Legal Considerations for Your Online Program

August 15, 2022

Many practitioners are shifting their focus from solely working one-on-one with clients to shifting to a one-to-many group model facilitated through online group programs and courses. Whether you intend to work one-on-one with clients, or work with groups with clients at a time, both require important legal considerations to protect your business. 

Specifically, in this edition of Better Business Conversations, Sharon Vanin, lawyer and holistic nutritionist, shares what to keep in mind when running a group program to ensure your legal bases are covered and you can work with our clients with confidence.

No matter what style of Group Program you intend to run, Sharon breaks down what to consider to protect your business while maintaining a healthy relationship with your clients. Sharon takes the confusion and overwhelm away by providing clarity on legal terms and definitions so you know exactly what you need to consider when planning or facilitating your Group Program.

What We Covered

  • Creating a safe container for your Program
  • The key legal agreements you need to protect your relationships with Program participants
  • Legal issues around offering your Program across jurisdictions 
  • Safeguarding intellectual property associated with your Program
  • Legal considerations for running a Program if you’re a regulated professional

Implement Sharon’s Strategies in Practice Better

Choosing a Secure Platform to Host Your Program

As a first consideration, it’s important to ensure that your software is secure and upholds privacy standards for your clients. Whether it is a requirement through your designation or not, clients should feel comfortable that the platform where they engage with you and share personal information is secure. 

Practice Better is fully compliant with HIPAA, PIPEDA, PHIPA, and GDPR regulations to ensure our users, whether practitioners or their clients, have peace of mind. 

Practice Better offers robust Programs and Course features that allow you to securely facilitate group offerings. 

These features make for endless possibilities in optimizing programs, allowing you to work with your clients in diverse ways.

Key Legal Agreements You Need

Sharon shares that legal agreements help manage your relationships by setting expectations in advance, in writing. This can be achieved in Practice Better by the use of Waivers to create Client Service Agreements, where both the client and practitioner can sign the agreement digitally from the convenience of the Practice Better portal or Better smartphone app. The waiver feature will allow you to share important information to set expectations with your clients to ensure everyone is on the same page.

If you intend to run Evergreen Programs, Sharon recommends the introduction of Terms of Use to set program parameters for your participants. The Disclaimer feature in Practice Better can be used to create Terms of Use, where the client has access to your noted information but does not need to sign the agreement as the terms are non-negotiable. Once created, the disclaimer can be added to the Terms and Conditions section when creating your Program. As your Program participants register, they will have the opportunity to review and acknowledge your terms. 

Better Business Conversations with Sharon Vanin

Each month, our Business Success Coaches host a lively discussion with experts in our community, bringing top business-building practices to health & wellness entrepreneurs.  Take a moment to watch the session with Sharon below.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get notified about new business growth content as it goes live. 

About Sharon

Sharon Vanin is a holistic nutritionist and lawyer for health &  wellness professionals. She’s the founder of the law practice Thrive Legal Care and its sister template shop The TLC Source. She combines over 15 years of legal experience in the health sector with first-hand experience as a wellness practitioner and entrepreneur to help you stay legally safe without stress and overwhelm.

Connect with Sharon:
https://www.thetlcsource.com/shop
https://www.instagram.com/legaltlc/

Webinar Transcript: 

Brittany:
Welcome to Better Business Conversations. My name is Brittany Andrejein. I’m a business success coach with Practice Better. Better Business Conversations is a series with our different industry experts and thought leaders sharing their expertise with our community of health and wellness practitioners. And if you’ve ever felt the overwhelm, and stress, and confusion when it comes to the legal considerations of running a health and wellness business, you are in the right place for today’s session.

Brittany: 
We invited Sharon Vanin, our featured expert to help us reduce the overwhelm by diving into the legal considerations that you need to keep in mind as a practitioner when running an online program or course. So before we dive in, let’s take a second to introduce our featured expert, Sharon, and then we’ll let her take it away.

Brittany:
So Sharon Vanin is a holistic nutritionist and lawyer for health and wellness professionals. She’s the founder of the law practice Thrive Legal Care and combines over 15 years of legal expertise in the health sector with firsthand experience, being a wellness practitioner and entrepreneur to help you stay legally safe without the stress and overwhelm, which I think is something that we all are craving. So welcome, Sharon, we are so excited to have you here today.

Sharon:
Oh, thank you so much, Brittany. It’s my pleasure to be here, I’m really excited about this.

