How Can YouTubers and Influencers Avoid Legal Pitfalls?

August 25, 2020


In this video, you get answers to these questions:

  • What are the most common legal problems for YouTubers?
  • What are examples of influencer legal problems?
  • Why are influencers targeted for lawsuits?
  • How much do YouTubers usually spend on attorneys?
  • Who spends more on lawyer fees, YouTubers or other businesses?
  • How can YouTubers and influencers avoid legal problems?

Video Transcript

How can YouTubers and influencers avoid legal pitfalls? That’s the question I’m answering today. Have you noticed how often YouTubers are in the news or there are lawsuits involved with influencers? Maybe it’s Jake Paul. You’ve heard about his antics on his channel and then being charged for trespassing or the FBI raid of his home. Or maybe it’s YouTubers who have sued each other over defamation. Well, if you are building a presence on social media, you’re probably asking yourself, how do I avoid those problems? Some of them are obvious. Don’t break things. Don’t don’t assault people or harass people, but others are not so obvious. That’s what we’ll talk about today.

I’m Aaron Hall. I’m an attorney for business owners. I represent a number of podcasters, YouTube personalities and influencers. And as this area of my practice has grown, I thought, “You know what? It’s time to do a video for all of those influencers and would be influencers on the internet to try to avoid some of these problems in advance.” This is an educational video. It’s no replacement for working with an attorney. Rather, I want to help you spot issues to discuss with your attorney.

All right, let’s dive into some of the questions. First off, what are the most common legal problems for YouTubers and other influencers? Well, of course, you’re going to have stalking. That’s par for the course. When you become popular and you have a significant following, just like famous movie stars and recording artists, people stalk you. They become curious. They want to find out who are you? Where do you live? They may dox you, that’s where they post your public information online. People may drive up and take a look at your house. They may flip on their camera when you’re in a public setting. Sometimes it’s fine. It’s part of the paparazzi that goes with being famous. Other times though, it’s just plain creepy. It’s stalking. And so we’ll talk a little more about what you can do about stalking.

Second, defamation. The more people are talking about you, the more likely they are to say something false about you that could hurt your reputation. That’s defamation. Disputes with contractors is a popular reason for lawsuits among famous people. Likewise, disputes with employees. Sometimes those are concealed with a confidentiality agreement or a nondisclosure agreement. Other times they’re not and we hear about them. Trademark infringement. As you’re building a brand name, people may use that brand in an inappropriate way. And so you may have trademark infringement cases. Copyright infringement. Copyright is when you create something as a creator, maybe it’s a photo, video, podcast, movie, whatever it is, content for your website and somebody copies it without your permission. That’s copyright infringement. And then finally, I often see domain name disputes.

So let’s talk through each one of these. Specifically, what are examples of influencer legal problems? All right, stalking. We’ve heard about people who have broken into someone’s house and slept in their bed. Maybe just gone in their yard, spied in their windows and taken pictures. That’s stalking. Most states have a law against stalking. You can typically get a temporary restraining order against somebody who has done something like that. Next, defamation. Defamation is when somebody says something false about you that would have a tendency to hurt your reputation. Now let me clarify. It wouldn’t be an opinion. If somebody says, “You’re a jerk”, well that’s an opinion. There’s no such thing as a jerk per se. So it’s the type of word that’s an opinion word. Whereas if somebody said you are a first degree murderer, or you have been found guilty of child abuse. Those are examples of factual statements, not opinions. They are statements of fact and assuming those statements are false, they would be defamation.

And of course it has to be the type of false statement that would have a tendency to hurt your reputation. If somebody says you’re wealthy and you’re not. Well, it may be false, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt your reputation. It has to be the type that generally would harm someone’s reputation. So that’s defamation. The more people are talking about you, of course, the more likelihood statistically people are going to say things that are false about you, not opinions. They’re saying things that are factual, that are of the type that would be likely to hurt your reputation. When that happens, you have a claim for defamation, whether you decide to sue them or send a cease and desist letter or ask them to take down that content. That’s up to you.

Disputes with contractors. That might be your agent, your social media person, independent contractors who are working with you, a branding agency, a PR agency, an attorney, an accountant, all sorts of people you have contracts with. The more your business thrives, the more contracts you have. And thus, the more likelihood there is that you have some sort of problem. Disputes with employees. The more people working for you, the more likelihood it is that you will have people who have to leave. They’re not doing what they should be doing, or there’s a falling out of some sorts. And it’s not uncommon as you have more and more people working with you that you would have to terminate a disgruntled employee who then tries to find a reason to sue.

Trademark infringement. Well, of course the more popular your brand name gets, the more people may misuse it. Perhaps they are using it, your brand, to try to prop up what they’re doing. They imply some sort of association with you. I often see this with famous athletes, where a product tries to associate with a famous athlete. That athlete may have worn that product. Maybe it’s a pair of shoes or a shirt, but it doesn’t mean the manufacturer of that product has a right to use that athlete’s image in a way of promoting the product. So that often falls under that whole area of trademark infringement.

