COVID-19 and Signing Contracts

COVID-19 and Signing Contracts

COVID-19 and Signing Contracts

COVID-19 and Signing Contracts

 

Very few documents are legally required to have a ‘wet’ signature. That is a signature applied using pen and ink. 

Most business contracts you enter into don’t require a ‘wet’ signature and may not require a signature at all to be binding. Contracts are not formalised by a signature; a signature simply serves as good evidence that a person agreed to the contents of a contract. Some examples of documents that would normally need a wet signature are: 

  • Wills
  • powers of attorney
  • deeds
  • documents that need to be witnessed, verified or authenticated in some way
  • some court documents
  • some documents for lodgement with land titles offices
  • some governance documents, such as minutes of meetings of directors
  • some regulatory documents, depending on the regulator 

Since the introduction of electronic transactions legislation by the Australian federal government and most Australian state and territory governments around the year 2000, it has been possible to sign a lot of agreements electronically

Rules do apply. 

Broadly speaking, the requirements for using an electronic signature are:

  • you must be able to identify the person signing, either directly or through additional evidence
  • the person signing must agree to be bound by their signature
  • the method for identifying the signatory and his or her intention in the circumstances is reliable
  • all the parties agree to accept e-signatures, which agreement can be inferred by conduct 

Provided that all parties agree, a typewritten name can be used as a signature.  Consider that you may be one of many people in business who have a formal typewritten signature as a standard footer to your emails.

Case study

In Stellard’s case (Stellard Pty Ltd & anor v North Queensland Fuel Pty Ltd [2015] QSC 119) a signature was required because the transaction involved property. There requirement for a signature was in s.59 of the Queensland Property Law Act, which says “No action may be brought upon any contract for the sale… of land… unless the contract… or some memorandum or note of the contract, is in writing, and signed by the party to be charged…”

All exchanges relied upon were either via email, or by conversation. Stellard argued that they were entitled to rely on NQF’s acceptance of their offer to purchase, contained in an email, by virtue of the Queensland electronic transactions legislation. The Court decided that:

 

  • the parties agreed to accept electronic signatures through their conduct, being negotiation via email including stating the offer in the body of the email and receiving the acceptance in the body of an email
  • the identity of the person sending the email acceptance was found through evidence of conversations held earlier than the date of the email, and an admission of the sender that they were the person sending the email

What does that mean for you? 

Be aware of what you are negotiating and agreeing to by email. 

Signing documents during COVID-19 restrictions

After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and Australian federal and state governments started enacting temporary legislation for greater flexibility, laws were introduced to change the way certain documents, which usually required a wet signature and a witness, could be signed using electronic means.

Changes are not consistent around Australia. Each state or territory has slightly different requirements and not every state or territory enacted relevant laws, so you do need to be conscious of the location of the person signing, and the applicable rules in that place, and when those rules will expire:

 

Legislation

Start Date

Expiry Date

Federal

Corporations (Coronavirus Economic Response) Determination (No. 3) 2020

5 May 2020

22 Mar 2021

ACT

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020

14 May 2020

3 months after COVID emergency ends

NSW

Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020

25 Mar 2020

 

26 Mar 2021

NT

N/A

 

 

QLD

Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Wills and Enduring Documents) Regulation 2020

15 May 2020

30 Apr 2021

SA

COVID-19 Emergency Response (Section 16) Regulations 2020

20 Apr 2020

6 Feb 2021

Tas

Notice under Section 17 of COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020

3 Apr 2020

 

Vic

COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Electronic Signing and Witnessing) Regulations 2020

25 Apr 2020

26 Apr 2021

WA

COVID-19 Response and Economic Recovery Omnibus Act 2020

12 Sept 2020

31 Dec 2021

*The above table mentions only the first applicable legislation, which is likely to have been amended by further legislation over time, resulting the expiry dates listed. Expiry dates are subject to change.

Signing of corporate documents under australian federal law during covid

Federal law covers signing for and on behalf of companies, as well as the holding of shareholder or member meetings electronically. The legislation was due to expire on 5 November 2020 but was extended.

The Corporations Act is specifically excluded from electronic transactions legislation, so you will normally require a wet signature of directors or secretaries who are signing a document in accordance with s.127 of that Act. The document can still be shared electronically, it just cannot be signed electronically.

Pursuant to s.127 you would usually require two directors, a company secretary and a director or a sole director and secretary to sign on behalf of a company. You usually require both people (if two are signing) to sign the same document on behalf of the company.

The temporary legislation allows for electronic application of signatures when signing for a company, which can occur on separate documents, provided that each document contains the entire contents of the document, and a method was applied to identify each person signing and their intent to be bound, and that method was reliable.

A document signed on behalf of a company another way can still be binding. Section 127 does not limit the ways in which a company can sign a document. 

Permanent changes to the Corporations Act have now been tabled before parliament for consideration in 2021 which would allow for electronic signatures and virtual meetings.

Nothing in the legislation appears to enable the electronic signing of minutes of meetings, whether of a board or shareholders.

Signing documents in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) or New South Wales (NSW) during covid 

Measures were introduced to allow for the witnessing and attestation of documents including affidavits, Wills, powers of attorney and health directives. Witnessing can be done by audio visual link provided that:

  • both video and audio are active
  • the witness watches the signatory sign in real time
  • the witness confirms the signing was witnessed by signing the document or a copy of it
  • the witness is reasonably satisfied that the document signed and the document witnessed are the same
  • the witness includes a statement on the document about how the document was witnessed in accordance with the ACT legislation.

