The rules around the use of intellectual property (IP) have changed dramatically since social media has given all of us the power to share content and be our own publishers. It’s possible to prevent a book from being published if it uses IP without proper licenses, but to prevent a Facebook share or status update that infringes on those same laws is impossible. How can brands stay in control of their trademarks? Can influencers get in legal trouble for defamation in same way that Hollywood celebrities can? Does sharing illegally uploaded intellectual property also count as infringement?
The issue of IP on social media is complex, but without a doubt corporate and personal brands need to protect themselves from online copyright and defamation threats. We divided the following article in three parts: monitoring your IP, handling unfair uses of your IP and learning how to use IP that belongs to other creators.
Protecting Your IP
Be proactive in searching for misuse of your content: The amount of investment that goes into any corporate or personal brand makes it a very important asset to protect. The use of “Social Listening” or “Social Monitoring” tools make it easy to discover how your content is being used online without much manual work. There are many available tools, but one that is free and easy is Google Alerts. You’ve most likely heard about how this simple tool will alert you to new search results appearing for the keywords being tracked. By tracking keywords associated to your brand or username, you can use Google Alert as a social listening tool. You can learn about the tools developed for each platforms to begin implementing a strategy and keep an eye out for your brand online.
Create a policy for the types of use you allow and the ones you don’t: Any digital brand’s trademarks and copyrighted content are online and with a right-click, can be saved on any computer. This makes easy for content creators to mistakenly use your content in their videos, blogs or Facebook posts. In addition, there are many fan pages whose entire content are reposts from other online pages. Taking this into account, it is very likely that if you create your own content, you will encounter instances of it being used unfairly. Do you know what your policy is when this occurs? It can range from ensuring that credits are given to not allowing any of your content to be shared without your permission. Create rules for yourself to make it easier for you to handle these cases when they appear. Also publish them on your website where other creators that are looking for the information can find it.
It is always useful to extent your strategy to employees and anyone that collaborates with the brand. Being clear about this policy concerning the use of the brand’s content will help prevent issues from arising amongst the individuals that interact with it most often.
Handling Wrongful Use of Your Brand or Content
First consider the real harm being done: In many cases, actions taken by the parties whose IP was stolen went viral, made them look bad and resulted in more harm than benefit for the brand. In the non-digital business world, lawyers frequently send cease and desist letters to business operating with illegitimate use of trademarks or copyrighted material. In the digital world, what becomes viral isn’t in any one party’s control. So brands have taken a new attitude to use of their content online. Instead of fearing brand dilution with the vast uses of their brand, the fast pace of the internet has led many brands to accept a loss of control on social media in exchange for organic impressions and brand awareness. The cost and unintended repercussions of going after a content creator using your IP unfairly might outweigh the benefits.
Appeal to the platforms: The first step would be to appeal to platforms themselves, which all have rules to help brands and influencers protect their IP. For example, Twitter removed many pages that impersonated characters from a specific HBO series. When HBO made the request to Twitter, the pages which Tweeted in the voice of the TV characters were removed for their copyright infringement. By signing up on any platforms content creators promise that all of their publications are their property. By not respecting these platform rules we’ve all agreed to, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter don’t hesitate to close these accounts when the misuse of copyrighted material is clear.
How to Use Copyrighted Content Legally and Morally
What is public opinion on the issue? As brands that create daily, having to third party content happens very frequently. How are we to do this in a legal and moral way? The answer to this question changes as frequently as does the public opinion on the use of online content. There are however basic rules that can be followed to prevent you from getting in trouble. First of all, giving credits for someone else’s content isn’t the same as asking for their permission to use it. But in addition, using content without giving credits is perceived as wrong even by the followers of a page. So when collaborating with another brand or content creator, no matter the agreement between parties, followers expect to be able to see who originally created that piece of content.
The case of “Fair Use”: We can often read in Youtube video descriptions about the “Fair Use” for educational purposes of IP in their video, but this law does not apply to businesses and influencers. There is such a law, which allows for a part of copyrighted material to be used in educational settings, but this law is only applicable in non-profit situations. Presentations, workshops, seminars and non-monetized Youtube videos could benefit from this law. On the hand as a brand or an influencer that creates sponsored content, “Fair Use” for educational purposes cannot work even if the content you create is educational in nature.
Best Way to Use Copyrighted Content: The only real way to use third-party content is to buy the copyrights from the owner completely or obtain a license to either modify or share it. You can do this, by going through platforms that allow for content licenses to be sold or by getting in direct contact with the content creator themselves. You could be surprised by how each content creator chooses to share their content and that in more cases than not, they will be very open to collaborations.
In conclusion, the general trend today is that intellectual property owners are becoming more lenient on the use of their content. The fast pace that the internet has taken, has led to many creators realizing that they often have more to gain from their content being shared than by restricting it’s use. If you’re in need of content don’t hesitate to ask content creators about their policies. Lastly, when your brand gets approached for its content choose your policy wisely, as your choices can have a significant impact on the growth of your social media accounts.