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:
- 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.
- 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.
- File a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Infringement Notice with search engines to block the offending website from search results.
- Pursue legal action. Consult qualified legal counsel before filing suit.
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