To demonstrate confirmation of witnessing the original signature, that can be done by signing a full copy of the document (counterpart) as soon as possible after witnessing the original or signing a scanned copy of the document signed by the original signatory.

signing documents in the northern territory (NT) during covid

Although the NT does have electronic transactions legislation, no specific amendments have been made to that legislation as a result of COVID. As a result, any documents that needed a wet signature in the NT before COVID restrictions started, still do.

signing documents in queensland (qld) during covid

Queensland appears to have adopted the most complicated provisions. In Queensland, the witnessing a Will, powers of attorney, affidavit or statutory declaration can be completed by audio visual link, provided that:

  • the person witnessing is an Australian legal practitioner, justice of the peace (JP) or commissioner of declarations, notary public or other person mentioned in the regulations
  • the witness completes a certificate that is kept with the document
  • the witness sees the person sign in real time
  • the person signing signs each page of the document
  • the witness is satisfied that the signing person is making the document freely and voluntarily

Confirmation of witnessing, in addition to the required certificate, can be done by signing each page of a counterpart or scanned copy of the document signed by the original signatory, as soon as possible.

There are additional variations for affidavits and statutory declarations.

Documents other than Wills and enduring powers of attorney can also be signed electronically provided the method used to identify the signatory and their intend to be bound is reliable, in the circumstances.

Deeds can be signed electronically without a witness provided that the document is clearly identified as a deed. This applies to both individuals and companies, and for companies, where a second director or secretary is to sign, they can sign a counterpart.

signing documents in South australia (SA) during covid 

While South Australia made amendments to make meetings by electronic means easier, rather than expanding the ability to apply electronic signatures to documents they simply expanded the categories of professional people documents could be sworn or attested in front of.

Witnessing documents by audio visual means is expressly excluded.

Some alterations were made for property related transactions in June 2020.

signing documents in Tasmania (TAS) during COVID

Rather than specifying document, in Tasmania the legislation is focused on actions taken. So where a document requires a physical actions such as the making, taking, receiving, swearing, signing or witnessing of a document, those actions can be completed electronically, or by audio visual link provided that:

  • the witness watches the signatory sign in real time
  • the witness attests to the signing by signing the document or a copy of it
  • the witness includes a statement on the document about how the document was witnessed in accordance with the Tasmanian legislation.

signing documents in Victoria (VIC) during COVID

Victoria expanded the categories of people who could take oaths and affidavits first, before then introducing broader measures for the use of electronic signatures. Timing is very important in Victoria. A witness must apply their signature on the same day as the person signing the document.

Witnessing is permitted by audio visual link provided that:

  • the witness watches the signatory sign in real time
  • the witness confirms the signing was witnessed by signing the document or a copy of it on the same day
  • the witness includes a statement on the document about how the document was witnessed in accordance with the Victorian regulation.

There are specific rules around attachments, counterparts and copies of documents that must be met to comply with Victorian requirements.

Under the Victorian Oaths Act a person can electronically write anything on a document, sign, initial or date it electronically under the COVID rules. There is also provision for Wills to be signed and witnessed by audio visual link, provided that the actions result in one document with all signatures and statements relevant to any signing by electronic means, and that all actions are taken on the same day.

signing documents in Western Australia (WA) during COVID

Witnessing can be done by audio visual link provided that:

  • both video and audio are active
  • the witness watches the signatory sign in real time
  • the witness is satisfied that the document signed and the document witnessed are the same
  • the witness signs the document or a copy of it
  • the witness includes a statement on the document about how the document was witnessed in accordance with s.23 of the WA legislation.

To demonstrate confirmation of witnessing the original signature, that can be done by signing a full copy of the document (counterpart) as soon as possible after witnessing the original or signing a scanned copy of the document signed by the original signatory.

Want more information?

Where documents do need to be signed in a particular way, or witnessed, to be enforceable, then it’s important you understand the requirements that apply in the place of the person signing if you want to be able to rely on those documents in the future. 

If you need help with deeds, agreements, Wills or powers of attorney and worry about what COVID rules apply, contact us. 

Event Release Forms: Everything Yours Should Include

Event Release Forms: Everything Yours Should Include

Event Release Forms: Everything Yours Should Include

event release forms: everything yours should include

As a small business owner, do you run events, co-host events, sponsor events or plan to run events to help propel your business forward faster?

The advantages of holding events are obvious. Not only will you be meeting new people and adding new prospects to your client list, but it is also a good opportunity for you to gain valuable insights and understand the market better. Events can be face-to-face or online or a combination of both.

Events come in many shapes and sizes – meetings, conferences, online classes, training sessions, networking sessions, product launches, fundraising events and many more. No matter what type of event it is, one thing that you should always consider having is an Event Release Form.

Essentially, an Event Release Form is a contract or agreement for participation in an event. Like all other contracts, its purpose is to protect your business interests and limit your liabilities, but also to protect the interests of your participants. Just like running a business, you do not want to expose yourself or your valuable clients to any unnecessary risks when running an event.

Hand-shake contracts are great in theory. If you have ever been in a situation where you believed everyone was on the same page and later found out that there was a miscommunication, then you probably understand the importance of having a written contract.

Setting the rules for participation just before the start of an event can remind everyone of their expectations and obligations.

WHAT is the purpose of an event release form?

The event release form is to:

  • introduce the purpose of the event, eg. education only
  • remind participants of what is excluded, eg. not providing legal advice
  • require participants to take responsibility for their own behaviour, mental and physical health during the event
  • make parents or guardians aware of their responsibility for any child they bring
  • alert participants to the fact that other products or services might be promoted for sale
  • refer to privacy obligations
  • cover your rules for recording of the event by you and your participants
  • limit your liability

when do you provide an event release form?

For a face-to-face event, you want participants to read and sign your form before they enter the event venue. 

For an online event, you want participants to check a box agreeing to your release before they can access the event online.

how long should you keep an event release form?

You should keep a copy of your event release forms for as long as your business operations suggest you may have a risk to the business arising from that event.  Generally speaking, financial claims are barred 6 years after becoming aware of a right to claim and personal injury claims are barred 3 years after becoming aware of a right to claim.  Many businesses keep documents for 7 years for accounting reporting purposes.

can you use an event release form for multiple events?

You should require participants to complete a new form each time they attend an event, even if the one participant attends a variety of events you have on offer. A multi-day event, where it is clearly still the one event, will not need a daily release form, or a release form for each session, just a release for the event itself.

do you need separate event release forms for children?

