While “legal” may be the last thing that you want to think about before posting on social media, not doing so can lead to cease and desist letters and serious legal trouble. Here are a few easy tips to keep in mind to make sure that your witty tweets aren’t deleted and your fabulous photos stay on the Gram.
Note that these tips generally apply to posts by brands to promote their goods, services and messages (e.g., “Buy Our Stuff!” and “Support Our Cause!”).
1. Google Images Is NOT Your Friend.
You know those pictures on your phone that you took – the selfies, the vacation photos, the ones of your adorable kids? Guess what – you own the copyrights in them! Cool, right? But that means you don’t own the copyrights in all of those photos, memes and videos you find online that could be perfect for your brand’s next Facebook post. Unless you have explicit permission to use photos, videos or other intellectual property that you didn’t create, avoid using them. Attribution alone won’t absolve you of any legal trouble. Use images that are properly licensed from a stock photo company (plenty of which can be licensed for free!) or ones that you’ve taken yourself.
Celebrities are just like us! Except, of course, that brands pay them millions of dollars to use their faces, names and images. This applies to the movie stars and your mom’s friend’s sister’s kid who has a quarter million subscribers to her YouTube channel. Celebrities, and the brands that pay them, may be more than a little miffed if you use that famous face or name on your brand’s social media for free. If you don’t have a relationship with a celebrity, it’s best to steer clear of using their names or photos in a post, or even retweeting them.
3. Hashtags and Trademarks
There are two things to keep in mind when using hashtags. First, they can be protected by brands as trademarks. Thus, try to avoid using any names or hashtags for big tentpole events with lots of sponsorships (think the Super Bowl or the Oscars) or hashtags involving the name of a brand; otherwise, you may find yourself in receipt of a nastygram demanding that you stop immediately. Second, it’s always a good idea to make sure you understand how the Twittersphere is using a hashtag before you use it for your brand. No one wants to be the brand that uses #MeToo to promote a new workout regimen.
4. User Generated Content and Privacy
You know when you start a hashtag on Instagram, and people use it to post pictures supporting your brand, and there are some really great photos that are spot on, and you take that photo off of Instagram and put it on your website or maybe even in your next ad campaign? Unless you’ve gotten permission from the person taking the photo and any people in the photo, you should avoid re-purposing the photo.
5. Influencers and FTC
The Federal Trade Commission has initiated actions against non-profits in the past, so you should follow the FTC’s rules, guidelines and other best practices, including those concerning bloggers and influencers. For example, paid influencers and bloggers should prominently display indicators of sponsorship (like “#ad” at the beginning of an Instagram post). Also, be sure to regularly check on the claims they make about your products or services and work with your influencers to ensure they are accurate and truthful. Click here to see some recent guidance from the FTC on these issues.
I hope these tips have been helpful! Please note that they are geared toward a general audience and your situation may be different. When in doubt, consult an attorney!
* The contents of this post are offered for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.