Social media is the most recent battlefield between copyright holders and individuals posting content which was not created by them. Copyright and trademark infringement is not generally pursued actively against personal accounts (although the law allows it and some companies take action), but it is a completely different story when it comes to business accounts.
The key issue is that any activity on a company’s social media accounts is perceived as a commercial activity, because the ultimate purpose of this activity is attracting customers and concluding a sale. Therefore, if you are not careful about ensuring that your social media posts are not infringing copyright or trademarks, you may be faced with either one or all of the following:
- A cease and desist letter
- A takedown notice
- A lawsuit for copyright infringement
Besides these, the social media platform may decide to temporarily block or permanently delete your company’s account. These are all quite dire consequences for not being careful about what and how you share on the social media. Any such situation would deteriorate your reputation among your customers and make them lose confidence in all of your claims and promises.
Here are a few simple and effective steps you should take to ensure that you are not breaching anyone’s copyrights in your social media posts:
- Always Seek Permission before You Post
This is the most straightforward manner in which you can ensure that content you share is not infringing anyone’s copyright: contact the owner of said content and ask for permission to share it on your social media accounts. This applies for photographs, audio/video materials, texts or fragments of text.
In some situations you will find it hard to trace the original copyright holder, especially if the content you found is on a website such as BoredPanda, which usually re-shares stories and photos from other sources. In this situation, you could share the link (although it would not help your business very much, since it links to the respective website, not yours). Some bloggers and website owners specify clearly the maximum number of words or characters you can copy and paste without breaching their copyright.
- Do Not Believe That Crediting the Owner Removes Copyright Infringement
This is a very common mistake many people make, both on their personal social media accounts and on business pages they manage for their companies. They post a photo or an audio/video file and they credit the owner by writing their name or linking to their official website or social media account.
Crediting is a nice and thoughtful thing to do, but does not remove your liability. For example, photographers who sell their images will still sue you for sharing their images, even if you credited them.
- Do Not Use Watermarked Stock Photo Previews
Besides being totally unprofessional to share photos with a watermark on them, you are publicly advertising the fact that you did not pay for the respective images. And the stock photo website owners can and will sue you once they find out the misuse of their property.
- Do Not Encourage Your Fans to Breach Copyright
When you launch contests on your social media accounts, be careful not to incite to copyright infringement. For example, asking your fans to recreate photos (celebrity portraits, iconic news images) or to record themselves voicing over a popular song represent cases of breaching copyright.
- Research Taglines and Hashtags
Before you start promoting a word or phrase as your campaign tagline in hashtags, make sure that it is not someone else’s copyright or trademark. It is known that certain celebrities and companies are holding copyrights over specific phrases or attempted to do so (as Paris Hilton tried with the phrase “that’s hot”). If you are not 100% certain that your phrase of choice is free to use, do not use it.
Last, but not least, when you purchase a licence for a specific piece of content, make sure you understand the limits of the rights you obtain by this purchase. Getty Images is very active in pursuing misuse of licences, as well as record companies. For instance, you may be allowed to play a song at an event your company hosts, but this right may not extend to sharing video recordings of the that event on YouTube when the respective song is played.