It is easier to create a release form that have room to name one or more children who have come with their parent or guardian, and which binds the parent or guardian in respect of each child. You don’t need to have separate forms.

what if a participant does not want to be filmed?

If a participant doesn’t want to be included in photos or videos, then consider allocating a part of the room that is not going to be filmed or photographed and ask that they sit in that area, explaining that seating elsewhere will be caught on film. For online participants, you can ask that they keep video turned off to avoid being captured or use technology to exclude them.

Postproduction editing tends to be complicated and expensive. Practical measures before filming make permissions easier to manage.

what if we want to restrict participants from recording the event?

Your terms and conditions before registering for the event should specify that recording will be prohibited, then the Event Release Form should also state that recording is prohibited and participants may be removed if caught, and an announcement should also be made at the beginning of the event. As an alternative, some event organisers are now arranging specific digital interactive activities during the event to encourage participants to share it live on social media or ask questions during the event. 

is the event release form the same as event terms and conditions?

Your Event Release Form is NOT the same as the terms and conditions your participant signed up to before they purchased or registered for your event. Event terms and conditions are more comprehensive and need to be provided before the point of purchase, and agreed to by the participant, to be binding.

Event terms and conditions will cover in detail the things like:

1. What are you offering, and what are you not providing? 

Introduce what the event is about and what services you will be providing. This is to help set clear expectations for participants and prevent any disputes from arising as a result of ‘unmet’ expectations.

If you are running a physical event, will you be providing venue or catering? If catering, is it limited to tea and coffee or a full buffet lunch? If you are running an online event, will you be providing preparatory or post event audio or visual materials such as videos or PowerPoint slides?

For example, if you are an online fitness trainer, depending on how you offer your courses, you may want to state that you will be engaging your participants in activities but will not be giving any dietary advice. You may also want to state that it is the participant’s responsibility to have a safe space and the appropriate equipment to hand to carry out any techniques to be demonstrated during the course.

2. payment terms

If you are charging a fee for people to attend your event, then your terms and conditions should include payment terms. Include any payment options you are offering, such as the ability to pay by instalments and what payments methods are available.

For example, you may want to provide the option to participants to pay in full by direct deposit to your nominated bank account before attending the event, rather than by credit card.

3. cancellation or refund policy 

Things do not always go as planned. In the middle of 2019 very few people would have predicted that face-to-face conferencing would be put on hold for most of 2020 due to COVID restrictions. Venues do occasionally burn down. Guest presenters do sometimes drop out due to personal reasons. You may end up having to postpone or even worse, cancel your event.

If you don’t want to give refunds, your terms and conditions need to be clear about what you will do if you have to postpone an event. As long as the postponement was outside your control and you remain ready, willing and able to give credit toward a future event, or ensuring a space is available in the next, or one of the next 3 scheduled events, your may not be legally obliged to give a refund.

But what if your participants are the ones that want to cancel or withdraw from your event?

You should set out clearly in what circumstances you participants’ cancellation would be a ‘valid’ cancellation, which would entitle them to a refund. Factors for you to consider include the reason for their cancellation (eg. change of mind, medical reasons) and how long before the event they notify you of their intention to cancel. You should also specify in what circumstances a refund will be made in full, when it will be made in part and whether an administration fee will be deducted.

Having a clear cancellation policy can deter participants from simply changing their mind about attending.

4. disclaimer

When you make a statement to the effect that you are not responsible for something, then you are making a disclaimer. Its purpose, of course, is also to protect you from potential disputes or legal issues.

If you do not want your participants to be under the impression that all information you provide will be accurate and therefore safe to rely on, then you need to say that. If expect your participants to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing at your event, then that needs to be spelt out.

5. limitation of liability and indemnity

The last thing you want is to have someone bring a legal action against you for a loss they claim to have suffered by attending your event. A limitation of liability and indemnity clause is to protect you from being held responsible for losses or damages that were not caused as a result of your negligence.

6. intellectual property

The materials that you make available to your participants are likely to be your intellectual property and valuable assets of your business. It is important to correctly identify your intellectual property and draft effective clauses to protect it from being misused or exploited by your participants against your wishes.

7. personal information

You are collecting personal information from your participants when they register for your event or provide you with their contact details in any other way. To ensure that you are complying with your privacy obligations, you need to have a privacy policy and link that to your terms and conditions.

If you wish to take photos or videos of your participants during your event and later use that footage to market your business, you will also need your participants’ consent and release, because images can also be personal information.

Want more information?

If you plan to conduct online or offline events, consider what terms and conditions and release forms you need to protect you and your business. Contact Onyx Legal and we can work with you to prepare documents tailored to your business.

Intellectual Property Protection – What is it? & Why You Need it

Intellectual Property Protection – What is it? & Why You Need it

Intellectual Property Protection – What is it? & Why You Need it

What IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY? 

If you are a business owner, it is important for you to understand that your intangible assets, the ones you can’t pick up and hold, are just as valuable as your physical property.


If you haven’t appreciated the value of your intellectual property before now, you might not have taken any steps to protect it. Unfortunately, the point where you recognise value is often when it’s already too late and other people are already exploiting your name, or your brand, or your ideas, and reaping all the benefits.

WHAT RISKS DO YOU FACE IF YOU DON’T PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?

Almost all businesses you have heard of or are looking for are either offering products or services online or marketing their business online in order to reach as broad an audience as possible. But not all businesses realise that the higher the exposure, the higher the risk of your content being copied, misused or stolen.

You do not want to put yourself in a situation where you make it too easy for someone to infringe your intellectual property or even worse, have them infringe your intellectual property without you even realising it’s happening; consider the current feud between McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s over the ‘Big Jack’ burger.

HUNGRY JACK’S ‘BIG JACK’ TOO MCDONALD’S BY SURPRISE

Whilst McDonald’s did take action back in the 1970’s to register the trade mark ‘Big Mac’ after years of comfortably holding sway with the name, they stopped checking their core competitors’ trade mark registrations and November 2019 Hungry Jack’s dared to see if they could get the ‘Big Jack’ through.

