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Copyright and your brand’s social media channels

Can you copyright social media content your business produces? The rapid rise of social media over the last decade has added another layer of complexity when it comes to protecting your brand’s copyright online. In the UK, your online content will usually be protected by copyright so long as it is your original work, or if you have acquired the legal rights to use the work. If you regularly share content via your brand’s social media channels, you should be aware of the copyright issues that could potentially arise.

What are the risks when sharing someone else’s social media content?

Most people who use social media will at some point share someone else’s content, such as an image, video, music or some other type of creative work. If this content includes original work by someone else, then it’s likely that they own the copyright, this includes content produced on a website. Simply giving credit to the author of the original work will not always be enough to avoid copyright infringement. Further, if you haven’t obtained their permission to use it, you may be leaving yourself open to a potential copyright infringement complaint or legal claim. To avoid copyright pitfalls, avoid copying and pasting content from the internet. If you want to use images or music on your social media, make sure you buy them from reputable websites such as Shutterstock and check that you have the right licence to use the content in the manner intended.

Social media channels are increasingly taking steps to minimise their liability when it comes to intellectual property infringement on their websites. Each social media channel has its own policies regarding intellectual property rights, usually contained in the terms of use. More than likely this will include a policy stating that you cannot post material on their website if you do not have the legal right to do so, or if it violates someone else’s intellectual property rights. Facebook, for example, state this in its terms and also in its community standards, which you agree to abide by when you use the website. Facebook will have the right to remove any infringing content without notice or even suspend your account.

There is an exception, under UK copyright law, which could apply when sharing someone else’s content on social media or anywhere else. You may be able to argue that the concept of ‘fair use’ is applicable. The three instances where fair use could apply are:

  • If the use is for the purposes of research or private study.
  • If it is used for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation.
  • Where it is utilised for the purposes of reporting current events (however, this does not apply to photographs).

Each case will be considered on its merits, however the Intellectual Property Office gives a list of the factors used to determine whether the use of the work constitutes a fair dealing or not.

What are the risks when sharing your own content?

Sharing your own original content on social media is the best way to avoid infringing someone else’s copyright. Of course, when you share your own content on social media, there is always a risk that it may be unlawfully appropriated. You can protect your content by marking your posts with a copyright notice which should warn people against using your content without your permission. If you share an image, for example, you could include a watermark on it.

You should also be aware that, by using the social media channel, you are giving the website owners permission to use your content. If you use Instagram, for example, you can find this type of policy set out in their terms of use. In summary, it states that they can use your content in various ways, including distributing and copying. Check your privacy and application settings if you would like to restrict some of these uses. Make sure you read each platform’s terms and conditions if you’re not sure how your content is being used.

What can you do if your brand’s copyright is infringed on social media?

If you find that your brand’s copyright material has been unlawfully used on a social media channel, the first step would be to contact the infringing party. Do this if the other party is easily identifiable and if their contact details are accessible. If that approach doesn’t work, or if you can’t identify and contact the other party, then you can usually submit a report via the website where the infringement took place. Most social media channels will respond by removing the content in question and/or suspending the account of the user who posted it. Here are the available methods for reporting copyright infringement on popular social media websites:

Social media platformHow to report copyright infringement
FacebookFacebook allows you to report individual posts or pages which violate intellectual property rights. Click the dropdown button on the right side of the post or at the top of the page and select the report link. You can cite intellectual property as the reason for your report. Alternatively, Facebook has an online form which you can use to escalate such issues.
InstagramInstagram has an online form set up for the purpose of reporting copyright infringement. You must be the copyright owner or their authorised representative if you want to file a report using this form.
TwitterIt may be difficult to prove that a 280-character limit tweet contains original work belonging to you or someone else. If, however, you find that your copyright is being used unlawfully on Twitter, you can send a report using their online form.
PinterestIf you are the copyright owner or their authorised representative, you can use Pinterest’s online form to report copyright infringement. Alternatively, you can contact Pinterest’s designated copyright agent with the information they require to process your claim.
LinkedInIf you believe that your copyright is being used unlawfully on LinkedIn, you can complete and submit its online notice of copyright infringement form. You must be the copyright owner or authorised to act on their behalf.
WhatsAppWhatsApp users can report content which infringes their copyright, such as a profile picture or status message. You can submit a claim to WhatsApp via email or post with all of the required information to support your claim.
SnapchatTo report the unauthorised use of copyright on Snapchat, you can use the online form to submit a claim. Alternatively, you can file a notice with Snapchat’s designated agent. You must own or control the copyright to be able to submit a report.

About our expert

Lindsay Gledhill

Lindsay Gledhill

Intellectual Property Partner
Lindsay Gledhill is an Intellectual Property Partner at Harper James. She has specialised in intellectual property exploitation and dispute resolution since 1997. She trained and qualified in Cambridge’s top intellectual property firm during the 'dot com boom', then spent four years at top 50 firm, Walker Morris.

What next?

If you need legal advice about copyright issues on social media, our intellectual property solicitors can help.

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