Legal Implications of Doing Business Online: Guest Blog

By Brittany Harden, Miller Johnson

The online world is ever-changing and can be a little intimidating when first putting a business out there. When it comes to doing business online, there are certain legal implications to be aware of. Luckily, GROW hosts a class tailored to this exact topic. We invite you to attend the class to learn about everything in depth, but here are a few basic things to know about legalities in online business.

Selecting and protecting your business name 

Choosing a business name is a huge deal! And once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to make sure you protect it. There are several ways to register your business name, including things like Trademarks and DBAs, also known as an Assumed Name. These are the things that will allow you to conduct business under a chosen name, which may not be the legal name of your company.  For example, the State of Michigan requires you to include a designation with your name that identifies your entity type.  Don’t worry! This does not mean you have to conduct business under your chosen name with the designation of “LLC” or “Inc.” behind it.  Filing a DBA will simply allow you to drop that designation and do business under the name you were passionate about choosing from the beginning.

Trademark and Domain name disputes

Occasionally, businesses face issues with similarities between themselves and another entity. If there is a reasonable likelihood of confusion for the end-consumer, this could be a problem for your business. It is important to do in-depth searches before you invest too much in the name and brand for your business to ensure there is not anyone out there doing a similar thing with similar branding that might cause confusion in the marketplace, or worse, subject you to a reasonable likelihood of being contacted by a prior established business attempting to force you to change your name.  Domain names are also a good way of researching this.  These are secured through third party registrars, such as GoDaddy, etc. and once a particular domain name is taken, you have no rights to use it.  Make sure you have done some due diligence on the uniqueness of your name and brand before sinking too much money into your marketing and promotions!

Protection of website content

Are you sharing other people’s content on your website? It’s imperative that you do it correctly and legally. First, it’s good practice to contact the content owner to ask for permission to share their content. If they agree, be sure to credit them.  Second, if your content is your original work, be sure to include the © symbol with the content owner’s name (such as the name of your company), and the year.  This will provide notice to any third party visitors to your site that this is protected information and you own the implied copyright to the content.  Areas where we see this go wrong is the usage of public images.  Unless you have purchased or licensed images or content being used on your site that was not your original work, don’t use it!

Privacy policies

When it comes to doing business online, make sure that both you and your employees slow down! It’s imperative that you take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your business stays safe.  Most successful scams are a direct result of working too fast and not paying attention to obvious red flags, such as receiving an email from your boss at asking you to use the company credit card to purchase $500 in Amazon gift cards.  The larger your business gets and the more online presence, the more important it becomes to start thinking about putting a privacy policy in place.


Disclaimer: The materials and information have been prepared for informational purposes only.  This is not legal advice, nor intended to create or constitute a lawyer-client relationship.  Before acting on the basis of any information or material, readers who have specific questions or problems should consult their lawyers.