Surprisingly, they did! Examination was expedited, and although an adverse report was initially issued the response was filed, considered and accepted within days, resulting in registration in about half the time typical for current filings. Sales were initiated in late July 2020 and McDonald’s filed a claim in the Federal Court opposing the trade mark within a month.

Regular monitoring of filings might have enabled McDonald’s to object before registration, with the opportunity to stop the application getting through, stopping the Hungry Jack’s campaign before launch, and saving the cost of having to start court proceedings.

In November 2020 the case was still ongoing and mediation had been ordered. In the meantime, the Big Jack is on menus around the country.

Apart from trade mark infringement, one of the most common complaints we see is copying of contenT… 

… usually by someone who has been involved with your business as an employee or contractor, or as a customer.

Customers tend to take your information and think they can do it better, but without the grounding you have in the history of the product or service, often fail after a short period. With millennial employees, our experience has been sheer ignorance on the part of the employee of what is expected of them, even if it was clearly written into their employment contract. With contractors and more mature employees, our experience suggests that intellectual property theft tends to be based more in what they think they can get away with and has been conducted on an assessment that you won’t take action.

So, if you are still doing nothing to protect your intellectual property, then you are exposing your business to a significant amount of risk and the potential for the high costs of enforcement as compared to prevention.

Not only could your business lose its competitive advantage in the market, but poor-quality imitations of your content can also ruin your business’s reputation.

DON’T PANIC 

This article helps you consider what intellectual property you need to protect and offer some tips on how you can do that.

WHAT IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?

It is important you understand the scope of your intellectual property.

As the name suggests, intellectual property is any property or creation of your mind or intellect. Whenever you develop a new product, service, process or idea, that is considered your intellectual property and belongs to you.

From small things such as the name on your door, to bigger things like your secret recipe, or an innovative invention, these may all be your intellectual property. These are the things that differentiate your business from other businesses in the market and therefore give your business its commercial value.

Common examples of Intellectual Property for online business:

  • brand name and byline
  • logo and colour choices
  • website meta information
  • website content – visual, video, written, downloadable
  • content – planning, drafts, upgrades
  • customer lists – email, SMS, FB messenger, push notification
  • customer service – processes, scripts, emails
  • internal operating processes and procedures
  • business delivery methodology
Intellectual property can be divided into the following categories. Which category you need to seek protection under for your creation will depend on your product or service.

1. Trade Marks

Many businesses register trade marks to protect their interests. The value of your trade mark increases with the success of your business, so consider when the best time will be for you to register your trade mark.

A trade mark is a form of brand recognition that distinguishes your product or services from your competitors. It helps consumers recognise the source or quality of your products or services. It could be a word, logo, phrase, letter, number, picture, or even a smell. For example, both Google and Facebook have registered their names as trade marks to protect their exclusive rights.

You may wish to do the same and register your business name as your trade mark to prevent anyone else from using it. You could also register the name of your core product or your core service as a trade mark. Think ‘Big Jack’.

Do not confuse trade mark registration with registering a business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Registering a business name with ASIC is your legal obligation, which would allow you to use that name to identify your business. However, it does not stop others from using the same or similar name the way a trade mark registration does.

Similarly, registering a domain name does not give you the exclusive right to use it the way a registered trade mark does, and there are limits on the way trade marks can be used in domain names and on websites.

2. COPYRIGHT

Copyright is a bundle of rights in creative work such as text, artistic work, music, computer programs or films. For example, if you draw a sketch, write a book, a journal article or a movie script, those would be protected by copyright. (Copywriting is writing of copy, usually with the objective of making someone want to buy. Two different concepts.)

As the copyright owner, you have the exclusive right to reproduce your work, decide how it will be published and distributed, and keep it from being used or modified by others. If you allow other people to use your work, you still have the right of attribution. What this means is that anyone using your work has to give you credit by for example, putting your name or photo on or next to your work. Commercial exploitation and attribution rights are separately enforceable, not linked.

Be aware that copyright does not protect what are merely ideas or concepts. Your work has to be in some material form (ie. written down or recorded in some way) to be protected. So even if you have a brilliant idea in your head for a movie, but you have not written it down as a script or storyboard, then that idea will not be protected by copyright.

3. patents

If you have an invention or innovation that you wish to protect, then you should look at patent registration. You may need a patent when you have developed a new device, substance, method or process. For example, it may be a solar panel, a new textile, or even medicine. Patent registration gives you the exclusive right to exploit your product for commercial gain.

Onyx Legal doesn’t specialise in patent registration and we can instead refer you to a patent attorney.

4. DESIGNS

Designs are like a mixture of copyright and patents, but what you are protecting is the design or appearance of your product. That may include its shape, colour, configuration, pattern or ornamentation. Sometimes, the overall visual appearance of your product may be so new and distinctive that it forms a valuable asset of your business. Examples of designs include the ball chair, the mankini, or the Tiffany box.

Design registration gives you the exclusive right to make, import, sell, hire, use or keep a product based on that design.

5. TRade secrets and confidential information

All businesses have trade secrets and confidential information. Your employee, client and supplier data are examples of your confidential information. Trade secrets might be secret formulas, practices, processes or any other information that has commercial value because it is not generally known by others. Trade secrets are also a type of intellectual property.

As the holder of trade secrets and confidential information, you need to take steps to protect that information and maintain its secrecy. For example, you can prepare confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements to help ensure that whoever you disclose trade secrets to must keep it confidential. It is also advisable to ensure you have provisions in employment agreements and contractor agreements if you have others contributing to your business. 

COCA-COLA PROTECTING ITS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

To give you an illustration of how important it is for businesses to protect intellectual property, let’s take the familiar brand of Coca-Cola as an example.

The Coca-Cola company owns the trade mark ‘Coca-Cola’, as well as the trade mark on the graphic designs of their name, and even the shape of their bottles. You may think that it is being overly cautious, but these are all valuable assets of its business which distinguish it from other cola brands.

Imagine what would happen if Coca-Cola’s competitors are able to use its unique bottle shape, logo, brand name or design to mislead consumers into thinking that they are the real Coca-Cola.

