Protecting Your IP When You Work With Freelancers

Even when you’re working internally with other employees, there are always security considerations as far as file sharing and data sharing. That means that you need secure file sharing solutions in place. This has become an even bigger concern with so many people continuing to work remotely because of COVID-19.

Then, beyond the security considerations that come with working with co-workers, you may also worry about sharing information with freelancers.

Hiring freelancers has a lot of advantages, including cost savings and easier access to specialized skills without having to hire an expensive full-time employee.

However, there are possible downsides, including intellectual property theft.

Just like your focus is on cybersecurity when you’re sharing files, you also need to be protecting your IP to the best of your ability.

So how can you do that?

The following are some tips to protect your IP when you work with freelancers as well as contractors and consultants.

working on a laptop

Understand the Risks

When you’re working with a freelancer, whether you’re representing a startup or a large company, IP matters. When you own IP rights, you likely have higher revenue as a result. Your IP may be the core of your businesses’ value.

You have to understand the importance of protecting your brand, your inventions, and your original work.

Think about every potential thing that you’re sharing with a freelancer or need to share with a freelancer to get a project done, and make sure you have a full understanding of the risks of having that stolen in any way. You could be giving away your company’s trade secrets that make you competitive.

Have Freelancers Sign an NDA

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is one way to protect yourself when you hire freelancers, but not the only one. An NDA is a legal contract between your company and the freelancer you hire, and it dictates the information that both parties can share with each other, as well as what’s restricted.

If your freelancer is reluctant to sign an NDA, that might be a red flag. Overall a freelancer or contractor should be fine with it because it clarifies the terms of your relationship, which is beneficial for them as much as for you.

A lack of clarity can be problematic in a client-freelancer relationship otherwise.

Any freelancer your company hires should sign an NDA before you start any work, or you send any materials to them that could be proprietary or potentially sensitive.

An NDA needs to have certain elements to provide you with protection. For example, you need to clearly identify everyone involved.

You also need to be specific as far as what is meant by confidential, and you should outline all the terms of the agreement.

If you don’t have an NDA, you’re putting yourself at risk. There might be no recourse to enforce the rules of the contract and no consequences if rules are broken.

Create a Contract Separate from the NDA

In addition to the NDA, it’s a good idea to have a separate contract with any freelancer you work with as well. This contract can delve into more details of the terms of your work together.

You may need to outline, for example, how rights to content a freelancer creates will be transferred and who it can be transferred to.

You need to make sure you’ve outlined a transfer of rights to intellectual property that you pay to have created.

You should include a clause on retained rights. That means that you state your business will keep the rights to any content that was created by your business or originally belonged to your company.

If You’re Hiring on a Marketplace, Keep Your Project Private

If you’re going to hire a freelancer on a site like Upwork, it’s a good idea to keep your project private. You shouldn’t show your full project description publicly or opt to allow it to show up on search engines.

When you keep your project private, then you can control who you send an invite to and who can submit proposals. You should carefully go over the visibility of any details of your project before it goes live.

Divide Projects Based on Risk

There are certain projects that may not be high risk as far as what you need to share with a freelancer. For example, the information they need may be general or available on your website. Then, there might be projects where that’s not the case, and it’s very high-risk. You should categorize projects based on the risk level before you start the process of hiring a freelancer because this will let you know how much time to dedicate to protecting yourself.

For a very high-risk project, for example, you might need to go as far as consulting with an attorney before you hire a freelancer.

Protect Files

This was briefly touched on above, but it’s important to protect your files when you share them with a freelancer.

Don’t share any personally identifiable information or data if you can avoid it. If you’re sharing anything related to healthcare, it needs to be HIPPA compliant.

You should also use password protection on files and be very specific in the permissions you give to freelancers.

Every freelancer should be on a need-to-know basis. You shouldn’t share any more with them than the absolute bare minimum they require to do the job you’re hiring them for.

A good rule of thumb when working with freelancers, in general, is to find a few that you can work with consistently. If at all possible, sticking with the same freelancers time and time again will help you build a sense of trust.

If you’re constantly looking for new freelancers, you’re going to put yourself more at risk for IP theft and other issues, like incomplete work or missed deadlines.

Finally, before you hire a new freelancer, you should screen them thoroughly and look for their work outside of the marketplace where you found them.

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