Your entry (or experience) with affiliate marketing may have been lush since the first day but there is a monster awaiting your presence if you’re not careful and look for the signs: legal issues.
Affiliate marketing brings up many legal issues you may never have known about; some of which may utterly decimate your business (and livelihood). In this article, you’ll get up to speed about what you need to know to protect your brand and business from legal issues you may one day face.
The Legal Rights of Affiliate Marketers
I can’t give you certified legal consul (that’s the job of lawyers) but I can alert you for some potential legal issues while operating an affiliate business; these are your rights, you just need to make sure you don’t break the rules …
- Trademark Violations. Avoid, at all costs, using trademarks in your affiliate marketing. Most affiliate programs and publishers will specifically state that you cannot bid on brand keywords nor identify yourself with the company. It’s good practice to flat out avoid any confusion, for the customer, when selling products or services that are owned by a company. In the event you do break trademark agreements, you could see a hefty fine but may get a slap-on-the-wrist with a cease and desist letter in which you’ll need to stop all activity with the violation detailed.
- Copyright Infringement. The web makes it difficult to pin-point ownership over media; a good rule of thumb is to avoid using images, videos, audio, and any form of media that hasn’t been created by your own company or purchased through a legitimate marketplace. Everything has an inherent copyright unless specified by the owner. Avoid legal disputes and fines by using original pieces.
- FTC Guidelines. Get up to speed with the FTC guidelines for online advertising which specifically details the use of deceptive marketing practices such as outlandish claims, shady rebilling programs, trial offers, email spam, and much more. Generally speaking, if your actions immediately throw up red flags for your ethics than it’s probably covered under the FTC guidelines; it’s best to stay ethical by playing the rules and avoiding the monumental slap from this organization (aka. your business being sued or shut down).
- Privacy, Tracking, Cookies, Disclosure & More. If you collect data, use affiliate products, write reviews, or display advertisements, than you need to have a set of privacy policies, affiliate disclosures, and other information for your visitors to understand what you do with this data and your personal standing when promoting affiliate products. The idea is to avoid falsely representing a product or service for pure gain – claims need to be legitimate and based on actual experiences – not speculation. You need to keep people aware of where their information goes (or is stored) when visiting your site.
- Malicious Content & Behavior. Don’t cross over to the dark side by promoting malicious ad-ware nor should you market adult items to children (as part of the COPPA act).
A complete understanding of the various guidelines for affiliate marketing legal issues can be found on this legal resource page of Hich Newman’s website.
On the alternative side, any affiliate that violates these rules within your own program can be subject to legal dispute and reprimand. However, this is general advice and should be discussed with a lawyer before proceeding.
In all, know your legal rights as an affiliate marketer so you don’t cross over the line and into the territory of shady practices which will cause financial mayhem on your business. Protect yourself, know the system, and stay ethical.