Of course, Coca-Cola’s formula is a trade secret. The company has high security measures to protect its secret formula and ensure that it remains completely confidential.

The success of Coca-Cola depends largely on its ability to obtain protection of its intangible creations and assets. The key takeaway here for you is, if you want your business to stay competitive in the market, it is crucial for you to consider effective protection of your intellectual property.

HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?

You must be prepared to spend money.

  1. Protection by registration

Patents, designs, and trade marks can be protected through registration. In Australia, registrations are made with IP Australia.

Registration offers you the most secure legal protection, with codified exclusive rights. If someone infringes your rights, you are entitled to take legal action against them.

Be aware that in design registration there is an extra step which requires your registration to be certified before you can enforce your rights.

If a dispute ever arises, it is less costly to defend a registered right than an unregistered one because your registration serves as proof of your ownership.

  1. Automatic protection

There is no system of registration for copyright in Australia.

If you are the creator of copyright work, you automatically get copyright protection in the work upon its creation (ie. as soon as it is written down or recorded). Copyright vests in the employer for works created in the course of employment. 

If you sell into the United States market, you must register digital products with the Electronic Copyright Office before you can enforce your rights in the United States.

Because there is no registration system to protect your copyright in Australia, consider placing a © symbol or label on your work to indicate that copyright belongs to you and you intend to protect it. This can act as a deterrent to potential infringers.

There is no right order. Consider including a copyright statement that looks something like this:

“© the year of first publication and your name ”

For example, “© 2020 Onyx Legal”.

Similarly, there is no system of registration for trade secrets either. You will need confidentiality agreements for people to sign so that they do not disclose your trade secrets without your permission, as well as provisions in your employment and contractor agreements.

  1. Confidentiality/ Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA)

Whenever you share trade secrets or any confidential information with your employees, contractors or business partners, you need to ensure that they don’t share it with anyone else.

The most effective way to prove their agreement to protect your intellection property is to prepare an NDA which holds the other party liable for intentionally or unintentionally disclosing any confidential information without your consent.

However, keep in mind that no contract or agreement is any protection against human misbehaviour, so whilst it will remind most people to do the right thing, it does not offer 100% protection of your intellectual property.

4. PRACTICAL MEASUREs

The more effort you put a potential copycat to, the less attractive your product or service is to being copied. Within your business, it might be cheaper to educate staff and contractors rather than taking them to court. Some practical measures you could apply are:

  • watermarks
  • PDF rather than text downloads
  • a pay wall before access
  • terms and conditions on your website and for access through pay walls
  • contracts and agreements
  • employee education and training
  • internal policies
  • an intellectual property register
  • creating a method or framework eg. Six Sigma
  • keep an eye on competitors
  • create your own enforcement process map
  • regularly search for your core product or service
  • give cease and desist or take down notices to infringers

WHAT IF YOU WANT TO LET SOMEONE USE YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?

You may wish to grant licenses for individuals or businesses to access or use your intellectual property for either personal use or commercial use. For example, Disney grants licenses to toy makers to use Disney characters for commercial purposes. Or if you are an online educator, you may grant to your customers a license to access your online classes for personal use.

Creative Commons licencing is one option to define your licence terms for public online content, but other content is usually protected by drafting a clear and appropriate license agreements.

From an asset protection perspective, you might extablish a separate holding entity to hold your business intellectual property and licence use of it to your trading entity. 

When you license your materials to others, it is important for you to define the parameters of  use of your intellectual property, including timing and payment. 

IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENFORCE YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

Don’t think that by having your intellectual property registered or protected by a NDA, you can sit back and relax. That is only the first part of it. As the owner of intellectual property, you are responsible to identify infringements and enforce your rights.

What constitutes an infringement varies depending on the circumstances.

Whenever you are not sure about grounds to allege an infringement, then you should always be cautious and get legal advice before sending out any correspondence to the offending party. It the action in question does not constitute an infringement, your accusation may be considered as a groundless or unjustified threat. If that is the case, then the other party might be in a position to bring a claim against you.

Want more information?

A good understanding of the scope and value of your intellectual property can help you decide what steps to take to protect it, and improve the long term value of your business.

Make an appointment with us at Onyx Legal to discuss appropriate strategies for the protection of your intellectual property. 

AU$ Trademark Fees Have Changed

AU$ Trademark Fees Have Changed

AU$ Trademark Fees Have Changed

IP Australia Fees for Applying to Register a Trade Mark? 

A few quick things you should know before making an application for a trade mark:

  • Registration has local affect (Australia) only, unless you specifically make and pay for an international application
  • The cost of international applications vary depending upon the countries you want to cover
  • Generic or commonly used words and phrases are unlikely to achieve registration
  • The assessment process takes six to twelve months and, if successful, is backdated to the date of your application
  • There are 45 classes of registration and each class attracts a fee

Until October 2016 you had to pay both an application fee when you lodged your application and a registration fee six to twelve months later once it was accepted.

For applications made after 10 October 2016, you pay a higher application fee, but no additional registration fee, so overall its cheaper! Just a bigger up front cost than previously.

In 2020 your IP Australia standard trade mark application fees are either:

– $250 per mark applied for, per class applied for if you use IP Australia pre-set descriptions, or

– $400 per mark, per class if you use your own unique descriptions 

Example: You have one brand name you want to register for printed material, clothing and the delivery of entertainment online. That covers at least three separate classes. If you use pre-set descriptions from IP Australia, your fee to IP Australia for that one brand will be $750. If you use your own descriptions, your fee will be $1200. Your legal fees are separate. 

As soon as you use a unique description in one class, the unique descriptor fee applies across each class, unless you make separate applications for other classes. 

If you’re not sure whether you are ready, or even need to register a trade mark at this stage, check out our guest article in ProBlogger “How (and When) to Register a Trademark Without Hiccups” where we take you through a 5 step process –

Step 1: Is your brand capable of trade mark protection?
Step 2: Does your brand have value?
Step 3: Is there anyone else out there using your brand, or likely to?
Step 4: Is there any other form of protection in place?
Step 5: Is now the right time?

