Skip to main content
BPP University BPP Professional Education probono@bpp.com

Social Media & Copyright: Best Practices for Small Businesses

Alicia Ogborn is a student at BPP Law School studying the GDL.  Alicia also volunteers with the BPP Pro Bono Centre as a Student Assistant for the BPP Enterprise Pro Bono Clinic. With a keen interest in intellectual property and social media, Alicia authored this article under the supervision of Angela Cahill, Supervising Solicitor for the Clinic. The Clinic can provide free commercial legal advice on copyright law and how your business can comply. Please contact us on 0330 060 3633 or blac@bpp.com to book an appointment.

In its early days, a small business’ creations can be its most valuable assets.  These creations could include its branding, logos, inventions and its website and social media content.  All these would fall within the business’ ‘intellectual property’, which is an overarching term used for the intangible assets a business owns or licenses.

In this article, we’ll be specifically discussing copyright, which is just one form of a business’ intellectual property.  Copyright arises automatically (i.e. it doesn’t need to be registered). It automatically attaches to any photos, videos and even original website content and posts and belongs to its creator (unless it was created in the course of a person’s employment, in which case it’s likely to belong to the employer).

The new age of social media has produced a wave of challenges in copyright law. While copyright law exists to restrict the copying of content, social media’s very nature promotes it. For small businesses or influencers, using social media is a great way to increase awareness of your brand for a low cost. However, with the ease and speed of sharing content, it can be easy to forget to consider legal implications. The purpose of the following post is therefore to provide some best practices to your business and its content safe.

Who Owns the Material on Social Media Platforms?

Currently, any content you produce, you own. This remains true when the content is posted onto social media or social networking sites. However, the Terms of Service of most of these platforms dictates that by agreeing to post your content, you are effectively giving the platform a licence to use your work for free. Each platform has different terms, so identify which platforms you are most likely to use and check the Terms of Service for each.

For example, Instagram states by uploading content on the platform you agree to “grant to [Instagram] a non-exclusive, royalty-free … worldwide license to … distribute … and create derivative works of your content”. You can see Instagram’s full Terms of Use here.

If you want to share content but are not comfortable knowing it could be used by the platform, there are ways to avoid this. Think about other channels through which you can promote your work – do you have your own website, for example? If you have a blog, do you own the domain or are you using a blogging platform (the latter likely to have the same Terms of Service as above)?

Reposting: Avoiding Copyright Infringements

The law (see here) restricts communication of copyright works to the public without permission of the copyright owner. If you’re looking to re-post someone else’s work, the best thing to do is reach out and get their permission in order to avoid infringement. Due to the nature of social media an image might be shared a fair few times, making the creator unclear. If this is the case, consider using other material for which you can credit the owner. Note that tagging the content owner does not negate liability and therefore it is always advised to ask permission.

You can also protect your own work from being used by other platform users by including a copyright statement.  You can do this by marking your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name (or the name of your business if it’s the business that owns the work) and the year of creation.

However, you’ll be happy to know, memes are safe! These fall under provisions governing the likes of parodies and caricatures and so, if being used in a non-commercial way, reposting and sharing means is likely to be OK. If you want to use the meme in a commercial way however, e.g. as a means of promoting your brand, websites such as knowyourmeme.com are useful to find the author of the meme and therefore can ask permission of the owner and credit them.

Embedding

Another strategy to avoid infringing is to embed the content instead of re-posting it. Instagram now features this as a way of sharing content so that the shared image refers to the original. Once shared, the image embeds a link to the original account.

User-generated Content

UGC is a great way of gaining exposure and free content. If you use this as part of your social media strategy, the use of hashtags can help to provide implicit consent to use of their content from your followers.  For example, brands such as Huda Beauty encourages followers to share looks created using their make-up products with the hashtags #HudaBeauty and #HudaBeautyShop.

What about other markets?

So far, this article has considered rules and regulations relating to the UK and the EU. Considering who your potential audience is will help you determine what markets your content is likely to reach. Where your reach goes beyond the UK, it is a good idea to also get clued up on that market’s rules. For example, the US are hotter on image rights and therefore you may have to be even more cautious when reposting other people’s work.

To sum up

  • 1.  Consider the Terms of Service of each platform
  • 2.  Always ask permission from content producers before reposting
  • 3.  Non-commercial use of memes is usually safe to share without infringing. However, if using in a commercial way, seek permission and credit the owner
  • 4.  Consider the use of embedding as a way of sharing content to avoid infringement
  • 5.  Consent through hashtags can help with sharing content produced by your followers
  • 6.  Check the rules of markets outside the UK where necessary

 

.