Social media is a great way to build your brand, connect with customers, and share your message. But social media sites can be a free-for-all for your business’s intellectual property (e.g., trademarks and copyrighted materials), if you’re not careful. Protect your IP in 6 steps.
- Register your business across social media platforms. More is better. Start with those most relevant to your business and add from there. Start with at least some of these: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google My Business, Pinterest, YouTube, and Yelp. Even if you’re not as active on all these sites, plant your flag making sure to use your logo, word marks, brand colors, and a consistent message and tone.
- Register your trademarks with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. If you do business in more than one state, registering your trademarks makes shutting down infringers easier. Plus, registered trademarks may use the ® symbol to indicate that the mark is federally registered and that you have nationwide rights to use the mark. Trademarks include your business’s name, logo, slogan, product names, and hashtags (if unique to your brand). Want more information about trademark registration—including reasons to register, whether your marks qualify, and how we can help? Check out our website and download the free Trademark Registration Guide.
- Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright protects original works of authorship. Although your original work is entitled to protection from creation (e.g., when you post it), registration is required to bring a lawsuit for infringement, which may include recovery of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if the lawsuit is successful. And, if you’ve been told to send yourself a copy of your work as a “poor person’s copyright,” don’t bother. There is no provision in copyright law for this practice and it’s not a substitute for registration.
- Monitor social media sites regularly to find infringers. Do regular web searches to track your IP (e.g., trademarks, videos, photos, and artwork) and how others use it. An easy starting point, set up a Google alert and you’ll get emails if someone mentions your name. If you hear that others are seeing your trademarks or copyrighted videos, images, or content in unexpected websites, follow up.
- Make copying your IP harder. Use a watermark over your digital photos, artwork, and designs to make it harder to copy. Make sure anything that can be copyrighted (photos, blog posts, articles, artwork, images, other published content) includes a copyright notice (e.g., © 2021 Melnick & Melnick, S.C.) and any federally registered trademarks display the ® symbol.
- Enforce your IP Rights. When you see someone using your copyrighted image without your permission or a confusingly similar trademark, ask them to stop. Cease and desist letters are an important first step. But think twice before writing a nasty letter and hitting send. Often an informative rather than an aggressive tone is the way to go, particularly because the letter itself could be posted on social media. This is a great time to consult an attorney. Make sure you understand your IP rights, how the other party infringed, and what your remedies may be before you send a letter that you can’t walk back. Think about our Fern Grow Subscription, with unlimited calls and emails, as an easy way to get your IP and other small-business questions answered in real-time for $100/month.
There may be more you can do to protect your IP depending on what your business does and what goods and services you offer. Any questions, please reach out. We love to talk IP!
Stephanie, owner of Melnick & Melnick, S.C. and self-described law nerd has been practicing law for over 25 years. Stephanie loves taking a deep dive into clients’ businesses to learn what makes them tick. She also relishes a well-written (short and simple) contract and is pleased to draft and negotiate all kinds, including leases, operating agreements, and terms of service.more posts by Stephanie →