How can Onyx Legal help you?

We can help you apply for trade mark registration in Australia, object to someone else’s application, respond to an objection, or respond to an adverse examination report.

To get started, we will need from you – your trade mark, any image marks you wish to register and a description of the products or services you wish to have covered by the mark. Your description can include products and services you expect to develop during the next three years.

Disclaimers: What They Do and Don’t Protect You From

Disclaimers: What They Do and Don’t Protect You From

Disclaimers: What They Do and Don’t Protect You From

Disclaimers: What they do and don’t protect you from 

As a business owner, it is likely that you run a website, blog or social media to help people find you, advertise and promote your products or services. It is the most effective way of attracting potential customers or clients in this digital age.

When someone visits your website, you are offering them information of some sort. Are you always 100% certain that all the information on there are accurate and up to date?

Even if your answer is yes, do you know how your customers or competitors are using or interpreting that information? The best you can do is hope they are using it the way you intended, but really it is out of your control.

This is why having a disclaimer is always a good idea. It can better protect you and your business.

What is a disclaimer?

Almost all websites have disclaimers. You must have seen one before. Sometimes disclaimers are hidden in terms of use, and sometimes they have their own individual link in the footer, and sometimes they appear in every footer, whether that is on a website or email.

A disclaimer is a notice that you display to protect you from potential legal issues; it is a statement that you are not responsible for something. To give you an example, here is Wikipedia’s no guarantee disclaimer:

Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here. The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.”

 

So, why is it important to have a disclaimer?

Well, consider the case where someone claims that they have relied on your information and suffered loss as a result. Let’s look at an example.

A marketer promotes pre-sales of a real estate development through a website. (A common cause of claims in court.)

The website has some images that are ‘artist’s impressions’ of what the development will look like when it’s finished and might contain other information like a copy of a survey diagram. It might also contain a list of finishes to be included in the final development.

Survey diagrams are really things you should check with a surveyor, engineer or other professional, rather than take from a marketing brochure, but that might also depend on who is providing the brochure and what expertise they say they have.

The website should clearly caution the buyer that the artist’s impressions might not be true to the end result and that a buyer should make their own enquiries to verify information before they decide to buy; like checking the inclusions in the contract with the builder. If there are no clear statements, it is possible that a buyer could claim they were misled by the information on the website and would not have bought otherwise. Then if the property turns out being something they don’t want or doesn’t have the value they expected it to have, they sue the marketer to try and recover their losses.

You do not want to put yourself in a situation like this, where your business reputation could be damaged, and you could be found liable to pay legal costs to defend yourself and possibly someone else’s losses.

Some other common examples we see are:

  • people who have a lived experience with a physical condition or disease, but no formal medical training
  • people who have successfully built a business without any formal qualifications
  • people who have successfully overcome an adversity and again, don’t have any formal qualifications

Out of a genuine desire to help others and share the benefit of their experience, a person like this might establish a business around coaching or educating others on how they achieved what they did.

The thing is, not everything works for everybody consistently, and there is a risk if you put yourself in this kind of position that you will encounter a person your services don’t work for, and they say the relied completely on what you said. In that situation, a disclaimer might just help you avoid costly court proceedings.

And for something completely different…

Now consider a completely different situation where your website makes it possible for other people to post comments, reviews or advertisements. Forum sites and advice sites like Quora are like this.  All the information posted by third parties could mislead your customers, clients, or visitors of your website, and you could be the one exposed to liabilities because of their actions.

By having a clear and comprehensive disclaimer for your websites, and building behaviour and processes consistent with the terms of your disclaimer, you put yourself in the best possible position to:

  • protect your rights;
  • limit your liability; and
  • disclaim third party liability.

 

Do you need a disclaimer?

Yes, and no.

Being in business involves a certain level of risk and some types of business are riskier than others, and some types of business people are happy with more risk than others.

We need to look at your business, your background, your products and your customers to form an opinion on how important it is for you to use disclaimers.

Generally speaking, we will suggest you do use a disclaimer on your website.

This is because any member of the public that has internet access can see the content on your website, and you are responsible for all the content you put on there. Even if you are not making money from these websites (for example, you might be posting a blog simply for informational purposes), you must still take reasonable steps to ensure that visitors of your website will not be misled by any information you share.

However, if your business is fairly straight-forward and well understood, like a barber or hairdresser for example, you probably don’t need a disclaimer. Everyone knows what barbers and hairdressers do. The worst that can happen is probably a bad haircut, or a bad colour, or a clumsy shave. The risk to the business is the cost of the service, and maybe the cost of fixing the problem, or the customer having someone else fix the problem. The problem probably won’t cost the business more than $300. So, will a disclaimer make any difference? Probably not.

On the other hand, coaching can be a really interesting area where you as a coach should be careful about what you say you can do for someone, particularly when results are going to be dependent on how much effort and application your client invests in doing what you have advised them to do.  If you are offering a high-end coaching package with a purchase price over $10,000, we would recommend a disclaimer.

If you run a website or email list that provides information which is likely to be relied on by visitors  to your website, or subscribers on your email list, you are strongly encouraged to have a disclaimer in place. Particularly if you provide specialised information, in areas such as health, managing money or an industry that is regulated.

If your website provides specific steps in a process or a guide for people to follow, you could also increase your legal risk.

An example might be if you are an online fitness trainer and you post videos that step your clients through a workout. If someone who watches and follows your video injures themself, then you run the risk that they sue you for their injury. But if you have a disclaimer in place which covers your legal obligations and placing some responsibility for your clients behaviour back on to them, you give yourself a much higher chance of avoiding liability.

 

What kind of disclaimer do you need?

You may run different types of websites, and the type of disclaimers you need will vary.

  • Websites

What disclaimer you need depends on whether you use your website to sell products or services, or merely to publish information. If you use your website to sell a product, someone could get hurt when using your product. Whereas if you post information on your website, someone could misconstrue that information and suffer loss as a result.