Brittany:
Yeah. I think this is a topic that is really going to benefit our community so much. So we’re so excited to have you on and we’re going to let you take it away and then I’ll pop back on at the end, if there’s any questions. So let’s let Sharon take it away.

Sharon:
Okay. Thanks so much, and nice to meet you everybody, welcome. Brittany, already gave you the overview of who I am, so I won’t dwell on that. But I’m just going to add, in addition to my law practice, Thrive Legal Care, I also have a template shop, so I can mention that a bit at the end, but that’s kind of the scoop on me.

5 Things You Need to Know About Running An Online Group Program 

Sharon:
So what we’re going to cover today in our session is five things that you need to know about running a health and wellness online group program. So as Brittany said, it’s really popular nowadays for people to scale their business in this way. And it is a really great way to diversify your offerings, but there are some things that you need to know because the legal issues for running things in a group setting are different than a one-on-one setting.

Sharon:
So we’re going to start off by looking at what you need to do to create a safe container for running your group program. Then I’m going to talk about a couple of legal agreements that will help you protect your relationship with your program participants. Then I’m going to look at some of the legal issues around offering your program across jurisdictions. And then looking at what you need to know if you are a regulated healthcare professional, because there are some special considerations. And then finally, we’re going to wrap up by looking at how you can protect your intellectual property around your group program.

A Holistic Nutritionist and Canadian Lawyer 

Sharon:
So a little quick disclaimer about me. I am a Canadian lawyer, so I’m going to be speaking mostly from a Canadian context, but everything that I say today is really intended, it’s general information, and it’s for educational purposes. So don’t take anything as specific legal advice because I’m talking to a broad audience. So I think you understand that.

Creating a Safe Container For Your Program

Sharon:
So our first topic is creating a safe container for your program. So I really love this quote by Maya Angelou. And she says, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Believe it or not, this actually is so much at the root of how I like to teach people about the law and this infuses my whole philosophy of how I practice law and how I advise people.

Sharon:
We are in the people business. If you are working in health and wellness, your whole mission is to help people improve their life. Ultimately that comes down to having a good relationship. You want to be open with people, to have good communication, because you want them to feel good about working with you. Believe it or not, that is actually the best legal advice I can offer you. That’s why I open with this because there’s actually research that shows when you have a good relationship with the people you work with, when you are going out of your way to satisfy them, to meet their needs, they are less likely to take issue with any kind of issue that comes up, any problems. And they’re less likely to sue you. So take this quote, and actually… These are kind of words to live by if you are running a business. So I wanted to open with that.

Why You Need a Safe Container 

Sharon:
So why you need to create a safe container when you’re developing an online program is because I want you to think of this. Your program is kind of like this little part of your business that you are inviting people into, and you are creating a community experience for them. You may or may not know these people, but you want to welcome them into this little part of your business. And you’re doing it for the purpose of improving their health and wellbeing. So like I said, “You want them to feel good.” So consider your job as the provider of the program, you’re hosting them, kind of like you would if you were inviting them into your home. So part of being a good host is that you want to manage your legal risks and this benefits you, and it benefits the people that you’re serving.

The Importance of Using the Right Platform

Sharon:
One of the most important decisions that you will make when it comes to doing a group program is to use the right platform. One of the advantages of being a business owner is that it’s your business. You call the shots, but that means that you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens. So you want to make good choices. And fortunately, there are some really fantastic programs out there that are specifically designed to host an online group program. I am not being paid by Practice Better to say this, but I will disclose I use Practice Better in my nutrition business. One of the reasons I chose that platform is because of its capabilities for offering a group program. So I can tell you I’ve done the due diligence. It offers you the privacy and the technological safeguards that you want in a platform for delivering a program.

A Secure Program Ensures Client Information is Protected

Sharon:
Because remember, it all comes back to you. You have to be making sure that people feel safe to trust you with their information. And that platform is creating that safe container for them. And you want to have things like the ability to not always be reachable. You want to have open communication, but you don’t want to do any kind of a program on social media where you can always be contacted or you don’t have any barriers. Just in general, I would say, anytime you are providing a service that you are charging money for in your business, do not do it on social media. Use a platform that is specifically designed for that purpose, because that’s the only way you’re going to do it legally and safely.

