Selling Online: Laws You Should Be Aware of

woman on a phone with a laptop surrounded by boxes

There are many ways to sell things online these days. For ridding your home of unwanted items, platforms like Poshmark, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace are great places to start. You may also want to sell items you create or source yourself as a source of income on a personal ecommerce website or online boutique. While these are great ways to make money from the comfort of your own home, there are laws to be aware of surrounding online selling.

Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights

Understanding these three words and what they mean for online selling is important. These three words are commonly confused, but they all have different meanings. First, the term trademark refers to a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods from other products or items.

A patent is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and entitles the owner of the patent to a limited duration property right pertaining to their specific invention. Finally, a copyright protects things such as photographs, authorship, music, and other works of art that have been tangibly expressed.

So what do these mean for online sellers? Well, there are several things to think through with these key terms if you’re selling things online. You should definitely check to ensure that you’re not infringing on any patents, trademarks, or existing copyrights in the items you’re selling.

Selling t-shirts you make with cartoon characters on it could actually infringe on trademarks and could lead to legal trouble. Furthermore, using images or photographs of products taken by others or existing on other websites could infringe on copyrights.

In some cases, you may want to apply for your own patents, trademarks, or copyrights on the items you’re selling to protect your own business.

Items You Cannot Sell Without a Permit

There are a host of products that you cannot sell online without a special permit, so this is another thing to consider. These items include guns, alcohol, fresh fruits and vegetables, tobacco, and live animals. It goes without saying that you cannot sell any illegal items online, such as drugs.

Shipping Regulations

person taping box for shipping

There are shipping regulations that must be adhered to when selling things online. For instance, selling things that are perishable or in aerosol cans must be shipping in a different way than other items.

If not done correctly, shipping carriers can refuse products. Other items could require certain paperwork be filled out prior to shipping or additional fees. Understanding the shipping parameters when you list things for sale online helps you to keep your online business running more smoothly and helps you to be compliant with the legalities involved.

Inventory Legalities

Having an abundance of inventory of items you’re selling on your ecommerce site could result in you breaking laws that you should be adhering to. This may come as a surprise, but it’s definitely something worth researching as an online seller.

Holding a substantial amount of inventory could go against terms of your lease or deed and it can also be against zoning codes of where you live. Certain areas have laws against running a business out of your home and require different certifications and permits, so this is certainly something to consider.

woman on computer and phone taking notes with boxes nearby

Customer Privacy Concerns

There are laws surrounding customer privacy, especially when it comes to children. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is something to be in the know on, as it dictates that parental consent is needed to collect information from any individual under the age of 13.

No matter what demographic or age your target buyer is, though, you’ll need to have a privacy policy detailing how you collect customer information and how you’ll use it in order to protect yourself and your customers alike.

It can be intimidating to understand the legalities surrounding selling items online, but it’s imperative to be within the confines of the laws when doing so in order to protect yourself and your business.