You might need a ‘no responsibility’ disclaimer which states that you are not responsible for any damages people suffer as a result of using your products or services. Or you might need a ‘views expressed’ disclaimer to inform readers that the information is only your view or opinion and is not intended to be relied upon without advice specific to their circumstances. 

  • Blog

If you intend on giving information on your blog which you are not qualified to give, you need to have a disclaimer to explain the limits of your qualifications and to recommend that people seek professional advice relevant to their circumstances.

If you are not a health professional but provide information about a health conditions, you need to make it very clear that readers should not rely on your information without seeking their own independent medical advice. The same applies for other types of expert advice including financial or legal advice.

If you are merely passing on information, you should indicate that it is work of another and that you are not endorsing it by making it available on your website. 

  • Emails

You may need a disclaimer in your emails, depending on the type of business you run and how you use your email. 

For instance, if you email contains advice that you are not qualified to give, you should include a disclaimer to the effect that you are not an expert in that field, that you are only offering a suggestion and that readers who act on the information do so at their own risk.

A confidentiality disclaimer can also be beneficial if you are sending confidential information. The disclaimer should state that the recipient must not use, reproduce, copy or disclose this information other than for the purposes for which it was supplied. 

  • Social media (eg. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram)

Again, this will depend on your business and how you use social media.

One of the biggest risks with social media is that third parties can comment, post, or advertise on your page. A disclaimer to limit your liability for any actions or errors of third parties will be of assistance if you are also monitoring your social media pages and removing posts or qualifying posts and comments that could be misleading.

 

How do you write a disclaimer for your website?

It is not possible to have a disclaimer that could work for all types of businesses or websites. Each disclaimer is different depending on what you do and how you do it. Like we said earlier, we need to look at your business, your background, your products and your customers to form an opinion on how important it is for you to use disclaimers.

To help you decide what you should include in your disclaimer:

Step 1 – Think about what rights you want to protect

Step 2 – Think about what liabilities you might be exposed to

You need to identify the possible risks and scenarios that could expose you to legal liability.

Consider:

  • Warning your readers that your content is merely an opinion and not a fact
  • Alerting your readers to the potential mistakes and inaccuracies in the information
  • Informing your readers that you are not offering professional advice and your content is only informational, and that they should consult a professional before making any decisions
  • Disclaiming liability for any errors in the information that third parties post on your websites (together with a process for reviewing the accuracy of information shared, or making it clear that older posts might not be accurate.

 

When are you not protected by a disclaimer?

If your disclaimer contains terms that attempt to exclude a legal liability that cannot be excluded, your disclaimer will not shield you from liability. If it is contrary to law, it might be void, but if it is legally compliant, it might still limit your potential liability.

Most people get in trouble when they say or do things that are inconsistent with their disclaimer.

Always keep in mind that your disclaimer must be consistent with your behaviour and business processes and any representations that you make, whether on your website or through your conduct. If anything on your website or your conduct creates a different impression for your customer or client, your disclaimer will not protect you.

Your disclaimer also needs to be placed somewhere where it can easily be seen either by customers using your website or receiving your emails or communications in any other way. If your disclaimer is too hard to find or too small that is can be easily missed, it will not protect you.

Conventional website design will usually have a link to your disclaimer in the footer of your website.

 

 

do you still need insurance when you have a disclaimer?

Yes.

Even if you have a disclaimer in place, you should still hold adequate liability insurance to protect business activities. Having a disclaimer does not mean you are guaranteed to be protected from all liabilities. If a claim is brought against you, it is up to the courts to determine the effect of your disclaimer and to what extent your liability is limited. The more vague or confusing your disclaimer is, the more unlikely that it will protect you.

 

 

Want more information?

 A well-drafted, quality disclaimer can help you to effectively manage your customer or clients’ expectations and set the boundaries for your responsibility and liability.

Contact Onyx Legal so that we can work with you to identify the most appropriate form of disclaimer for your business and your customer base. 

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and managing personal information

As a business owner, how many times a day do people give you their personal information? Do you think about protecting it, or do you just assume that the systems you have in place will do that? 

Or maybe you don’t think about it at all. 

Does a small business need a privacy policy?

You must comply with Australian privacy laws unless you run a small business with $3 million or less annual turnover. However, you will still be bound by privacy law if your small business does any one of the following:

  • are a credit reporting body (e.g. Equifax, Illion) or
  • are a contracted service provider under a contract with the federal government; or
  • provide a health service or otherwise hold health information (e.g. health practitioners, life coaches, personal trainers, childcare centres); or
  • collect or disclose personal information for a benefit, service or advantage (e.g. operating a lead generation website where you sell the leads).

If you have any customers or suppliers overseas and you collect their personal information, you may now also have to comply with what are called ‘extra-territorial’ provisions of laws from overseas. For example, if you have customers in the European Union, you are required to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), regardless of the size of business. If you have a medium enterprise with customers in California, you now must consider the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Some other countries with privacy laws that have an extraterritorial scope include New Zealand, Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, and Canada.

 

From a practical perspective, can not having a privacy policy really make a difference?

Apart from the legal obligations, there are practical consequences of not having a privacy policy too.

If you want to advertise on social media, or through Google Ads or other platforms, you are required to provide a link to a privacy policy before your advertising can go live.

A lot of international service providers include in their terms and conditions that you must comply with privacy laws to use their services, and they have the right to end your ability to use their services if you don’t.

For example, if you use PayPal you agree with the following terms of the PayPal User Agreement:

You must comply with all your obligations under applicable Australian consumer law, including as a seller by publishing a refunds and returns policy as well as a privacy policy, where required by law.

… you must not: Infringe PayPal’s or any third party’s copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy.

…To the extent that you (as a seller) process any personal data about a PayPal customer pursuant to this agreement, you agree to comply with the requirements of any applicable data protection laws. You have your own, independently determined privacy policy, notices and procedures for any such personal data that you hold as a data controller, including a record of your activities related to processing of personal data under this agreement.”

What difference would it make to your business if you couldn’t process payments through PayPal?

