With social media and search engines being the primary form of researching a company or its products, content marketing has become a necessary way of bringing in revenue for a high percentage of small businesses. High-resolution images, videos, blog articles, web copy, e-books, e-mail campaigns, newsletters, and social media interaction has become the most vital tools to market your business and with that comes a plethora of strategy and policies that need to be followed in order to produce efficient results…and not to mention for legal purposes.
Hiring an outside marketing firm, contractor, or any third party to post on your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media pages to promote your business implies they are privy of the social media etiquette rules. If these rules aren’t followed, your marketing results will nosedive in an awful and possibly expensive way.
Copyright rules are not just useful for book authors or college professors, but also for social media. Your business must follow these rules if you want to stay out of expensive legal trouble. Although the US Copyright Law hasn’t been updated since 1976 and should be to reflect our current digital world, they do exist, and they can haunt you if not followed. Just look up the #copyright hashtag on Twitter and take a glance at the horror it can become when you don’t follow the rules.
Before you find yourself dealing with a pile of legal problems, here are some guidelines to help you follow fundamental copyright rules when promoting your business online:
1. Assume Your Use is Not Covered by Fair Use
Fair use is a sticky, cloudy, messy, confusing, insert similar adjectives of your choice, slope. Fair use was created to allow limited use of a copyrighted work for reasonable purposes without having to actually get the owner’s permission to use it. Fair use doesn’t mean free use.
There is a four-part test that is typically used to determine if use is fair use or not. Ask yourself these four questions before you deem your use of someone else’s creativity to be fair use because not only might the owner disagree with you, the law might disagree, too:
What is the purpose and character of the use of the work?
What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
What part of the work was used compared to the whole?
What is the effect of the use of the work on the potential value or market of the original copyrighted work?
Be careful because even the four-part test can get a bit muddied and subjective when it’s interpreted in real-life situations. This is a lesson that many bloggers have learned the hard way over the years when they received the Getty Images Demand Letter.
2. Make Sure You Own It (or Have Permission to Use It) before You Publish It
Owner and author (or creator) are not the same thing, and the difference between owner and author can mean the difference between your getting into big and expensive trouble or not.
Your business owns creative works that your employees create while working for your company. Your business does not own creative works that freelancers and other contractors create for you unless you have a Work-Made-For-Hire-Agreement in place with them that identifies you as the owner.
Additionally, your business is not the owner of creative works that you license from the respective owners. For example, if you purchase an image through a stock photo website to use on your blog, you’ve been given permission to use it in very specific ways through a licensing agreement. Read that agreement thoroughly so you don’t violate the terms!
3. Don’t Fight the DMCA, Understand It and Abide by It
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a safe harbor to online service providers (including Web hosts and social media sites) so their liability is limited if one of their users publishes content that is a copyright infringement. Under the DMCA, online service providers must take down content that could violate a copyright when the copyright owner sends a take-down request.
This is what’s happening to all of those YouTube users who are complaining on Twitter, but what they don’t understand — and as a business owner, what you must understand — is that there is a process to respond to the take-down request if you believe you have not infringed on someone else’s copyright. If there wasn’t an infringement, then by all means, you should respond.
Additionally, if someone publishes your content or other creative work without your permission, then you have the right to send a DMCA Take-Down Request to the online service provider too. It’s your responsibility to police and enforce your copyrights.
4. Beware of Creative Commons
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that was created to provide creators of original works an easier way to give others permission to use their original creative work than the U.S. Copyright Law allows. But there are problems with Creative Commons, and those problems can be very expensive to your business.
Most importantly, if you use an image or creative work with a Creative Commons license on it, the person who applied that license might not actually be the copyright owner. That means the Creative Commons license is meaningless and you could be infringing on the owner’s copyright if you use it in your social media marketing.
5. Get Federal Copyright Registration for Your Creative Work
You become the copyright owner of your work when it’s fixed in a tangible medium (assuming it’s copyrightable), but when your work is federally registered, you can enforce your rights under federal copyright laws. No, you don’t have to register your work to own the copyright, but doing so turns your rights into federal statutory rights, which means your rights are enforced under federal law statute — the copyright law passed by Congress.
As a copyright owner, you get a bundle of exclusive rights to reproduce your work, distribute copies of your work, prepare derivative works from your original work, perform your work, and display your work. Even if you don’t think your creative work has value today, it has tremendous potential value, and your business could lose money if someone else uses it without your permission.
By obtaining federal copyright registration for your work within 90 days of first publication (or the first time it was made available to the public), you can collect fees and damages without having to prove actual damages. This is a huge benefit to your business!
Don’t break copyright rules and bring on expensive problems to yourself or your business. If you don’t understand the copyright rules, consult with a content marketing firm to make sure you’re in compliance. If you already use a digital marketing agency for all of your social media marketing, ask what they do to make sure they’re in compliance with copyright rules.
Remember that the professionals you hire to create your content online are not experts of all industries that exist under the sun. Most of their content come from years of researching particular subjects, and you want to make sure they’re not just copying and pasting content from another article in order to produce your content. Make sure to use software or online services that check for plagiarism before posting any content that was delivered to you by a firm or other third party.