Your Group Program Should not Offer Healthcare Services

Sharon:
This is pretty fundamental, when you are offering a program. So I’m going to assume that there will be people in the audience. Some of you will be regulated healthcare professionals, and some of you will not. Regardless of what your professional title and qualifications are, I strongly urge you to make sure that your program is not offering what we would consider a healthcare service. Because there’s a whole spectrum of what health and wellness service looks like. Some of it is on the clinical side. Some of it is not on the clinical side, but when you are providing service in a group setting, it is virtually impossible to provide healthcare.

Sharon:
And that’s because healthcare is a very personalized and customized experience. You are getting to know intimate, personal health information from people. You are providing a customized care plan for them. When you’re working in a group setting, you can’t really do that. It’s actually doing a disservice to try to do it in a group setting for the most part.

Canadian Law Doesn’t Recognize Healthcare Services in a Group Setting

Sharon:
The other thing is that, I’m speaking from a Canadian context here, the law in Canada does not recognize healthcare delivery in a group setting. There’s lots of political reasons for that. I’m not going to get into it, but we all know what it’s like to receive healthcare, and it’s always in a one-on-one setting. And that’s the legal context that we have to work within.

Sharon:
So personalization and customization, it’s not really feasible in a group setting. So yes, it’s a great thing to have a group program, but I just want you to just kind of have a bit of a mindset shift that when you are offering a group program, you want to consider it informational and educational in nature and not healthcare.

Health and Wellness Services Exist Along A Spectrum 

Sharon:
So like I said, “There is a whole spectrum of what health and wellness services can look like.” And this is true, whether you are a regulated professional or a non-regulated professional. So on the one side we have clinical healthcare services. This is anything where you have a one-on-one relationship with somebody you’re collecting personal health information from them. You’re making personalized, very individualized recommendations. You’re developing a care plan for them. It could involve medication, if you’re qualified to prescribe. It could involve a meal plan, if you are a nutritionist or health coach. Sorry, not a health coach, but a nutritionist. There are a number of professionals, both regulated and unregulated who work in clinical healthcare. If you fall under that category, a group program is not suitable for the reasons that I just said, because you can’t really deliver healthcare in a group setting.

Sharon:
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have non-clinical service. That could include things like consulting, or coaching, or educating. Again, you could be both regulated or unregulated and provide this kind of service. This is exactly where you want to be when you are providing a group program, all of these things are perfectly suited for group delivery. Now in the middle, you can have a hybrid of these two ends of the spectrum.

Sharon:
And can you have a group program that’s a hybrid? You can. This is a bit of a gray area and so it really depends on so many things. It depends on the nature of what you’re going to be presenting in your course or your program. It depends on what kind of a professional you are. If you are regulated, what the rules are around that. So it’s a huge gray area. I just want you to have this overview to get the lay of the land of the difference between clinical healthcare services and non-clinical health and wellness services.

Why Legal Agreements Matter

Sharon:
So now we’re going to move on to legal agreements. The reason you want to have legal agreements is because this is one of the most important ways that you can protect your relationship with your program participants. And your relationships are everything in your business, they are the most important thing, because if you don’t have relationships, you don’t have a business. You don’t have anyone to sell to, and that’s kind of the whole reason you’re in business, is to provide service.

Legal Agreements Help You Manage Your Relationships 

Sharon:
So the wonderful thing about legal agreements is that they help you manage your relationships. And they do that by putting things in writing. And this is so beneficial for managing expectations at the outset before somebody decides that they’re going to join, before they pay you, everything is laid out very clearly, you have a written record of it, you come to an agreement. That’s what you want, you want everyone to feel good. Remember you’re creating that safe container. So this is why you should have legal agreements. And it’s not only the right thing to do, but it really shows that you care about people. It shows that you are working in good integrity and that you’re above board.

Two Types of Legal Agreements: 

Sharon:
There’s two main legal agreements that I’m going to talk about today that relate to your group program. And it depends on one of two things, whether your program is offered online in real time. So this could be, let’s say you meet with a group of people once a week for 12 weeks and you’re there, or somebody from your business is there and you’re delivering the content to people and it’s done in a live setting.

Sharon:
The other way you can do it is what we call a digital evergreen setting. And that means you may have pre-recorded different modules and you can put them up on your platform and maybe once a week you can release them or they’re all there and people can access them as they like. That’s a totally different model, and I’m going to explain why. But if you are doing it online in real time, the agreement that you are going to use is called a Client Service Agreement. And if you’re doing the digital evergreen style, you’re going to use Terms of Use. And I’m going to break those down.

