Your small business marketing tool kit includes activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media – congratulations! Now, what are you doing about protecting your intellectual property (IP) once it hits the worldwide web?

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the following tips for monitoring, preventing and enforcing use of your IP on social media websites:

Know How Trademarks And Copyright Come Into Play On Social Media

A trademark protects things like your company brand or product names from use by another company in a similar line of business. On social media sites, make sure your trademark is prominently displayed on your Twitter handle, Facebook URL and any product-specific FB pages. SBA advises that you reserve your company name and variations of it on social media networks ASAP to help prevent violations.

Copyright is a little trickier on social media. The SBA notes that even though Internet circulation is not technically considered publication, it is a public display and portions of copyright law 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," says the SBA.

Monitor Your Intellectual Property (IP) On The Social Web.

Deciding how to do this before you create a social media presence is important because it can be time consuming. Two options are setting up Google Alerts and using social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to automatically monitor and report back on key terms and brand names.

Learn What Constitutes Infringement

Again, the rules for IP on social networking sites are sometimes blurred since the whole point of social media from a marketing perspective is to use your business brand to engage existing and potential customers and share information. So if your trademark name is used for informational purposes (especially if it includes the Copyright or Trademark symbol), it may be considered fair use. If you discover that your original content or copyrighted material appears on someone else's website, you'll have to decide if it's an unintentional error on their part or a violation worth pursuing.

Decide When It's In Your Best Interest To Act

It may not always be worth the time, effort and expense to purse a case of trademark infringement or copyright violation on social media, especially if your brand is boosted by the affiliation. On the other hand, if the situation is detrimental to your brand, you should do what you can to legally protect it and your investment.

Your Options When You Decide To Act

The SBA outlines your options for filing a complaint for trademark or copyright infringement on social media sites:

  1. Contact the violator directly to discuss their use of your trademarked name/content before escalating your actions. Arm yourself with a screen shot of the offending content.
  2. Become familiar with terms of service of the various social media sites. All of them publish them as well as complaint procedures governing the use of information stored on the site or uploaded by others.
  3. File a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Infringement Notice with search engines to block the offending website from search results.
  4. Pursue legal action. Consult qualified legal counsel before filing suit.

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Beth Duff

Beth Longware Duff is a professional editor and award-winning writer whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in print and electronic media. She currently writes on a wide range of topics dealing with electronic payment processing for Merchant Express

Merchant Express Blog

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2 Responses to “Protecting Your Small Biz Intellectual Property on Social Media”

  1. Kelly Keating says:

    Great strategy to monitor copied IP, Sarah! When the goal is to monitor when sites copy a huge piece of content (not just a simple brand-mention), I've found that you really have to narrow down the search query you use in the Google Alert. Like you suggested, adding in keywords instead of just the brand name, definitely helps.

    Are there any other tools you use outside of Social Dashboards and Alerts for this? Nice post!

  2. Bram says:

    Great article. I'm very active on social media and produce a lot of digital content. So I'm thinking a lot about this. Definitely now I'll be working with a retailing client who has a brand to protect and it is already violated on the social networks (perhaps not intentional ofcourse)