How To Protect Your Online Course

How to protect your online course from the most common legal nightmares...

If you’re a service provider or coach, creating an online course can be an incredible way to scale your business, serve more clients, and create a new revenue stream. And while it may seem simple to record your content, market it online, and watch the students roll in, anyone who’s dabbled in online education knows there are potential pitfalls that can derail even the best courses.

What do you do if a student stops paying you?

Or steals your content? 

Or behaves horribly? 

Read on to learn about the three most common course customer nightmares we see, and how you can protect yourself and your business to keep your course running like a dream:


Nightmare 1: Students Who Don't Pay

A student signed up for a payment plan and then they stop making their payments. Or they’re late, or they have to give you a new card every month. Now they have access to your content but you’re not making the money you counted on. Ugh.

What You Can Do: Clear payment terms can go a long way in preventing non-payment and can also be used should you need to go to collections or protect yourself against PayPal or Stripe if the student disputes their payment.
These terms should very specifically refer to the price that’s been agreed upon, when payments are due, and what happens should a student pay late. For high-ticket items, your terms can even include language that allows you to recoup money spent on collections and legal fees should that become necessary.


Nightmare 2: Students Ripping Off Your Content

While defaulting or delinquent payments are the #1 issue we see with our clients, this issue is a close second. What happens if a student pays for your course, then copies your content and sells it as her own? What if they download all of your content, maybe even tweak it a tiny bit, then start competing with you?

What Can You Do: We often advise clients not to release their content all at once, but rather “drip it out” over time. Many times this will keep folks from buying for the sole purpose of stealing content. We also advise clients on course platforms or technology solutions to prevent this. From a legal perspective, you want to make sure your course terms (that students must agree to upon purchase) include intellectual property protections. These terms should make it very clear how students are allowed to use your material. Is it personal use only? Can they use the tools/worksheets/techniques with their own clients?

In addition, these terms should have VERY clearly defined penalties if you violate them. This is huge- it could allow you to file a lawsuit for breach of contract rather than copyright infringement, potentially saving you tens of thousands of dollars in filing and legal fees. 


Nightmare 3: Students Behaving Badly

While we hope that everyone who purchases your course behaves like a respectful adult, I can’t tell you how often we see that this simply isn’t the case. What if a student consistently tries to sell their own services in your private course Facebook group? What if your IP monitoring software alerts you that a student has likely shared their login information for their course with several friends or team members (without paying for additional seats in your course!)? What if someone is rude or harassing your staff or other students? YIKES!!

What You Can Do: Remember those terms and conditions your students agreed to when they enroll? Let’s check those again! Your terms should clearly spell out what behavior is unacceptable and any expectations of students to be part of the course community. They should also include actions that may be taken against a student if they do not comply with these terms. Having the option to remove a student from the program without a refund puts you in a stronger position to enforce your rules and guidelines and protect your other students and content. 


Want more information about how to deal with these nightmares plus 6 others that I see pop up often for online course creators? As the go-to law firm for digital and online businesses....believe me, we’ve seen it all!

We've got an entire podcast episode on this very topic right here

We love supporting our clients to proactively prevent these course-client nightmares.

If you’re getting ready to launch a course this year, NOW is the time to get these protections in place. Our attorneys are busy creating custom terms for our clients’ courses as you read these words, but we do have space for just a few more projects before the busy launch season starts.

Click here to learn about how we can work together, and click here to apply for our Legal To Scale™️ collaborative experience, where we’ll review your plans for your course and advise you on exactly what you’ll need to get in place to keep your course protected.