Media Mayhem and ADversity
Risk Management for Advertising, Design, and Media Professionals

Copyright & Social Media: 5 Key Points for Advertising Pros

With the rise of social media, advertising agencies and designers are expected to produce more content and get it out faster. When you're rushing for more ideas and more designs, it's easy to make a social media mistake and accidentally tweet, post, or publish copyrighted material.

Often, it's not intentional. An advertiser may use an image they found from a Google image search and not even realize that they're committing copyright infringement. Even if it's an accident, you could be sued. So how do you avoid these mistakes? To answer that question, we'll look at five key points to help minimize your social media liabilities.

5 Strategies to Tackle Social Media Liability and Avoid Copyright Infringements

To ensure that ad agencies don't open themselves up to copyright infringement lawsuits, they should be familiar with Internet copyright laws. Additionally, they should have policies and training in place to educate employees and contractors. Here's five ways to keep your ad agency on track:

  1. Get permission to use copyrighted material and keep records. Want to use an image, video, music clip, or other copyrighted material? Make sure you have permission from the owner — and keep a record. You might have a standard contract / release form or merely keep a copy of the email in which the owner gives you permission. (At Your Business has a sample copyright release form , which you can adapt for your business).
  2. Link to original sources. It's common practice for bloggers and social media marketers to link to the sources of their material. For instance, if you find an interesting stat, you might use this in marketing material, blog posts, or tweets you write for clients. Link to the original source and be careful your post doesn't merely paraphrase someone else's work. A word of caution: this doesn't necessarily absolve you of liability.
  3. Understand fair-use laws, but don't rely on them. Fair-use laws may allow media businesses to use excerpts of copyrighted material. Frustratingly, these laws are extremely vague. Copyright owners can still object if you use their material. You can still be sued and have to fight out your claim to fair use in court.
  4. Never link to material you think could be pirated. Say you want to link to the clip of a movie. The movie is copyrighted, but someone has posted it on YouTube. Presumably, the poster is posting this illegally. Can you link to it? No. Courts have ruled that this is "contributory infringement." Even though you didn't post the copyrighted material to YouTube, by spreading the word about it and directing people's attention to it, you are contributing to infringement.
  5. Remember that items without attribution or copyright symbols may still be protected. Just because an image doesn't have the © symbol doesn't mean it isn't copyrighted. To be safe, you should err on the side of caution and assume you need permission to use anyone else's media.

Will Insurance Cover Internet Copyright Infringement?

Your business insurance may cover a lawsuit if you unknowingly infringe on someone else's copyright, but it won't cover willful misuse of copyright rights or infringement. Meaning, if you should have known better, your insurance may not cover the cost of a lawsuit.

Your risk management strategy will need to include both insurance (namely Errors and Omissions Insurance / Media Malpractice Insurance) and the procedures outlined above.

A Last Word on Internet Copyright Liability: Protect Your Own Work

So far we've talked about avoiding infringement, but what if someone steals your copyrighted work? Ad agencies should make sure to adopt best practice to protect and copyright their creative work. We recommend…

  • Specifying that you own copyright to the work created by your freelancers.
  • Spending some time learning about IP infringement laws.
  • Educating your employees about infringement.

See our article "There's No Such Thing as Intellectual Property Insurance — But That Doesn't Mean Advertising Agencies Shouldn't Protect IP" for more tips about protecting your creative work.

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