Natasha Zhao
Nov 1, 2012

OPINION: Social-media content and intellectual property

With sharing and remixing of content inherent in social networking, how can brands respect intellectual property ownership while also protecting their own IP? Natasha Zhao, lead consultant at Blugrapes, offers the three 'C's of IP.

OPINION: Social-media content and intellectual property

Content is currently the most valuable currency in the social-media economy. Images, videos and text are created and shared as an ongoing part of social-media marketing. Brands now need to constantly generate content in the form of videos and images, as these have proven to garner the most engagement from consumers. However, as most brands in Asia lack adequate resources to generate original content for social media, they often resort to using third-party content, which raises countless issues under the legal area of intellectual property (IP).

Identifying the true owner or creator of content used on social media is becoming increasingly challenging. Images are shared multiple times, across several social-media platforms, which increases the number of obstacles faced in tracing the true source. The related issues of attribution also follows suit if there is difficulty identifying the real source or owner of the image. Contrary to popular belief, simply quoting the internet reference of a video or image does not give one the due clearance and permission to republish. Ignorance of the law, in this instance, can potentially lead to unnecessary lawsuits for brands.

The other danger of using third-party content is ambiguity and lack of contextual information regarding said content. Take for example a facial-care brand that shares an image of a celebrity on their Facebook page commending her clear complexion. However, unknown to them she may be sponsored by a competitor in another market. This lack of background information can become a possible source of public embarrassment.

Intellectual property laws are designed to safeguard the rights of creators to their work and the reprint permissions associated with it. However at present, in the social-media realm, IP laws do not take into consideration the way content is being generated and transacted. While the actual rate of enforcement might be low, it is always better for marketers to err on the side of caution and take this into consideration, as the consequences for infringement may be far more severe for commercial entities than for casual users of social media.

How can one navigate these IP landmines without compromising content quality? There are three ‘C's to consider:

1. Clearance and credits

Giving credit to a video or image source is imperative. But additionally, it is just as important to explicitly seek permission to use the material directly from the content owners. Ensure that the various online platforms and scope of sharing and distribution are also covered. For example, request that permission be granted for unlimited use of an image to be shared on all social-media platforms to audiences in specified geographical locations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

2. Creative Commons content

Creative Commons is motivated by the intention to expand the range of creative works available for others to build upon and legally share. Using content under certain Creative Commons licenses allows for the sharing, adaptation and distribution of works by merely crediting the source. The Attribution license, the Attribution-ShareAlike license and the Attribution-NoDerivatives license not only provide marketers with free content to use, but also remove the hassle of contacting the content owners to acquire permission for usage. For example, under the Attribution-NoDerivatives license, an image can be redistributed on any social-media channel as long as it remains unchanged and the source is duly credited.

3. Commitment of resources

Investing in an in-house content production team to create branded content has numerous upsides, but it may be costly. Customized content can be more effective in reinforcing a certain brand message as well as providing the audience with a more engaging brand experience on social media. The other benefit of brand-owned content is that it has the opportunity to go viral and heighten the awareness of the brand and its associations in the social-media sphere, provided it’s licensed under Creative Commons. For instance, while there are currently so many parodies and versions of the Gangnam Style song and video, the original artiste Psy does not diminish from view but is further reinforced.

In summary, brands need to recognize the value of creating original content and be aware of the repercussions of using content that’s not part of their IP; it’s always wise to err on the side of caution.

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