Legal and Regulations

Intellectual property examples commonly used in social media

Social media provides an opportunity to share ideas and information — but in a space where content can be distributed to millions quickly, it’s important to consider what’s protected.

Published: May 26, 2020

Social media platforms may help small businesses stay connected to current customers and attract new clients, but they also make protecting intellectual property more complex as it’s difficult to track creators of certain phrases, trends and images.

Review these examples of common intellectual properties on social media and if you have any questions before sharing content or work with other brands on social media, consult a lawyer.

1. Usernames

Similar to choosing a name for your business, the username for a social media profile is an identifier. While a distinctive username may help a company stand out online, this simple social media identifier may also open a business up to a number of trademark issues.

The basis of trademark law is to prevent confusion in the minds of consumers. For example, if you came across the username @DnknDoughnuts, it would likely bring to mind the national brand Dunkin’. However, the brand’s actual handle is @dunkindonuts.

2. Hashtags and tagging

Creating a hashtag for a marketing campaign can help grow brand visibility and make tracking success of the campaign easier.

In a recent case, however, the fashion brand Chanel took legal action against a luxury preowned accessories and apparel retailer. What Goes Around Comes Around (WGACA) used the hashtag #WGACACHANEL, and Chanel argued that the use of this hashtag, along with tagging the brand in Chanel product photos, gave the impression that WGACA was either affiliated with or an authorized retailer of Chanel.

3. Contest submissions and promotions

Asking customers to submit content as part of a contest or promotion can be a great way to create conversation surrounding a product or service, and generate positive reviews.

Consider, however, that inclusion of a third party’s intellectual property in a contest submission that is shared via social media could open up the contest’s sponsor to liability for trademark infringement.

4. Fair use

Fair use is legal doctrine that may allow the use of copyright-protected content in extremely limited, specific circumstances such as critique of the work, educational purposes, and news reporting. It rarely applies to commercial use.

If you wish to share copyright-protected content, consult with a legal advisor if fair use applies before doing so.

When it comes to small business teams, it's best to err on the side of caution. Unless the content was created in-house or by a team you hired, business owners should actively seek out a legal advisor to review any content before posting on their social channels.

Make sure anyone creating unique content for your team is aware of basic intellectual property concepts.