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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property as an Online Freelancer

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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property as an Online Freelancer

One of my favorite quotes about financial freedom states that you are only as rich as your will power (Wayne Chirisa). Online freelancing is built on the same premise. It isn’t enough to have access to the best resources and tools to hack your freelancing success. You need inner motivation, a trigger that allows you take on the challenge of getting yourself out there among millions of other experts. Freelancing is just the beginning to how far you can go: financial freedom, full control over your own life and availability, the chance to build an international personal brand, constant growth, opportunities and more can be available to you.

However, take note that with great power (and freedom is power) comes great responsibility. This means risks will be waiting just around the corner and it’s never too early to learn how to protect yourself and your work. Your rights as freelancer include protecting your intellectual property. This article will show you how to do it without endangering your online success and the relationship with your clients.

Step 1: Know Your Own Worth and What Work Falls Under Intellectual Property

While there are laws in place that protect the content you create or develop as a freelancer, not everything is considered “intellectual property”. For example, anything under ghostwriting or “ghost” performed tasks implies you are not to assume any intellectual rights. Be aware and stay away from “intermediate” clients who request your services and assume full ownership over it.

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Ideally, do business directly with clients, agencies and agency representatives whose identity you can verify. One way to do it is to connect on LinkedIn. Not only it will help you learn more about their backgrounds, but it is also a great opportunity to ask for a recommendation once the project ends.  A recommendation means the client recognizes your efforts and intellectual property in public, apart from the fat check you receive.

Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Your (Water)Mark

Being an online freelancer means tapping into every possible way to showcase your services and expertise. However, take note on online platforms, portfolio websites and any online forums/communities where you can build a profile and upload files. It is easy to get your hard work stolen on these platforms unless you opt for watermarks and creative ways to prevent intellectual property theft.

Developers can protect themselves by creating a “code riddle” or reversing lines of their code. This way, nobody can actually steal and use the work for their own benefit. Designers and visual artists can upload an updated version of their work, and add a watermark or signature to protect their work against thieves. Writers and authors can protect their work by uploading only excerpts and drafted versions as opposed to the full original work. Another option is to upload PDF excerpts which are password protected. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself in any possible way!

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Encourage Your Clients to Sign an NDA

Non-disclosure agreements are a great way to protect your intellectual property. While clients are more inclined to suggest an NDA agreement, there is no issue with freelancers doing the same. It is never too early to have a signed legal document at hand. Non disclosure agreements prevent both parties to disclose any information about the project before it is completed or even after. Moreover, an NDA can be extremely valuable and useful in cases of theft.

Ideally, the NDA should be not only in English, but in your own and your client’s native languages as well if these differ. Ask a local lawyer’s advice and understand how the document can be used. If you are worried about logistics, a lawyer can help you to understand the ways these contracts can be sent without losing value or authenticity.

Traditional Snail Mail

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One way is to write in hand or type the NDA, sign it and send it through traditional mail, retaining one physical copy. Then wait for the client to return the document signed by them as well. This takes time and honestly speaking, can seem a bit old-fashioned.

Scan and Print via Email

The NDA is typed in Word and emailed to the client for signing. Ideally, the NDA should be in PDF format. Once both parties sign the NDA, the document can be converted into a PDF using a desktop or online app. While most online PDF apps are in limited or paid versions, there are free options out there such as this PDF converter from Icecream Apps.

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Browser and Mobile Apps

A multifaceted signature app that allows you not only to integrate your official signature into Gmail but also obtain digital signatures on your phone or tablet is Hello Sign. The app makes sure your documents are safe by using an encrypting service. RightSignature is a browser app and works great if you need to obtain a signature online. The service used to be free and now offers a trial version.

Freelancers can opt for a cloud storage system to facilitate the document signing exchange and prevent email loses. This not only makes it faster but provides the necessary insurance that the intellectual property is protected and the freelancer can focus on project deliverables.

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In The End, Mind Your Head…

It’s best to protect your work beforehand than to have to go through all the stress of feeling double-crossed. Remember: never showcase the original work on websites or online portfolio services and always encourage new or reoccurring clients to sign NDAs.

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via flickr.com

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