 

So, what is the point of a privacy policy?

One of your many obligations under Australian privacy laws is that every time you collect personal information from an individual, that person must be able to find out why you are collecting it, and what you are going to do with it.

Posting a privacy policy that you understand and know you can apply, on your website where it is easy to access, is by far the easiest way to share with people what you are doing with their personal information.

 

So, what is personal information?

Under the Privacy Act 1988, personal information means any information or opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:

  • whether the information or opinion is true or not; and
  • whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not.

And what does that really mean?

Well, for a start, it doesn’t cover information about people who have died, which is interesting considering the legacy profiles some social media platforms are now making available for the families of the deceased, but that is not the topic for today.

It does cover information you collect about your employees and contractors. Many businesses only think about customer information and forget that you also have to protect the privacy of employees, contractors and suppliers.

But what about a practical example:

Imagine a gym where someone is leaving and their trainer turns to another trainer and says something like “She’s never going to lose weight, you should see her mum, she just has fat genes”.

The comment is verbal, it’s an opinion, it refers to a person who can be identified visually, and whose name and other details could be found by looking at the trainer’s schedule. That makes it personal information.

Is there a risk of violating privacy law – Yes. Is it likely to be a big risk to your business? – No. Why not? – Because it probably wasn’t recorded and is therefore difficult to prove, but if another patron overheard it, or the trainer repeated it to someone else, it does start a chain of infringement.

Imagine the same gym has list of all their trainers with their phone numbers on a clip board, and that clipboard gets left on the front reception desk, where anyone coming in could take a quick photo with their phone.

Is there a risk of violating privacy law – Yes. Is it likely to be a big risk to your business? – Possibly. Why? – Because once that information is recorded in a different form, like a photo, your business has disclosed personal information without permission.

Can you see why it is important to understand what you are doing in the process of collecting personal information?

 

When are you ‘collecting’ personal information?

You collect personal information in your business all of the time.

Any time you confirm someone’s name over the phone, whether or not you write it down.  Every time someone fills in a contact form on your website. Every time you add someone’s details to a database. Every time you prepare a proposal for someone or take payment details. Every testimonial. These are all examples of collecting personal information.

This is a broad concept.

It includes getting personal information from any source and by any means, such as the people themselves, social media profiles, other businesses, or even surveillance cameras. In practice, all personal information that you hold will generally be considered information that was collected by you.

Bear in mind that if you generate personal information from some other data you hold, collection may also take place. For example, if you generate a sub-set of information from your database for promotional purposes, you’re effectively collecting that information again. And the practical consequence? – Your privacy policy and procedures should be broad enough to include that kind of activity in what you do with personal information.

How should you manage personal information?

This is where a lot of people get lost and think that having a privacy policy by itself is a cure for all ills. It isn’t.

You are required to manage the personal information you collect in an open and transparent way. What this means is that you must take reasonable steps to establish and maintain internal practices, procedures and systems for your business to ensure its compliance with privacy laws.

Do you have any sort of privacy checklist for small business to help your team navigate what they can and can’t do with personal information? If not, that is a good place to start. What is considered as reasonable would depend on your business.

Think about what type of personal information your business holds, how much information you collect, how your customers might be affected if their personal information was not handled properly, the size of your business, and the time and cost involved in implementing appropriate procedures.

What you are required to do in Australia is comply with privacy law to a degree that is commercially proportionate to your business. So, if you run an online marketing agency with a team of four people, your procedures are not likely to be as complex as a business supplying services to the defence force.

Here are some examples what you could consider implementing:

  • understand what privacy obligations you have as a business;
  • work out when you collect personal information, and why (avoid collecting more than you need for your business);
  • work out what you will do if someone wants to be anonymous, and if you can still deliver products or services if you allow that;
  • work out where you store personal information, and how you use it (do you use a commercial database, or excel, or your phone contacts list?);
  • work out if you share personal information (eg. with a distributor or courier service);
  • decide whether the systems and procedures you use in your business protect, or put personal information at risk of being disclosed, lost or stolen (eg. leaving a mobile phone in an Uber);
  • check that you have faith in the online systems you use and there is limited risk of unintentional access by someone outside your business (eg. information on a white board visible when you are on Zoom, unintentional disclosure of a Google form);
  • work out what you will do if you get a complaint from a customer about the use of their personal information;
  • work out what you will do if someone asks you for a copy of their personal information, or a change to that personal information (eg. change of name or address);
  • include privacy training as part of your induction process for new staff; and
  • annually review and audit your business’s privacy practices, procedures and systems.

 

How do you write an effective privacy policy?

Your next step then is to write a clear and up-to-date Privacy Policy about how your business manages personal information, or get us to prepare it for you. At a minimum, it must contain the following:

  • the type of personal information that you collect and store (eg. contact details, educational qualifications);
  • how you collect and securely store personal information (eg. collect directly from your customer and their public social media accounts, then add to a CRM);
  • the purpose for collecting, keeping, using and disclosing personal information;
  • how your customers can access and correct any their personal information and who to contact in your business;
  • how your customers make a complaint about a breach of privacy laws, and what happens when they do; and
  • whether you are likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients, and if yes, the likely countries.

Your Privacy Policy will be more comprehensive depending on the complexity of your business and should be tailored to match your internal systems and procedures. A well-written, easy-to-understand Privacy Policy can add to your credibility and help build rapport with your customers.

If your Privacy Policy is made available online, you can provide a condensed version to outline key information, but a direct link to the full policy must be provided.

 

What if you get it wrong?

Privacy law is regulated by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The Commissioner can require your business to put in place systems, procedures or training, pay compensation, or apply to the court for fines to be made against your business.

Compensation is usually ordered where information has been disclosed, or where a person has requested access to their information, and it hasn’t been provided in a timely manner.

 

Protect your customers and your business

Having the right systems and procedures in place with a clear and comprehensive Privacy Policy is your opportunity to reassure your customers that you can be trusted, that you are aware of and care about their privacy and information security. In doing so, you are not only complying with your legal obligations but are also working towards building a reputable business.