publicly accused of trouncing someone else’s IP, you’re going to be associated with stealing someone else’s property, even if you are able to win a legal case over the issue. Winning in the court of public opinion can be more difficult and a bad reputation can ruin your business.

What about my rights as an artist?
I firmly believe that IP laws are too strict in the US and that people are overzealous about trying to enforce their IP rights. I think there’s plenty of IP bullying that goes on and I am all for free speech and free expression. All of that said, I’m also a business owner and advocate doing what’s profitable and causes you the fewest headaches. Testing the limits of IP law isn’t going to help on either of those counts.

Similarly, I actually don’t care that Anthony Weiner was engaging in cybersex. I think he has a right to a private life and I feel it’s none of my business. I don’t think his sexual proclivities have anything to do with his ability to do his job and I’d rather not hear about them. That said, I think it was a mistake of him to send out those lewd photos to strangers. Not because I think the act was wrong, but because I think the risk of getting caught was too high and the ensuing fall out makes it not worth whatever fun was had at the time.

Anthony Weiner’s fate isn’t dictated by this fairly progressive business blogger/voter who doesn’t live in his district, it’s dictated by general public opinion, the media and whatever dirt the investigative team can dig up on him. And the fate of your business, when it comes to toying with IP, isn’t controlled by me or you. It’s controlled by lawyers/judges, consumers and even how much money/time/energy you have to argue about it. If your goal is to keep your business profitable and avoid hassles, err on the side of conservative when it comes to these issues.


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September 10, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


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January 22, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:40 am


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


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January 19, 2010

Cool Tools: Protecting Your Original Work

Filed under: Cool Tools,Legal Issues — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 8:19 am

While trademarks, patents and copyrights are the strongest form of protection that you can get for your original work, sometimes it’s not practical to do this for every single piece. If you’re an illustrator, you may be drawing something new every day and it just may not be practical to register a copyright every day.

So what do you do when someone is making unauthorized use of your original work? How can you prove it belongs to you? One service that aims to help with this issue is MyOws. This free site allows you to upload and date stamp original works. They act as an independent 3rd party that can verify that you created and uploaded a piece on a specific date in history. This protection might not be a as strong as a registered copyright or trademark but it may still help you in resolving an issue around unauthorized use of your work.


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January 8, 2010

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , , , — Meredith @ 1:02 am


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

Link love will be a regular Friday feature. Think of this as reads to tide you over for the weekend. My newsletter subscribers may be used to getting this type of content monthly, so if you enjoy my monthly newsletter, be sure to tune in on Fridays for suggested reads.

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