Advice From a Legal Expert & Affiliate Marketer That Will Change Your Business Strategy


From FTC disclosures to copyrights, trademarks, and tax law, there are a lot of important topics that you’ve got to know about in order to legally protect your business -- and yourself.

Recently at one of the world’s biggest conferences for online publishers, BlogHer, we sat down with attorney, small business expert, affiliate marketer, and blogger Tyra Hughley Smith, to discuss the top legal and tax issues that face online affiliate marketers today, as well as the most common mistakes small business owners make (and how to avoid them). In addition to the following highlights from our conversation with Tyra, she also shared valuable tips, tools, and resources, so be sure to read on after viewing the video!

Copyright and disclosures: the top legal issues facing bloggers

In Tyra’s opinion, copyright issues top the list of what affiliate marketers face. Because copyright law is federally protected, it’s extremely important for publishers to understand when it’s appropriate to use someone else’s words and images -- and when it’s not. Google doesn’t mean free, so be sure to choose images that are in the public domain or that you know are cleared for use. And when it comes to photos you’ve taken or graphics you’ve created, Tyra always recommends that you watermark your own images -- they are your intellectual property. (Note: Do not, however, watermark eBay’s images or those provided by eBay sellers or manufacturers.)

Another major issue that Tyra talks about that is having a major impact on bloggers are FTC disclosures. The Federal Trade Commission is really cracking down on influencers and people posting on Instagram and Facebook -- so much so that the largest social media network has now come out with a branded content tool to help publishers be more transparent and better comply with disclosure laws.

Tyra advises that bloggers clearly note their affiliate links, for example, by saying “this is an affiliate link” at the top of a blog post, or by putting a note in your website’s sidebar that says “affiliate links are marked by an asterisk.” (And then doing just that!) While public protection is important, Tyra points out that disclosures cover you as the marketer. Considering the fact that disclosure violations can be up to a $16,000 fine per post, it’s in your best interest as an affiliate marketer to follow her advice, and disclose, disclose, disclose!

Trademarks: how they protect the public & publishers alike

For publishers, trademark protection is twofold; on the one hand is consumer protection, which ensures that people receive the brands and products they believe they are paying for. On the other hand is how trademarks protect your brand and your business; according to Tyra, you want to make sure that people aren't trading on your name and making money off of your content. She points out that your brand is your reputation, and that's what a trademark does for you -- protects your brand and your reputation in the marketplace.

Tax issues and additional advice for small businesses

It’s very common for bloggers to have questions about what they need to claim for tax purposes, for example, if they get products in kind, or if they’re posting affiliate links. Tyra advises publishers to get familiar with IRS guidelines, as well as the tax laws for the state you live in.

Also, as Tyra points out, a lot of small business owners don't know that legally it's not a great idea to co-mingle business and personal funds by keeping them all in one account. If you do end up getting sued, you don't want somebody to come out after your house, your car or your bank account. So that business structure is key.

Important resources

For more information, Tyra recommends the following websites for free and helpful advice:

FTC website

U.S. Trademark Office

U.S. Copyright Office

IRS website

This information is provided to give general guidance. eBay cannot provide legal advice. Please make sure to conduct your own research and, as noted in our Network Agreement, stay up to date and comply with the latest laws, best practices, and guidelines.