Copyright infringement is when somebody takes your podcast and puts it out on a different platform without your permission, or takes your image and puts it out on social media without your permission. Or maybe it’s your videos. They’re playing your video clips on a different platform. Anytime somebody uses something you’ve created without your permission, that is copying without a right. Copy-right. You see the play on words there. Copyright is you have a right to control copies. And if people use content of yours without your permission, they don’t have a right. They’ve infringed your copyright.

Domain name and ownership disputes. This might be, for example, if you own the .com and somebody else buys the .info or .biz and is creating a website that might be confusingly similar to yours, or maybe they’re cyber squatting on similar domain names. That’s an example of the kind of domain name disputes that often come up.

Why are influencers targeted for lawsuits? Two reasons. One, more people know about them. Statistically you’ve been exposed to more people and so for that reason, you’re on their minds and statistically, you’re more likely to be sued than somebody whose known by two people. It’s just statistical common sense. Second, because there’s an impression that you have deep pockets. Nobody wants to sue somebody who’s about to file for bankruptcy, but oh those influencers it seems they have money. And so people are more likely to sue someone who has money, deep financial pockets.

How much do YouTubers usually spend on attorneys? Generally it is between 0.5% of revenue and 2% of revenue. And that really depends on whether you’re at the higher end because of risk. For example, if you are giving stock market advice, legal advice, medical advice, if you are frequently covering negative news stories that other people don’t want published, maybe it’s a gossip channel, you are in a higher risk category than someone, for example, who is doing a cooking show and they’re showing how to make recipes in their kitchen. Think about it. If you’re doing a gossip channel, you’re more likely to be sued by somebody you’re gossiping about if they feel that you made a false statement about them that’s likely to hurt their reputation, defamation. Or if for some other reason, they don’t like what you’re saying about them and they’re trying to shut you up and silence you. Whereas a cooking show, what’s the worst that happens.? The recipe doesn’t turn out. So you can see it depends. And yet even a cooking show has contractors, employees, trademark issues, etc. So they aren’t immune from legal issues. It’s just they have less exposure.

Who spends more on lawyer fees, YouTubers or other businesses? It’s pretty similar. It’s pretty even because there are high risk businesses and high risk YouTubers. There are low risk businesses and low-risk YouTubers. If you’re Jake Paul and you are doing outrageous things on camera, you’re going to be probably spending more than 2% of revenue on legal fees. My guess is that the legal fees for an operation like Jake Paul’s with what I’ve read in the newspaper, he’s probably spending somewhere between 20 and $40,000 a month on legal fees. But that’s because his channel’s popular, he’s perceived to have money, and he’s in high risk type activities: trespassing, shocking people, things like that. And again, I don’t know anything about Jake Paul. I’m just using him as a simple example, merely speculating based on what I’ve seen in the media.

How can YouTubers and influencers avoid legal problems? I have two tips for you. First, I have a free checklist, which is linked in the description below. You can go to my website, enter your email address and I’ll email you the free checklist to audit your business and identify any legal problems. This is something I’ve used with many of my clients. I make it freely available to spot issues to discuss with your attorney. That’s free. Second, have an attorney who knows what they’re doing with these sorts of issues. Have an attorney review things in advance, even if it’s not an attorney who knows influencers and works with YouTubers and this new area of media. Having a business attorney should substantially help with a lot of the issues we’ve talked about today.

All right. So let’s summarize. We talked about what are the most common legal problems for YouTubers. Stalking, defamation, disputes with independent contractors, disputes with employees, trademark infringement, copyright infringement and domain name disputes. Why are influencers targeted for lawsuits? They’re perceived to have money, they’re well known. Those are the two big ones. Next, how much do YouTubers usually spend on attorneys? Between .5% and 2% of their gross revenue. Who spends more on lawyer fees, YouTubers or other businesses? It’s about the same from my experience. I’ve seen that both YouTubers at the low and high end of the spectrum, as well as regular businesses.

And then how can YouTubers avoid these sorts of legal problems? Have an attorney who knows what they’re doing, guiding you and preventing problems. Like the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And then second go through that checklist that I have, that free checklist that I make available. Talk through those items with your attorney, make sure you’ve avoided problems in those categories. If I were in your shoes growing a channel, I would generally say as the channel grows and you start hiring people and you start having significant revenue come in, that’s probably a time to start looking at some of these legal issues. Usually I get a call from YouTubers about when they get to $10,000 to $20,000 per month in revenue. That’s the time when they’re starting to make enough money to cover attorney’s fees and they’re also concerned about minimizing risk.

If this is helpful to you and you’re interested in more answers to legal questions like this for business owners, you’re welcome to subscribe to this channel. I’ll be answering more questions coming up. And if you have questions for me, you’re welcome to put them in the description below. I’ll try to respond there and often I’ll use those ideas to make a video. Again, quick disclaimer, I do these educational videos not to replace you hiring an attorney, but to spot issues to discuss with your attorney. Before you rely on anything here, you should talk with an attorney in your jurisdiction. To learn more about me, you can go to aaronhall.com and if this is helpful, I’d love to hear your comments and your questions in the description below.

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