5 Tips for Protecting your Business Intellectual Property in a Social Media World
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: September 7, 2011, 9:20 am
- Updated: September 7, 2011, 3:18 pm
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.
- Small Business Guide to Intellectual Property (SBA)
- How to Legally Protect Your Business Name on a Local, State, National, and International Level
- Understanding Intellectual Property Law and How it Can Protect Your Online Business
- Intellectual Property Explained; Protecting and Selling Your Unique Idea!
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.
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