Client Service Agreement 

Sharon:
First of all, the Client Service Agreement, this is used when you are doing a program live in real time. And what a Client Service Agreement is, it’s a traditional legal agreement where both parties, so you and the purchaser, the participant, you both sign and date this agreement. And what this agreement does, it is kind of the house rules. It’s how you expect the program to go. It includes what the service is, what your client can expect from the program, how much it’s going to cost them, what your refund policy is, how they can use any intellectual property that they might have access to during the program. It addresses legal liability, what to do if there’s a conflict, if this isn’t working out and you need to release somebody from the program or they want to withdraw. All of these details, they’re really important because they all have legal implications. So you want to set them out very clearly in your Client Service Agreement. And this is really important.

Sharon:
So many of you will have a business model where you offer one-to-one service and you’re doing a group program. Your Client Service Agreement has to be different because the relationship you have with people, one on one versus a group it’s different. So you want to make that really clear in your legal documents.

How to Use a Client Service Agreement 

Sharon:
How do you use a Client Service Agreement? So this is just kind of the logistics of it. So let’s say you do a discovery call with somebody they’re so excited to join your program. They say, “Yes, sign me up.” So what you would do is you would send them the agreement. You always want to give them a little bit of time to review it, mull it over, answer any questions you might have. And you should also know that the law does allow the parties to negotiate. So even if you have it in writing, just know, somebody might try to ask you if they can negotiate some of the terms. You don’t have to, that is where the negotiation comes in. For the most part, people will not do that. They will just happily sign it, but just wanted you to know. So this is a two-way street here.

Sharon:
Once the person is happy with what is in the agreement, they sign it, they send it back to you, and then you sign it so it’s a mutual agreement. And you can do this any way you can use hard copy, you can do a PDF, you can use a digital platform that’s specifically designed for signing contracts. There’s lots of ways to do it.

Understanding When to Use Terms of Use

Sharon:
Now we’re going to talk about Terms of Use. So I just mentioned how the Client Service Agreement is a two-way agreement. What Terms of Use is, what the key differentiator is, Terms of Use are not two-way and nobody is actually physically or even digitally signing it. And so this is why when you are doing a Digital Evergreen Program, the whole purpose of doing something digital in Evergreen is that you want to automate it. So it lives somewhere on your website, anybody can just find it, click it, and then they have access to that program. So there’s no opportunity for you to do discovery calls with people because it’s kind of open access. Anybody can find it and they can purchase it.

Sharon:
So that’s why you’re not going to have an opportunity to have both you and the purchaser sign the agreement. So this is why we use what in law we call Terms of Use. And it’s kind of a one way agreement, but it is still a legally binding agreement. So same as a Client Service Agreement, it’s going to set out all the parameters, the cost, and what they can expect. You’ll have some disclaimer language in there, what the refund policy is, all of those really important things. But the difference is that in order for somebody to agree to a Terms of Use, all they do is they’re just going to click a little box, you’ve probably done this many, many times in your life. And when you click that box, you are entering into a legally valid agreement. So this kind of just reiterates what I just said.

How to Use Terms of Use

Sharon:
A really important point when you’re using a platform that enables you to do all of the automation, including the registration for your program, the purchaser has to agree to your Terms of Use before they complete the purchase. And that’s because in law, you technically can’t ask somebody for money unless they are agreeing to the terms. So that’s a contingency of enrollment. So they fill out their info, they click yes, I agree, and then you collect their financial money, your credit card information, and then they hit purchase. And then they’re on their way.

Consent Forms and Waivers 

Sharon:
You might be wondering about consent forms and waivers, because these are legal agreements that are often used in health and wellness, or at least they should be. So I just want to clarify this. Because I mentioned that when you are offering a group program, you should not be offering healthcare. It’s more of education, general information. Because of this you actually don’t need to use a consent form or a waiver in the same way that you do for healthcare. And there might be some exceptions to that such as if you are going to do a hybrid program where it’s a group program, but there might be a one-on-one component, things get a little blurry. So it’s going to be really specific to your situation. But just wanted to clarify that in case you’re wondering, where does a consent form or a waiver come in?

What Is a Consent Form? 

Sharon:
And I actually just want to spend a minute or two going over the difference between a consent form and a waiver. I think this is really helpful because it’s something that I see over and over again. There’s a lot of misunderstanding in health and wellness about what these two legal agreements are. And they’re actually two completely different things. So a consent form is a legal document that serves as proof that the informed consent process was carried out. So this in itself is a really big misunderstanding.

