If you’ve ever searched online for ways to make extra money, you’ve likely come across a multitude of “side-hustles.” The side hustle has become an increasingly trendy topic, especially with the recent changes in remote work. These ways of increasing your cashflow can be benign, but several popular avenues come with hidden risks.
Domain Name Marketplace
You may be thinking that it’s profitable to buy and sell domain names. That can be true! But you face risks in that process that you need to be aware of. Namely, if you are purchasing a domain name that is valuable specifically because it trades on the brand of a well-known company, you could be infringing someone’s trademark, violating anti-cybersquatting laws, and generally making a lot of people really angry.
Buying and selling domain names is also referred to as domain flipping. This is a side hustle because people can buy domain names from registrars such as GoDaddy and attempt to later resell them for a profit. Whether the flipper builds an actual website with the domain is up to them. “Domain parking” refers to flippers that do not build a site tied to the purchased domain(s). Another strategy is to invest in the site and increase traffic to make it more valuable. This practice can be lucrative – investing.com was sold for $2.45 million in 2012. But like most headline grabbing stories, it’s not as safe or simple as it sounds.
One of the major risks with purchasing domains is the potential to infringe on someone’s protected intellectual property. Even with research, you could purchase a domain name that is too similar to an existing brand and wind up paying the price. It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer to make sure a domain name doesn’t gain value from an existing source.
Finally, domain flippers must be aware of the dangers of cybersquatting. Although cybersquatting as a practice is often intentional, even unintending flippers can violate anti-cybersquatting policy. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act covers a range of domain buying and selling practices that could get side hustlers in real trouble.
Options for Trademark Owners
Cybersquatters – and potentially unknowing flippers – commonly obtain exact or confusingly similar domain names to protected marks. Since infringement is so frequent, it’s important to monitor your protected property. An experienced legal team can build the best strategy for your situation and help you keep an eye on the marketplace.
Trademark owners worried about potential infringers or cybersquatters have options. There are different types of actions mark owners can take if they find out a domain registrant is making money off of the owner’s mark. The general first course of action is to send a cease-and-desist letter. This addresses trademark ownership, how the domain name is infringing and causing damage, and your willingness to take the appropriate legal action if the infringement does not stop. If no action results from a cease-and-desist letter, you may wish to involve an attorney who can guide you and implement the correct course of action to stop the infringement.
Side Hustle Risk: Creative Infringement
People can make a lot of money selling and designing creative t-shirts, but you are better safe than sorry when it comes to designing shirts that are valuable because someone else has created the content it is based on. Using online platforms such as Etsy or Instagram means that your activity is subject to federal regulation. Goods that use characters, slogans, or even inspiration from protected works risk both trademark and copyright infringement.
Using the content of businesses commercially without express permission or license is trademark infringement. A common example is personalized goods with college or university logos. These are protected intellectual property so commercial use on your t-shirts without permission is infringement. Another example is fan gear for professional sports teams. A quick search of these online marketplaces shows plenty of stores using infringing material which might make you feel safe. However, just because other stores are selling these doesn’t mean it’s legal. Or the the trademark owner won’t shut that store down. The risk of infringement outweighs any potential gain from unauthorized use.
This type of side hustle also risks copyright infringement. T-shirts with popular tv characters or quotes from a new bestselling movie may fly off your shelves, but remember: their value comes from someone else’s work. And federal copyright infringement claims come with a hefty price tag.
Another common mistake is using pictures from Google. Without checking the source, it’s highly likely that you do not have permission to use that property commercially. No matter what good you’re interested in creating and selling, make sure it’s your original design. If what you’re selling gains value from established content – and you don’t have permission to use it – think twice. Like trademark infringement, copyright infringement can lead you into a mess of legal trouble.
To sell or not to sell
The public domain refers to a collection of works without exclusive intellectual property rights. For instance, the works of William Shakespeare are in the public domain. This means that if someone wanted to do a theater reenactment of Shakespeare’s work, they wouldn’t have to have a license or permission to do so unlike a copyright protected work.
Another type of side hustle involves publishing work from the public domain. There’s always a demand for classics such as Little Women, Treasure Island, or The Great Gatsby, which entered the public domain as of January 1, 2021. Entrepreneurial side hustlers have filled this demand by turning these public domain works into e-books on platforms such as Amazon Kindle. Due to the lack of copyright protection of works in the public domain, infringement can disappear if you are using or inspired by works in the public domain. There are enterprises which have successfully used this hustle – such as the man who sold 64,000 Anne of Green Gables e-books.
However, if you’re thinking this is the new trick for you, don’t dive in too fast. Calculation of the time a copyright is active can be complicated. One version of a work may be in the public domain, but another is not. It’s important to err on the side of caution and contact a lawyer to be safe if you feel conflicted. No matter what side hustle you’re thinking of pursuing, always do your research and be aware of the hidden risks. If you’re a trademark or copyright owner worried about potential infringers, remember you have options.
(This is not intended as legal advice. Contact a lawyer for assistance in your particular situation.)
– Kat Gavin, Esq.