How to Legally Protect Your Online Course

Why you need to protect your course

More and more individuals are beginning to invest in themselves and their businesses. This is leading to more enrollments in online courses, and it’s easy to spot why. Learning from the comfort of your own home is awesome, and the ROI can be through the roof. Course creators meet this market demand by creating new courses on a variety of topics. From a legal standpoint, the key issue for course creators is plagiarism. It’s easy for scammers to copy and paste content and repackage it to fill their own bank accounts. It’s impossible to prevent all copycats, especially as your brand and course grows, but here are some tips on to limit the loss in income through plagiarizers.


A timestamp provides proof you published the content first! It’s a foolproof way of saying “me first”- in case you do ever find yourself in litigation over an infringement. Every post or publication should have a timestamp of when it was made public and this will help assert your claim should you ever need to. Some people even go the extra mile and make print copies of the user interface and mail it to themselves! So, when push comes to shove – you will gain priority for publishing first.


A copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship. This includes novels, songs, software, artwork, photographs, and online course.

In some cases, you can group several works into one application to save time and cost. This includes websites where more than one online course is being offered. The rules for doing so depend on whether the works are published. Courses are “published” essentially when they launch. The author and copyright holder must also be the same if you’re looking to file multiple works into one application. This is a great option because you will be paying only one application fee, rather than multiple. If you would like more information about copyrights, you can read my post here.

During the application process, you submit a sample of your material to be copyrighted. For an online course, you can take screenshots of every page that your customers will see. Essentially, the application needs to show every bit of content you write for the course. Make sure to wait for the course to be completed before you file the copyright. You cannot add on to a previously submitted application or registered work since the effective registration date has already been established for that submission when received. Minor changes such as grammatical, typographical or other editing changes do not matter nor warrant a new copyright application.

DMCA Takedown Notice

The DMCA is short for Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and it began as a collaboration between legislators, media companies, and consumer advocates. A core function of the DMCA is the DMCA takedown notice. Whenever a copyright holder discovers a violation, a DMCA takedown notice can be issued to the hosting service of the offending website or to the internet service provider (ISP) of the violator. Infringing material may also be excluded from search results by issuing a notice to a search engine. A notice must be sent to the organization's agent in writing, identifying the original copyrighted work and the material infringing on copyright. It must be signed by the copyright holder or their agent. In addition to providing contact information and identifying the suspected copyright infringement, you must also state that the notice is filed in good faith, that all information in the notice is accurate and that under penalty of perjury.

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Terms of Purchase

Assuming that your online course is for sale, it’s always more prudent to tag terms or caveats during purchase that stipulate limitations or cautionary measures the users should be taking to ensure the material is being used lawfully. Adding them to your order form ensures that your customers are informed prior to purchase of your expectations. In order to form a valid online contract, the customers should be aware of your terms that they are consenting to before making an official purchase.    


Website Terms

Similar to terms presented during a purchase, you should be providing terms and caveats for your website on the whole. Your web terms of service is a contract between the business and the user of the website or participant in a course. Investing into terms and conditions now, can save you time and resources later on. If you’re waiting until something goes wrong in order to tidy up the legalities – that may not be the best defense strategy. The web terms will layout what will happen in the case of a dispute and specific all the other necessary legalities.

Cease & Desist Letters

No matter how many precautions you take sometimes, problems can happen. You’ve been thrown a curve ball and now the material you’ve invested all this time and resources into is everywhere. All your competitors somehow got their hands on your course and could potentially copy or forward it to others. This is where an attorney steps in. You can hire an attorney to draft a cease and desist letter that states your legal rights, what you would be entitled to from the other party if they’re copying your works, and what legal actions you may take. Essentially, the letter says, “hey, stop doing this, or I’m going to sue you for some amount of money.” Typically, cease & desist letters are a cost effective way to resolve disputes before going to court.