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Legal Questions & Answers For Yoga Teachers: Covid, Music, Trademarks & Copyright

Conversation with Cory Sterling

It’s time for another Q&A session with our resident attorney, Cory Sterling.

Cory is an attorney for wellness businesses and specifically for yoga teachers because he’s a yoga teacher as well. He focuses on making law fun -- yep, you heard it right, fun.

Cory was on episode #43 last year to tackle all the legal questions when covid hit, and now he’s back again! This time, he’s got answers to how to use music online legally, auto-payments, trademarks, copyrights and even covid vaccines.

Get ready to laugh and learn!

Knowing the intention of your yoga business helps make legal decisions

"If someone is running a teacher training or producing any other kind of content (like creating courses or running a membership), how can they protect themselves? What's the first step?"

Your first step is to understand what your intention is with your business.

(Also see the "Copyright vs. trademark" section down at the bottom of this article.)

Accept that you are running a business and what we're offering is a service. This is a commercial industry. It's important to think about this because once you start adopting the mindset of an entrepreneur, then you can discover the right solutions.

Take the example of offering teacher trainings. You could have two different intentions that lead you down different paths.

  • Intention 1: Your objective is simply to get students who pay an enrollment fee and they become certified through your process.

  • Intention 2: In addition to offering teacher trainings, you also want to get passive income from licensing, so you sell a "teacher training in a box" with materials and manuals to your students (which allows them to run their own teacher trainings).

These are two different paths and would require different game plans when it comes to legal protection.

So what is your game plan? What is your intention with running the teacher training or offering an online course? How do you want to use this to grow your business, and how?

"You have a map, and once you know where the destination is, then it's easier to get there." - Cory Sterling

Keep in mind that this can always change. Nothing is set in stone.

"Your business and your practice are living things. Everything is always changing and the most important thing is the awareness of what it is you want and what is required to get there." - Cory Sterling

**This was also a podcast episode (episode #104). Use the player below if you'd prefer to listen to this message.

Using music in your online yoga classes

"How do I use music in a legal and approved way in online classes?"

Popular music subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music work like this: In exchange for you paying a monthly fee, they provide you with a particular kind of license to listen to the music. This license is usually a "Non-Commercial" or "Personal Use" license. This means that you are only going to use the music yourself and you can not use it for commercial purposes.

For example, if you have your own online classes or online studio and you're accepting money in exchange for the services, then that's commercial and using music in this case would be a violation of the terms.

You have three options:

  1. You continue doing things how you have been doing things. This is risky because you could get caught, get a demand letter, and someone could threaten legal action against you.

  2. Stop using this particular music for commercial purposes. If you do some research, you can find a variety of options that are license-free music.

  3. Speak to one of the big licensing organizations (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc) and pay for a commercial license.

"From all of the legal issues that I deal with, one of the most frequent questions I get is around music licensing, but in practice it's something that comes up very rarely. It's something everyone has questions about, but I've never seen a situation materialize around it." - Cory Sterling

Covid regulations, vaccines, and your yoga business

"Any legal information regarding Covid, vaccines, and agreements for a yoga teacher?"

It all comes down to communicating the expectations you have in any given relationship openly and honestly.

The way that yoga services today are being offered are constantly changing. Because everything is changing so quickly, with vaccinations, closing and reopening, teaching outside in parks, etc, the kind of relationships we have with our clients is changing as well.

"As a very general overview, one of the most consistent questions we have been getting is about vaccines. What I'm seeing more of is studios and teachers who only want to work with people have been vaccinated." - Cory Sterling

You can include provisions and agreements, but it all goes back to intention and knowing how you want to operate your business. Do you want to require vaccinations? Is this something you want to work with? You have to decide what's important to you.

"The purpose of law is to design the ideal relationships that you have in your business." - Cory Strerling

"What if you are nervous about paying to make sure your business is covered legally because everything is changing so quickly?"

Understand that if you want to grow your business, grow your community, and help more people, then having a legal foundation in place is absolutely imperative and necessary in order to grow.

"You will not be able to grow unless you have a legal foundation in place. At some point it will catch up to you. There's no miracle panacea to avoid dealing with the law." - Cory Sterling

Yes, things will change and your agreement will most likely change, but by hiring a lawyer, at least you are working with someone who has done this for years and can help you avoid making mistakes.

"I encourage all of my clients to get excited about working with a lawyer because it means you're doing things properly and you're avoiding problems that you don't even know you're going to have." - Cory Sterling

Auto payments in your yoga business

"What about auto payments as part of a yoga membership or studio?

There has been a lot of change around autopay memberships and contractual language that you need to have for an autopay membership.

There is particular language to use and a specific way you want your contract to be set up so that you're protected in the case that someone wants to cancel for any reason and get their money back.

"Make sure your service agreement specifically outlines that you offer services both online and in-person. Just in the event that if you're only in person and you get sick or if someone who comes to the studio gets sick, then you can still offer services online and you'll still be deemed to be providing the services." - Cory Sterling

Copyright vs. trademark for your yoga business

"When it comes to protecting my work, what is the difference between a copyright and a trademark?"

Both fall under the category of intellectual property, the protection of ideas (things that are not physical).

A copyright is the registration of an artistic performance. Any written material falls under copyright. Music, photographs, and video all fall under copyright. A registration of copyright gives you the best form of protection for anything that you write.

A trademark is the registration of either a word, a series of words, or a logo, which the world uses to recognize the goods and services that you offer.

"It's always possible if you haven't registered your mark, then someone else could come along and register a mark, even if you've been using it longer. It's one of the foundational fundamental pieces." - Cory Sterling

Example: A trademark would be the Nike checkmark and a copyright would the written production of a yoga teacher manual.

In everything that we do, keeping a loving, light, sense of ease in the way that we operate and the people we help is really important. The more we focus on what we love doing, the better it will be. - Cory Sterling

Your next step

Your next step is to get clear on your intention for your business. Once you know the direction, the goal, you can map out the path.

And if that includes growth and safe spaces for your yoga students, there’s a high possibility that you’ll need some legal help.

So reach out to a local attorney or if you like Cory’s vibe like I do, reach out to Cory’s team to book a call to see how they can help you.

Trust me, it’s not scary at all - they are awesome!

Until next time give yourself permission to make law fun and grace along the way.

Get More Done with Less Screen Time with Shailla Vaidya

I think the more we can look at things as a game, the better. Having a light-hearted and loving approach to it. How law fits into that structure is to make sure you set the rules up to the game properly and then it's easier to enjoy the game.

--Cory Sterling

About Cory

Cory is the founder of the heart-leading law firm Conscious Counsel, a lawyer, small business owner, group fitness instructor and yoga teacher. He wrote The Yoga Law Book and has served hundreds of clients in the health and fitness space all across the world, the majority of whom own or operate a fitness/health studio. He has presented at conferences around the world, teaching about the law in a FUN and practical way.

He won the award for "Highest Rated Session" at MindBody Bold, amongst a field of the health and fitness leading minds and best presenters. In March 2020, he completed the MindBody Business Consulting Program in order to learn overall best business practices for studios and is the only lawyer to hold the certificate.

Cory's Links


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