Sharon:
Some people think that the act of consent means signing a form, and that is not true. Consent is a whole process and it has to include a discussion. It has to be a two-way discussion where you, as the provider of healthcare services, you have to make sure that the patient or client who is going to receive service from you, that they fully understand what is involved, the risks and the benefits and the alternatives. And they have to be able to agree to that freely without any undue influence. And this is actually a legal requirement in Canada, also in the US. And you have to do this, and hopefully you are doing this. Most people are doing it.

Sharon:
But here’s something that a lot of people don’t know: when you are providing healthcare services, you have to use a consent form, but you cannot use a waiver. And that is because in law, there are certain rights that you cannot waive away. And that’s what waiver means. Waive means to transfer rights or shift rights. And in healthcare as a provider, you have to assume responsibility for those rights, because that’s a legal requirement.

What Is a Waiver? 

Sharon:
So the other side of this is, what is a waiver? So a waiver is a mechanism in law that allows you to give up or waive some of your rights and you transfer them to your client so that you can manage your legal liability. It takes some of the heat off you, and it puts the onus on your client to accept any responsibility for receiving your care. Because there’s always going to be some risk, even if you are not providing technical, clinical healthcare.

Sharon:
Health and wellness services, it’s sensitive, there might be issues that come up for people and it could be triggering for them in certain ways. They might not get the outcome that they want. So a waiver is the way that you basically explain that to somebody and they agree that they’re going to do their part, you do your part and they do their part.

You Can’t Use a Waiver For Clinical Healthcare

Sharon:
So again, this is not appropriate. You cannot use a waiver for clinical healthcare because that is just not aligned with how the Canadian legal framework for understanding healthcare consent works. So I just wanted to clarify that it’s a little bit of a divergence from the group setting, but I think it’s really important so I wanted to mention that.

Why It’s Important To Have a Proper Agreement 

Sharon:
Why it’s really important to have a proper Client Service Agreement or Terms of Use. So if you are going to have a program and you’re going to use, doesn’t matter if it’s Terms of Use or a Client Service Agreement, a really well written document, one that was written by a lawyer who understands this context, they will build in language around consent and waiver. It’s not going to be exactly the same as a consent form or a waiver of rights, but these will be reflected in that document. So don’t worry, all of this is covered if you have a good agreement.

Sharon:
But I do want to mention that neither a client service form, or a consent, or a Terms of Use document, they’re never one size fits all. They have to be really specific to your business, to the nature of your specific program, to your specific risk tolerance, because everybody’s different, everybody has different needs. And it also has to be different from what you would put in an agreement for a one-to-one type of service. So all that to say these are really specific, they should be crafted very carefully. So when you are looking for an agreement to use, just do your homework and just be careful in what agreement you’re using.

Avoid Using Random Legal Agreements 

Sharon:
And so on that note, I just wanted to give you a caution about using random legal agreements that you find online or that maybe you get passed on from a friend or a colleague. So I know this is a very common practice and I really discourage you from doing this and not just because I’m a lawyer and this is what I do, but it’s really not in your best interest. And I just really want you to know that when you find an agreement, it might not be suitable for your business at all, because you don’t know if it was even drafted by a lawyer at all. It could have just been passed on.

Sharon:
Sometimes it’s kind of like that game of broken telephone, where somebody gets an agreement that might have originally been drafted by a lawyer, and then they make changes and they pass it on, and then that person makes changes. And then by the end, you end up with this document that kind of has lost all of its legal integrity. So unless you know the source of the agreement, I just caution. It might cause you more trouble than it’s going to help you.

Things to Keep in Mind For Your Legal Agreement 

Sharon:
So you want to make sure if you are going to use a legal agreement because there’s a lot at stake, this is the whole legal liability of your business on the line. You want to make sure it was drafted by a lawyer, a lawyer in your jurisdiction, a lawyer who understands health and wellness and understands online business in particular, because it’s really different from brick and mortar. And the world is still kind of learning what online business looks like and what the legal issues are. So it is really important for a lawyer to understand those nuances. And they should also have some understanding of your personal risk tolerance.

Sharon:
Because like I said, “Everyone has different needs and what works for you is not necessarily going to work for somebody else.” It’s not one size fits all. It’s very particular. So leave it to the pros, a good lawyer will know what they’re doing and just be mindful that something that you get for free might seem very alluring to save some money. We all want to save money, but it could cost you big time in the end if it’s not well suited to your needs.

