Social media has provided us with a platform for creativity and promotional activity readily available to all users where the content is infinite. Brand-owners have taken this as an opportunity to gain visibility and connect with their audiences or consumers through social media. However, while this increased online presence is considered to be every brand owner’s goal, it exposes a great deal of Intellectual Property (‘IP’) which shouldn’t be up for grabs by competitors. We discussed this increased visibility in our webinar on creating and protecting your brand last week, but here summarise 5 key steps to help protect your brand on social media.
- Identify your Intellectual Property
A brand is not just the brand name but can refer to the ‘get up’, reputation and overall impression the product or service instils in the mind of followers and consumers. On social media there is IP at every turn and by knowing what IP you may have, you have a better chance of safeguarding it.
For instance, if you are an independent company selling and promoting a craft beer on social media, your product name, brand name, logo, the shape of the product, its packaging, website domain name, trade dress, ‘get up’ and catch phrases are all examples of trade marks which may be registerable.
Some companies have also trade marked hashtags. On its own, the symbol ‘#’ doesn’t have a meaning but used together with a product name, brand or tagline it may function just like a trade mark if it can identify the source of the applicant’s goods or services. This is currently a growing trend and examples of trade mark protected hashtags are:
Wyke Farms: #freecheesefriday; The Coca-Cola Company: #smilewithacoke; KFC Corporation: #HOWDOYOUKFC
Pets can also be internet celebrities and have their own brand. Their names and usernames, nicknames and catch phrases can be protected as trade marks, for example Grumpycat which started off as a meme and quickly became an internet sensation with a social media presence of millions of followers. Grumpycat held eight trademarks in August 2018 covering goods which range from pet toys to mugs, accessories and clothing.
So, if you use social media, at the most basic level, you have a username which might be eligible for trade mark registration.
Your product design and packaging is also strongly related to your brand’s image and should be safeguarded. You can opt to register a design to prevent others from using it.
If you are making videos to promote your product or have original artwork on your labels or a tune or musical jingle, these may be copyright protected. In fact, copyright protection is given automatically to a work which is original and this includes literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works, broadcasts, sound recordings, technical drawings, software code and computer screen graphics.
- Protect your Intellectual Property
IP serves to distinguish your business and the products or services you are offering from those of your competitors and can be some of your most valuable business assets. Protecting your IP will prevent other entities, including competitors, from using your brand and jeopardizing your online reputation.
By registering a trade mark, for instance, you are protecting your business from competitors who may choose to make use of the original features identified in your brand and/or the reputation your brand carries with it. Registering these rights will give you a better chance of enforcing them against online infringer
Copyright is an automatic right and so does not need to be registered. However, it is good practice to label your original work with the copyright symbol, ©. You can also include a copyright statement on the description of your work.
- Get Informed, Know Your Rights
It is important to understand the terms and conditions to which you are consenting when using social media, to ensure that you are not surrendering any rights attached to your IP.
Know what IP infringement is so you can act on any potential infringement. Be in touch with your IP attorney regularly to discuss your rights and any concerns or suspicions of IP infringement which you may have.
- Regularly Monitor Social Media Platforms for Infringement
To make sure your IP is adequately protected, it is not enough to register your rights but you should also monitor your social media to make sure your rights are enforced. Have a digital media strategy in place to screen social media platforms for possible IP infringement. Particularly, you need to watch out for misuse of your trade mark – be it a logo, brand name, user name, hashtag etc. or even mention of your brand.
Likewise, monitoring social media will help you identify fake accounts acting in your name and can be useful to prevent competitors from tarnishing your reputation by spreading false information about your company.
Copyright infringement is very common on social media and although social media platforms will have the means of blocking misuse of copyrighted material, it is good practice to keep a lookout for use of your copyrighted material, especially by conducting regular searches for your works and the relevant tags for instance.
If you don’t have a social media account for your company or brand/product, it is still advisable to monitor social media to be able to see how your IP is being promoted and used in public.
- Take Action!
Once you identify a case of infringement on social media, you can request the removal of the infringing material on that platform by filling in a complaint form. These complaint forms will require you to enter information which is specific to your IP. Providing proof of a registered trademark for instance, will help remove the infringing material, which is why registration is important.
However, this does not guarantee that all the infringing material will be removed from that social media platform. Online platforms may suspend an infringing account, however depending on the infringement, your IP attorney can provide you with the options available and advise you on the best action to take.