IP: Examining the risks associated with corporate social media use

Companies and their employees must be aware of the laws governing copyrights and trademarks

Nearly all businesses with an Internet presence are affected by social media. The decision to utilize social media, the online exchange of user-generated content and information through websites, isn’t really a choice. Any successful business will turn to social media as way to increase revenues. Advertisements and traditional marketing campaigns have given way to social media and peer recommendations. It has been noted that if Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest, right behind China and India. If that weren’t enough to emphasize the reach of the social media revolution, YouTube is said to be the second-largest search engine in the world.

Social media's rapid growth has created both benefits and risks for businesses trying to engage the marketplace. Particularly, businesses are likely to encounter issues relating to copyrights and trademarks. In order for a business to protect itself in the social media context, it must fully understand and train its employees so they can comprehend the reach of intellectual property laws and the exceptions.

However, there are exceptions to copyright law. The most often referenced exception is the fair use doctrine. The fair use doctrine allows a third party to use copyrighted material for the specific purposes of criticism, comment or news reporting. In assessing whether something falls under the fair use doctrine, the question of whether the use is commercial speech is critical. This exception allows customers to criticize a company’s copyrighted content on their Facebook page or via Twitter.

It is worth noting that social media outlets have incorporated copyright provisions in their terms of use policies that describe enforcement of other people’s rights as well as rights to user-generated content.

Contributing Author

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Marcella Ballard

Marcella Ballard is a partner at Venable LLP. Her practice covers a wide range of intellectual property matters, including trademark, copyright, trade secret, privacy rights,...

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Contributing Author

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Deborah Feinblum

Deborah Feinblum is an attorney at Venable LLP. She focuses her practice on a wide variety of intellectual property matters, including intellectual property litigation, trademark...

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