Legal Issues Around Offering Your Program Across Jurisdictions 

Sharon:
We’re going to move on to topic number three, which is if you are going to offer your course across jurisdictions, what legal issues should you be aware of? Now of course, one of the benefits of having an online business is that you now can open yourself up to potentially the whole world. You have this huge audience now because we’re not limited by geography. Now that is not necessarily the case for all health and wellness providers. If you are a regulated professional, your profession, and it depends on what province you live in, it depends on the profession that you practice. You may or may not be allowed to provide service to people outside of the province where you are regulated. So I’m going to talk about that a little bit in more detail.

There Are Rules About Working Across Jurisdictions As a Regulated Professional

Sharon:
But in general, yes, you can offer your program across jurisdictions. But again, it’s really important that you’re not providing healthcare services, because healthcare services they’re regulated and regulation happens at a jurisdictional level. And let’s say you are regulated as a physiotherapist in BC and you want to do an online program to people in Ontario and Alberta, your professional regulatory college may prohibit that. It’s really important to understand if you are regulated, what the regulations are and to comply with that because your ability to practice your profession is on the line.

Location Affects Legal Rights 

Sharon:
There’s also a few other things to be aware of whether you are regulated or not. So your location where you are running your business affects your legal rights. And I say this because it’s really important, not just for you, but it also affects the legal rights of anybody who is purchasing your program, because it affects their legal rights as well. There’s also implications for insurance, and this is particularly in the Canadian context. Many Canadian insurance companies will not cover you for claims that may be brought by somebody outside of Canada. So as a Canadian business owner, you can offer your program to anybody provided that you’re allowed by your regulatory body.

Sharon:
Let’s say you had a client who was located in California and that person was really unhappy for whatever reason. And they decided they were going to sue you because they felt like, I don’t know, they were unhappy and they wanted to get their money back. Your insurance company will not cover you pretty much across the board. This is consistent across most insurance companies. So that’s something really important to know.

Sharon:
And that’s not just, if you are offering courses or programs, this could also be for one-to-one service. This is just a function of how the insurance sector works. It’s really territorial. Your insurance is usually limited to your home country, which makes it interesting because so many people now are offering services across borders. So I do believe that the insurance sector will catch up in the next few years, but they’re not there yet. So as a business owner, it’s just something to be aware of. If you are highly risk averse, you may decide to limit who can purchase your program. You may only want to limit it to people within your specific jurisdiction. That’s a decision for you to make just based on your risk tolerance and other factors. So I just wanted to let you know about that.

Cross-Jurisdiction Insurance Issues

Sharon:
This just covers what I just said. So just know Canadian insurance companies, they’re not going to cover you for legal claims brought outside of Canada. And that is going to probably be the case no matter where you live. If you are in the US, the insurance world works very much the same way. And unfortunately, if you now are offering your services to a worldwide audience, you don’t have any guaranteed way to stop somebody from bringing a claim like that. Anybody can sue anybody, it’s actually very easy and you don’t even have to do anything wrong. Your program could be fantastic, you could have hundreds of raving fans and great success with a lot of people and then just one person for whatever reason, they’re unhappy and they just want to take legal action. It’s just a cost of doing business.

Ways to Mitigate Risk

Sharon:
I don’t want you to be worried, don’t let that deter you because there are some ways to mitigate your risk. So one of them is to be cautious of who you allow to purchase your program. And you have a lot more control over that when you are doing a live in person program where you’re going to do a discovery call with somebody and it is really important to be transparent with people. And this is where a good agreement comes in because they should know where you are located and they should know things like the currency in which they’re going to be charged, all of these kinds of things because it affects their rights. So just know about that. And then goes back to that Maya Angelou quote, treat people well. Because if people are happy, they won’t have any reason to take issue with you or your offerings.

Know Your Profession’s Rules 

Sharon:
Our fourth topic is, legal considerations for running a program if you are a regulated professional. So I’ve kind of touched on some of the issues that you need to know about. Some regulated professions do allow the delivery of group programs and they do allow the delivery of cross jurisdictional service, and some do not. It really depends on the profession and your jurisdiction. So as a regulated professional, as you know, it’s your obligation to stay up to date and to be fully aware of what you can and cannot do. And if you don’t know if you’re allowed to do this, contact your regulatory body, they will be happy to explain everything to you. That’s what they’re there for, use them as a resource.

