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5 Tips for Protecting your Business Intellectual Property in a Social Media World

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5 Tips for Protecting your Business Intellectual Property in a Social Media World

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 7, 2011 Updated: September 7, 2011

Being active on public social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in addition to your own business blog, is almost an essential part of any business marketing toolkit. These tools can have enormous benefits, but they also have their dangers. For example, some businesses jump on social networking sites only to discover that someone has already registered their company or product names on Facebook and Twitter and is misrepresenting their brand as a consequence. Likewise someone might be out there reproducing your copyrighted web copy, blogs, photographs and videos (all that good multi-media stuff that social networks love to propagate) – without your knowledge.

So what can you do to protect your business in this brave new world of social media sharing? Here are five tips for preventing, monitoring and enforcing use of your business trademarks and copyright on social media sites.

1.       What’s at Stake? – How Trademarks and Copyright Come into Play in Social Media

First, it’s important to understand how intellectual property (IP) comes into play on social media sites.

  • Trademarks – Trademark law protects information such as your company brand or product names from being used by another company in a similar line of business. In social media, your trademark can appear on as your Twitter handle, your Facebook URL, as well as product-specific Facebook pages. Reserving your company name and permutations of it on these sites as soon as possible can help prevent violations.
  • Copyright – The definition of copyright in the world of online media is a little complicated. Even though Internet circulation of content is not technically regarded as published, it is public display and portions of copyright law do apply. Essentially, a creator of an original work or images automatically owns the right to that work once it is published in print or posted to a website. However, unless that work is registered with the U.S. copyright office, you can’t sue for infringement in a federal court.

2.       Monitoring Your Intellectual Property on the Social Web

Before you embark on any social media strategy, you first need to consider whether and how you are going to monitor and police how people are talking about your brand and using your content online. Finding the time can be tough, but easy tools such as Google Alerts as well as social media monitoring tools including Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and so on, can automate the process by monitoring key terms, brand names, and so on, on your behalf.

3.       Is it Infringement?

The world of social networking is a fuzzy one for intellectual property holders, simply because the whole basis of “being social” for business brands is about engaging, courting and sharing information with other users. Exercising a little caution when determining what constitutes an IP infringement and what doesn’t is oftentimes the healthiest approach.

For example, if someone is using or mentioning your trademark name for information purposes, such as in a blog or status update, this might be considered fair use of your brand name, especially if the trademark is used.  But what should you do when you suspect copyright infringement? If you find an instance of unauthorized use of your copyrighted photography or original content on blogs, picture-sharing sites, and so on, what can you do?  Many instances of copyright violation are accidental and often provoke the response: “but I didn’t know I couldn’t use it!”  So be moderate in your approach and assess whether this is a true violation or an innocent error.

4.       Decide if it’s in your Best Interest to Act

If you stumble on cases of trademark infringement or copyright violation on social media sites, it might not be necessary or to your benefit to purse action. For example, the abusing site might actually help your brand through affiliation or indirect promotion of your product (bloggers are always mentioning brands and products or lifting images and quotes) – and this can often be to your benefit. If you really do have a problem with the violation, weigh up the pros and cons of pursuing it further – could there be a backlash that you can’t control, do you even have the time and resources to dedicate to this?

5.       When it’s Time to Act – Pursue Your Options

Below are a series of options that you can pursue to file a complaint for trademark or copyright infringement on social media sites.

  • Contact the Violator Directly – Most bloggers really aren’t aware they infringed upon your rights. Even on Facebook and Twitter, it’s worth contacting a profile owner to query their use of your trademarked name/content before getting officious. And be sure to grab a screen shot of the offending content.
  • Become Familiar with Terms of Service of Social Media Sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube all publish clear terms of service and complaint procedures which govern the use of information stored on the site or uploaded by others.
  • File a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Infringement Notice with search engines to block the offending website from search results.
  • Pursue Legal Action – If you decide to initiate a suit in court, be sure to consult qualified legal counsel. Neither the U.S. Copyright Office nor the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office act as a law-enforcing agency they just maintain maintains registrations and records.

Related Resources

Caron Beesley has over 15 years of experience working in marketing, with a particular focus on the government sector. Caron is also a small business owner and works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

It is definitely important to have a social media presence in this day in age in order to become a successful business. However, just like this article explains, you do have to watch your back and protect your business' intellectual property on the internet. We plan to share this article with others so we appreciate your thoughts on this topic! Here at The Schreiber Law Firm in Colorado Springs, we are trying to have a strong social media and online presence. With that comes issue like above so it takes time to know your boundaries. However, we have seen great success in our online presence and social media strategy so it is without a doubt worth it to have an online influence. Just as an example, check out our website at www.ronschreiber.com and see for yourselves how well these tips in this article can help you!
This is a great article, and it speaks to how to begin to tackle the big, unknown world of social media. One of the things you will have to decide as a business owner is what your social media policy will entail. How will you respond to an irate customer who posts on your Facebook page? What will you do if you see your logo being used elsewhere? These are all very important questions, and it is better to prepare now, then have to decide on the fly if an issue arises.
Thank you Caron for your article. I think you are spot on in describing some of the dangers with social media in business. I used to work for a small pharmaceutical company and we found that a buyer had used our company products and logos in replicating this business on an online website in Greece. I agree with the above poster that "decide if it's in your best interest to act" is one of the best suggestions listed above. The evaluation of the pros and cons should definitely be taken into account into these situations. Sometimes, the abusing site may be beneficial to your company through indirect afiliation and promotion of your products. In essence, this is saving your company in marketing. Also, the suggestion "When it’s Time to Act – Pursue Your Options" is very important. It is very important for one to take necessary steps to protect your business if the abusing site is not willing to cooperate. Extensive damage can be done to a business if proper actions are not taken.
This blog is packed with great information and I’m excited that these tips are out there for business owners. Although many people in younger generations are growing up with online technology and social media, quite a few people are still trying to learn it. My father owns a small business and he would have no idea what to do if his business had a problem related to social media or copyright infringement. One of the best suggestions to consider that this blog mentions is “decide if it’s in your best interest to act”. While the phrase “any media is good media” may be a stretch, there is something to be said for getting your company’s name out there. Even if you do decide that it’s bad press, most writers aren’t trying to participate in illegal actions. If you suspect infringement or a legal problem, asking the author to delete that company from the writing is usually effective.
The blog is really very informative. Thanks for sharing it with us. Finally I have found the answer to the question that has always bothered me.
Thanks for the blog loaded with so many information. Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for.
Thank you Caron for your article. The small business community should contact Congressman Sam Farr and ask him about the status of legislation regarding a Trade Secret Bank. In a rapidly changing world of social networking and with the need to share ideas with the crowds concerning innovation, commercialization and job creation, the federal government will have to prepare modern legislation to protect IP while allowing individuals to freely communicate without the loss of IP rights. Sam Farr has been provided one solution. Contact his office. See if you can get him to tell the community what the potential solution is for discussing IP over the net while preserving IP rights. Best regards, Gerard Peregrin.

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