Find Creative Solutions 

Sharon:
And the alternative is if you do happen to be in a profession or a jurisdiction where you can’t run a group program or doing cross jurisdictional service is not provided, it doesn’t mean it’s game over for you. There could be some creative solutions, there are often ways to work around this. It really just comes down to doing your due diligence and working with a lawyer who understands the lay of the land of professional regulation in Canada and how you can safely navigate that without infringing your professional regulatory obligations.

Sharon:
And I will say, I think health coaches are wonderful. If you are working with, or you’re thinking about working with somebody who is offering a program that teaches you how to develop an online group program or scale your business, I think that’s wonderful. That’s a really great way to diversify your business, get some more skills, get some more confidence. But I just want you to be very cautious that there are some people in the health and wellness space who are holding themselves out as coaches and business advisors and they are making it sound like anybody can just take their business and scale it to an online course program. It’s kind of a buzzy thing now to go from one-to-one to group, right? You see the appeal because one-to-one fee for service, it’s very time intensive and you might not want to do that all the time, or you might want to have diversity in how you work.

Sharon:
Just be really careful. I think that’s great. Those programs are great, but it is not one size fits all. Especially if you are regulated, you really have to understand what your professional regulatory body allows you to do and does not allow you to do. And not all health coaches out there who are singing the praises of the group program model, they don’t understand the nuances of that. So just be very careful. You might want to consult with a lawyer who understands this to make sure that you are doing things in the best way possible for you and your unique situation.

Safeguarding Intellectual Property  

Sharon:
So our final topic, we’re going to switch gears a little bit and we’re going to look at how you can protect the intellectual property that you are using in your program. So intellectual property in the context of a group program, we’re looking at three main things. So we’ve got trademarking, copywriting, and licensing.

Types of Intellectual Property in Group Programs 

Sharon:
So trademarking is a type of intellectual property that relates to any of your business marketing assets, like your branding. So that’s your business name. It could even be your course name, logo, taglines, those kinds of things. Copywriting is the protection that is for any of your original creative content. So this could be the actual course material. It could be handouts, plans, guidelines, photographs, videos, marketing, copy. All of this, it’s usually the written content, or photographic, or video content, that is all copyrightable.

Sharon:
And then the third category is what we call licensing. And this is a mechanism in law that you can use to protect your intellectual property and to put parameters around who can use it, what they can use it for, how long they have access to it, whether they’re going to have to pay you for that access, and any other conditions that you want to put on it. Because it is after all your original content, you own it, and you have legal rights to it. So you get to say how it’s used.

Add Copyright Protection to Your Resources 

Sharon:
So copyright protection, really, really easy. You don’t even need to formally register your copyright. I strongly recommend that at the very minimum, you put a copyright notice on anything that you’ve created and you can see it at the bottom. This is how you do it. You just use the copyright symbol the year that you’ve created it and then the name of your company. And you can slap this anywhere you have an original creation. And it just kind of puts people on notice, this is my stuff, you’re not allowed to use it without my permission.

Sharon:
If you were doing an Evergreen program where you’re offering that digital content to people, and it’s just simply downloadable with a click, I would put this on every page. It’s not going to guarantee that somebody doesn’t copy your stuff. That is the big downside of digital content, but at least you are doing what you can do just to put you on notice.

Formally Register Your Work 

Sharon:
Now, the other thing that’s available to you, if you do want to formally register any of your copyrightable work, you can do that through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. I think it’s about $45 per piece of content, which it’s not a huge barrier depending on how much original content you have. But that’s something to think about. When you do have formal copyright protection, it does give you a little bit more… There’s more benefits in law. For example, if somebody was unlawfully using your content, if you had formally registered it, you’re allowed to, if you decided to take a legal action, you’re allowed to have more compensation for that.

Should You Trademark Your Course? 

Sharon:
And then the question of copywriting, is it worth doing it? Or copywriting, whether it’s about your program or anything else. So it really depends. Copywriting is kind of a tricky area of law. It’s totally up to you, it’s definitely an advantage. I would say if you have something that is worthy of a trademark, definitely do it and definitely do it sooner than later. But it’s kind of a tricky area, so you really should talk to a lawyer, get some advice, and also know that not everything is a slam dunk. There is very strict criteria for what is and is not eligible for a trademark. So again, this is where somebody who knows this field can give you some good advice.

Proper Licensing Provision 

Sharon:
And then the third category. So licensing, I highly recommend that you do use a licensing provision in your Terms of Use or your Client Service Agreement for your program material. And what it does is it tells the person who is buying your service, it lets them know that whatever material they are going to have access to in your course, that you are not giving it to them. What you are doing is you are licensing it to them. Basically, you’re saying, I am giving you the right to use it for this limited purpose of the course, but you can’t do anything else with it. You can only use it to help support you through the program. You cannot sell it, you cannot copy it, you cannot distribute it. A good Client Service Agreement in Terms of Use will have the right language around that to protect you. And again, it’s not one size fits all and you also have latitude on how flexible or rigid you want to be around how people use your stuff.

Use Licensing to Expand Your Reach

Sharon:
And then something pretty cool about licensing is that you can actually use it to expand your reach. It doesn’t only protect you, you can actually use this to create a way for other people to take your course content. They can take the whole course, they can then teach it to other people. If you have a program and you’ve put a lot of work into it, and you think that this really is something that ought to be distributed through other channels, you can enter into a licensing arrangement with other people.

Sharon:
Let’s say you are a business and you’ve got a team and your team members might want to kind of take this and run with it. They can do it under the umbrella of your business. You could also license that course to them, the program, and then they can do it through a licensing agreement. So there’s different ways. It’s kind of cool that the law allows you to do this. Depending on how you created a licensing agreement, you could get commission or royalties for the people who use your stuff. There’s lots of ways to do it, it’s pretty cool. It’s just something to think about if you have been in business for a while and you have a pretty sophisticated offering.

Intellectual Protection Property Goes Both Ways

Sharon:
Final thoughts, here is, remember that intellectual property protection, it goes both ways. So just as you do not want somebody to wrongfully use your material because you’ve put your blood sweat and tears into it, you don’t want to do that to somebody else, right? It’s not cool, it’s also illegal. So you’re not allowed to use anything in your program that you have kind of swiped or copied from somebody else unless you have their permission. And the best way to know that is to ask them. You can always contact them and say, “I love your book, I’m creating this program, I’d really love to use… You’ve got this worksheet in your book. Can I use that in my program?” So it’s really just like… And they might say “No.” Or they might say, “Sure, use it. It’s free for you to use.” Or they might say, “You can use it, but I would like to license it to you for a fee.” So going back to what I talked about for licensing. So you never know, but always best to ask and otherwise you don’t want to infringe that.

Sharon:
So that is the end of my presentation. And I’ll turn it back to you, Brittany.

Brittany:
Yeah, that was so amazing. I think what I love most about this is coming from the experience of being a practitioner myself too, is just eliminating the fear. I think there’s a lot of fear surrounding legal considerations and all the things that you have to think about. I’ve dealt a lot with contracts in my career life and they can seem really doom and gloom but they’re really there to just protect you. So I love that you kind of demystified a lot of this and gave people a really kind of, very approachable direction on how to proceed. So that’s amazing, thank you so much for this incredible presentation.

Sharon:
Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you for that comment because that’s really what my goal is. The law can seem scary, intimidating, and complicated, and I just really want to kind remove the barriers for people and not be deterred. The law, think of it as a tool to help you. I say, “It’s a bridge, not a barrier.” So that’s really what I’m kind of here to help people realize.

Brittany:
Yeah, that’s amazing if people want to connect further with you, where can they go online or how can they learn more from you?

Sharon:
Yeah, thank you. I have all my information right here on this slide. So Thrive Legal Care is my law practice and you can find me on my website and there’s my email address. And then The TLC Source is the sister template shop. I have a full suite of downloadable templates for all kinds of health and wellness business needs, including programs. If you have an Evergreen course or an online live course, you can find everything there. And then I would love it if you followed me on Instagram.

Brittany:
Amazing, amazing. And we are following up this session with a blog post taking Sharon’s expertise and all the amazing advice that she’s just given you and showing how you can take some of that and actually implement it into practice better. So whether you’re a current user using the Practice Better platform and just getting started with programs, or looking forward to starting to use that feature, we’ll have a follow-up blog post showing how to take what Sharon has just shared with us and actually putting it into practice in the platform. So in the links below, you can check that out. And otherwise, Sharon, thank you again so much, it was so fantastic having you on.

Sharon:
Oh, thanks Brittany. Yeah, I’m really excited to be able to share this and I hope people get a lot of value out of it.

Brittany:
Wonderful. Thanks so much. We’ll talk to you again another time.

Sharon:
Okay, take care.

Brittany:
Bye everyone.


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